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The Double (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 20, 2020

The Double

The Double


Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Cathy Moriarty, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, Paddy Considine, Chris O’Dowd, Rade Serbedzija, Craig Roberts, James Fox, Nathalie Cox, Christopher Morris, Phyllis Somerville, Sally Hawkins, Natalia Warner, Susan Blommaert, J Mascis, Lydia Ayoade, Tony Rohn, Tim Key and Gemma Chan.

Screenplay by Richard Ayoade and Avi Korine.

Directed by Richard Ayoade.

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. 93 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Though The Double is based on a Fyodor Dostoevsky story, the film almost feels like a Kafka-esque nightmare.

It is an adventurous choice for a second film by British director and comedian Richard Ayoade, who caught a spark by making the intriguing coming-of-age drama Submarine in 2011.  Then he poured water on that spark by agreeing to take the fourth lead role in Ben Stiller’s The Watch the next year.  (Stiller had co-produced Submarine and had a cameo in the film.)

In a press conference we were at with Ayoade and Stiller for Submarine in 2011, Ayoade mentioned he was writing The Double as a script with Avi Korine.  Stiller immediately joked, “There aren’t enough Dostoevsky movies.”

Quite true.

The world of The Double is an odd, slightly disorienting “Sixteen Tons”-esque alternate universe that is at once wildly futuristic and willfully old-fashioned.  It is a surrealistic “company-store” hell on Earth.  Everything is in shades of gray, surrounded by pipes, tubes, steam, shattered dreams and faux efficiency.

In some sections, the movie is wickedly funny.  In others it is desperately forlorn.  It’s wild and it’s dreamlike.  It’s horrifying and completely repressed.

Which is much like its lead character, Simon (played by Jesse Eisenberg).  Simon has a miserable job that he hates – and they hate him – but he can’t afford, or even bear, to lose it.  He lives in a dank, tiny studio apartment in a depressingly indistinguishable council flat.  His mother is in hospice, but the coming of death does not stop her from graphically pointing out how much of a disappointment he is.  He has no friends, in fact barely anyone even notices him when he is with them.

He spends his entire day, every day, trying not to be noticed and not to get fired.

However, there is one person that he wants to notice him.  That is Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), a pretty but emotionally cut off younger woman who literally works in the copy room.  Eventually he gets her attention, however she sees him as nothing other than a friend and confidant.

One day at work, Simon meets James, a new employee who looks exactly like him (also played by Eisenberg.)  However, as much as they look alike, they are polar opposites; Simon is quick-talking, personable, confident, the bosses love him and put him on the fast track to promotion and Hannah gets an immediate crush on him.  The more that James’ life comes up roses, the more the meek and beaten-down Simon’s life swirls down the bowl.

And eventually he comes to resent the fact that James is stealing his life.  But how does a man who has spent his whole life swallowing everything life dumps on him finally show his disappointment or rage?  Can he even?

The Double is a fascinating, confounding film.  It skirts self-conscious artiness – giving knowing nods to everything from Brazil to Eraserhead to Dark City to Joe Versus the Volcano – but never comes off as precious or pretentious.  The visual look is part of this balancing act, the setting of the film is both disorienting in its oddness and disorienting in its familiarity.

However, mere style could not make this work.  It hinges on the acting, and Eisenberg does a masterful job (two, actually), creating two very different characters and seeming completely believable in each.

For him alone, The Double is worth seeing.  Luckily, the film has lots of other attributes going for it.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: May 23, 2014.

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