Thematically, the idea of the doppelgänger isn’t a new concept, yet director Richard Ayoade executes the idea in a completely surprising and imaginative fashion. Part psychological mind bender, part dark satire, The Double is a film that not all movie goers will understand nor appreciate, but it does keep the mind ticking and turning, not only leaving you with a ton of questions but a new sense of self-worth in the process.
Set in a world that hopefully doesn’t exist in any dimension, Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is your stereotypical shy guy, aggressively overlooked by his colleagues, unappreciated by his mother and generally ignored by crush and co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). That is until the arrival of wait for it…James Simon (also played by Eisenberg). James is everything Simon isn’t, charismatic, assertive and seemingly a hit with the ladies. He also happens to look exactly like Simon, down to the ill-fitting grey suit and floppy hair. Slowly but surely James starts taking over all aspects of Simons’ life, succeeding at work and successfully pursuing Hannah, leaving Simon to take drastic action necessary to gain back control of his life.
Visually speaking, the film uses simple yet elegant camera techniques that capture the essence of the film, keeping the film flowing at a steady yet thrilling pace. The backdrop is reminiscent of 1950’s Russia, complete with old school technology and a leader who is ever present yet missing in action at the same time. There are only two key environments in Simon’s universe, his workplace and his apartment, both of which are as depressingly drab as the other, unlike Simon’s entire existence. Ayoade does a great job in reminding us that this universe probably doesn’t exist, but is rather an ongoing joke to further highlight the utter miserable life that Simon, and to an extent Hannah, lead.
As a huge fan of both Eisenberg and Wasikowska, I was expecting brilliant turns by both, and while Wasikowska is her lovely if not underwhelming self, this film is entirely Eisenberg’s vehicle. Playing dual roles is never easy, especially in scenes involving just the two characters, yet Eisenberg does it with such great subtlety and emotion that I was hardly confused as to who was Simon, and who was James. That isn’t to say there isn’t some misperception, especially as the film comes to a head, but I think that is the purpose of the film, to present duality of self in a way that is both enlightening and completely daunting at the same time.
Although The Double won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it is completely unapologetic for what it has to say. There are no car chases, no romantic crescendos, and no unrealistic happy endings. But that’s okay because sometimes it’s the quieter, understated films that leave a lasting impression then your run of the mill blockbuster.