– Summary –
Director : Richard Ayoade
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Jessie Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, James Fox, Sally Hawkins, Chris O’Dowd, Paddy Considine, Gemma Chan, Cathy Moriarty, Phyllis Sommerville, Rade Serbedzija.
Approx Running Time : 92 Minutes
Synopsis: A man finds his life has been usurped by a doppelganger.
What we think : A whole bunch of wow, The Double is a vast bag of kooky, WTF fun and games that are designed to mess with your brain in the most pleasing of ways. The film feels like something Terry Gilliam might make – he didn’t, although director Richard Ayoade is from Britain as well, though, so perhaps some cartographic serendipity applies – with it’s unique visual style and razor-sharp frisson; The Double is terrifyingly claustrophobic and utterly uplifting all in the same moment. A brilliant, mesmerizing film.
You’re rather…. unnoticeable.
How do you solve a problem like finding out your life isn’t exactly your own? That’s the question put to audiences in the 2014 release, Enemy, by Denis Villneuve, a film I really didn’t enjoy (or appreciate, depending on your slant), and once again in the second doppelganger film to be released in the last few years. The Double, released in 2013, slipped under my radar completely, until I snagged a copy on DVD, and wondered why I hadn’t seen it before. The Double’s intriguing premise isn’t new – not exactly – but the idea of two different Jessie Eisenberg’s traipsing around, both utterly different from each other, twinged at my entertainment brain. Although I’m not normally a huge fan of Eisenberg, the idea of him portraying two different people who look identical had a vague whiff of schadenfreude about it. So does The Double deliver? Or does it divide and…not-conquer? Is Eisenberg’s doppelganger flick worthy of your double-vision, or is it better left on the shelf?
Simon James (Jessie Eisenberg) is an office drone, working for The Colonel (James Fox) and overseen by both supervisor Harris (Noah Taylor) and irascible manager Mr Papadopolous (Wallace Shawn), whose young daughter Melanie (Yasmin Paige) has arrived at the business and is to be tutored by Simon. Simon is also keen on his work colleague Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), but she doesn’t notice him. Simon’s mother (Phyllis Sommerville) is in a home for the elderly and appears quite mad. One day, Simon’s world is rocked by the arrival of James Simon (Jessie Eisenberg), who looks and sounds exactly like him (although nobody seems to notice or care). Even though they could be identical twins, the two are polar opposites in terms of personality – Simon is quiet, shy, introverted and withdrawn, while James is outgoing, popular and charismatic – and James is hell-bent on taking the life Simon has crafted for his own. As the two begin to clash, Simon realizes that he has to take drastic action before he loses everything to this usurper.
A lot of casual viewers won’t like The Double. It’s dark, filled with weird camerawork and bizarre characters, as well as a melancholy tone that alost suffocates the life from this book-t0-screen adaptation. While I can’t imagine Dostoyevsky’s original novel had all the subtle wit and black humor of Ayoade brings to this film, I think the film’s overall vibe is one of “depressive fantasy”, the kind of somber dystopia based on the dehumanization of society that directors like Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys), George Lucas (THX 1138), Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange) and John Hillcoat (The Road) have all attempted with great success. The way The Double portrays society is a bleak one, although a tinge of whimsy counteracts it being a thoroughly suicidal proposition. Mind you, the concept of suicide does come up in the film, but is handled in a manner that makes one smile just a little. This isn’t a mass-audience-appeal film; its dark tones and underwhelming, softly-softly style will not endear it to those looking for a family friendly film watch, or even a casual night with the other-half being “entertained”. It’s a hard film to categorize, but this one is for cinema purists and fans of avant-garde, independent filmmaking.
The film hangs almost entirely on the shoulders of Jessie Eisenberg, who must portray two totally different people that just happen to look identical. Simon, the film’s central protagonist, is a waffish, insecure, personality-free ditherer, somebody who is described as “unnoticeable” by another character, and as cruel as that sounds, the fact is Simon seems genuinely born without balls. He’s a pushover, a toadying lapdog for people to walk over, past, and through. James, Simon’s opposite, is strong-willed, personable and engaging – ie, everything Simon is not. At one point it is remarked that he has “something” about him that people are drawn to, and this infuriates Simon. Eisenberg slips into the Simon persona with his usual rapid-patter ease. His downtrodden life and inept personality are traits the actor can personify with ease, and as wretched a creature as Simon is, there’s a glimmer of unfettered recrimination just below the surface. How far can Simon be pushed before he pushes back? Where Eisenberg has more trouble is with his portrayal of James, the hot-shot new employee who effectively steals all the glory for himself, ingratiates himself into the upper echelon of management, and “steals” Simon’s girl, a terrific Mia Wasikowska. I didn’t quite believe Eisenberg’s version of James, as much as the script makes him out to be this woman-eating misogynist asshole who seems to have pure luck on his side, and I felt if the film had any weakness, it was in this aspect of Eisenberg’s performance. It’s not bad, per se, just not quite as touching or definitive as his work as Simon.
The supporting cast are all wonderful – Mia Wasikowsa delights as Hannah, although her character doesn’t quite lack the lyrical edge of an impish, almost ingenue-like angelic figure of redemption, which is what she was painted as by the script. Yasmin Paige plays the sullen and rebellious Melanie Papadopolous, hugely reminiscent of Mary Winstead’s Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim, although Paige isn’t as insouciant as her initial scene portrays. Melanie’s role in the film seems designed simply to add another notch on Jame’s sexual-conquest belt, limiting the range of the actress through a simple arc that goes nowhere. Paige is still good, though. Noah Taylor, Wallace Shawn and a cameo to the great James Fox as Simon’s upper management all make a good fist of their roles, minor or not, with Shawn especially abrasive (as always!) as Mr Papadopolous, the no-nonsense, take no crap head of Simon’s division in the company. Watch quickly for cameos by fellow British actors Paddy Considine (as a bad television actor), and Chris O’Dowd (as a nurse in a hospital), which add some nice moments of levity to the film.
Eisenberg aside, The Double really is a director’s film – and Ayoade delivers a first-class effort here. His editing, framing and use of shadow is magnificent – the film is replete with harsh-contrast lighting effects, shadows and reflections, all hugely Hitchockian in flavor and creating a unique tone to the story. Lighting ranges from urine-yellow, urine-brown, and crushed white, a lot of which leaves much of the cast bathed in monochromatic illumination designed to elicit a feeling of unease within the viewer. Take the opening train-bound sequence, where Simon is abruptly asked to move from his seat by a fellow passenger. Eisenberg’s gaunt features are tinted yellow, almost jaundiced, putting the viewer ill at ease right from the get-go, and this oppressive, melancholic style is prevalent throughout. Much of Agoade’s camerawork is also off-balance and interesting – sweeping pans, jump cuts and non-sequitur-esqe editing approaches ramp up the tension and fear pervading this mysterious “thriller”. I’d be hard pressed to call the film a genuine thriller in the true sense of the word, but there’s some moments of hair-raising chills throughout the story.
The Double is a terrific film that works on almost every level in the way Enemy did not. The story is sound, the leading performances by Eisenberg are excellent, and the directorial style is accomplished and effortless. Sure, The Double doesn’t lend itself to mainstream audiences a whole lot, nor does the film stand as a defining moment in Eisenberg’s career (one wonders whether the new Lex Luthor will get the same treatment in his Superman movies) but it is a fascinating, excellent, technically brilliant movie that will captivate, delight and enthrall all who dare to enter its labyrinthine alleyways. The Double is delightful.