Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Overlooked at work, rejected by the woman he adores, ridiculed by his disparaging mother, Simon is a sheepish, diffident man who is struggling for personal identity in a cold and unsympathetic world. The sudden arrival of James, a new co-worker who is inexplicably identical to Simon, threatens to make matters worse. As James methodically begins to take over Simon’s life, Simon must learn to fight back before his already lonely existence is completely taken from him.
After overseeing the creation of a handful of music videos for bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Vampire Weekend, English comedic actor Richard Ayoade has recently stepped into the filmmaking ring, making his directorial debut in 2010 with the indie comedy, Submarine. The Double, Ayoade’s follow-up film, is a modern adaptation of a Fyodor Dostoevsky 1846 novella and is the second doppelganger story of 2014, joining Denis Villeneuve’s ambiguous gem, Enemy. Ayoade, who co-wrote the screenplay, uses a frigid and emotionally empty metropolis setting to perfectly encapsulate the loneliness of his main character Simon. With overtly satirical undertones reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 masterpiece Brazil, The Double delves into our innate human desire to connect with others while exploring the importance of individuality and uniqueness. Ayoade’s witty criticism shines a harsh light on the devoid world of government bureaucracy. However, for all its darkness and despondency, there is a hint of a romantic hopefulness that permeates just under the surface that expertly balances the film’s cynicism and black humor.
Academy Award nominee Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) was cast to play the film’s two lead characters, Simon and James. If I can give Eisenberg credit for one thing, he does an excellent job choosing roles that fit his specific acting skill set. The Double highlights his two principal personae, socially awkward wimp and pompous jerk. Eisenberg’s meek delivery of Simon expertly portrays the painfully hapless existence of this poor schlub. You can’t help but feel for this guy as he is constantly the proverbial doormat both professionally and in his personal life. Simon’s pitiful reality is only exacerbated more as Eisenberg’s other character, James, arrives on the scene. Conniving, cocky, and always the life of the party, James sees Simon as an easy mark and takes full advantage to better his situation within the company. Eisenberg’s adept ability to flawlessly float from one persona to the other allows each of these characters to sufficiently develop, as their connected story crescendos to the film’s bizarrely climactic ending.
In the discussion of the next rising female star, for my money, I’ll take the uber-talented young Australian actress Mia Wasikowska. Whether playing the precocious daughter of a lesbian couple in The Kids Are All Right (2011), a killer in the making in Chan-wook Park’s haunting art house horror flick Stoker (2013), or a bloodthirsty vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive (2014), I simply adore the bold choices she’s made so far in her young career. The Double adds yet another notable performance to her growing list of captivating roles. Cast opposite Eisenberg, Wasikowska plays Simon’s love interest Hannah. Equal parts melancholic and scatterbrained, Wasikowska captures the aloof detachment of a young woman who has no idea Simon even exists. So clueless in fact is Hannah that she even asks Simon to introduce her to James, rubbing salt in his already gaping wounds. Together, these two make an unusually engrossing on-screen couple, as Wasikowska’s girl-next-door charm surprisingly never felt out of Eisenberg’s league.
Stylistically, The Double feels like an abstract painting come to life. Cinematographer Erik Wilson’s capable use of harsh lights and shadows helps set the film’s upsetting and discordant mood. Long camera shots and abstract angles are expertly used to skillfully frame this nightmarish dreamworld. Hallways, offices, and endless rows of cubicals all become dreadfully eerie thanks to Wilson’s gifted camerawork. Ayoade and the film’s sound department complements this jarring ambience with a slew of cacophonous sound effects and musical choices that further the disorienting feel of the movie. Overall, the comparisons between The Double and Brazil were wondrously noticeable. I hope some day to hear director Terry Gilliam’s thoughts on Ayoade’s latest creation.
For me, The Double is this year’s Stoker—a highly stylish piece of cinema that sucked me into its singular world thanks to an abundance of giftedly morose humor along with engrossing performances from Eisenberg and Wasikowska. I suspect a portion of you will disagree with my assessment of this strangely beautiful film, but The Double is a type of movie I unabashedly admit to being a true sucker for, and I’m more than willing to going out on the limb with my grade to show my appreciation for this spellbinding tale Richard Ayoade has created. I can’t wait to see what he has next for us.-JL
Edited by-Michelle Zenor