Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Loosely adapted from Dostoyevsky’s novella, The Double features a strong performance by Jesse Eisenberg in an intriguing dual role. He is one player in a terrific cast, including Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, and Noah Taylor.
The film effectively creates a dark, surreal mood, and from what I know of Dostoyevsky — based on having read Crime and Punishment — it reflects his themes of alienation, frustration, and teetering on the brink of madness. However the strongest feeling it left me with was mild confusion, along with a sense that this probably works better on the page than on the screen.
Simon James is a low-level clerk in a government office which compiles data on citizens for ambiguous purposes. He lives in a society that feels a bit like an alternate 1960s. The film paints a stark, cold Orwellian world with dark sets, in which everything feels static, exaggerated sounds, and characters who stand and move in an odd, rather dreamlike manner. Simon lives a solitary life, timid and perpetually cowed. He longs for an attractive young woman (Mia Wasikowska) whose loneliness seems to reflect his own.
Early in the film, Simon witnesses a suicide. In a darkly humorous scene, a police officer tells him that suicide runs rampant in his neighborhood –“It’s all we do anymore.” He and his partner appear to be surveying the locals about whether they intend to kill themselves. “Should I put him down as a no?”
Simon’s bleak life reaches a turning point when he meets his new co-worker, James Simon. The two men look identical, but James is everything Simon is not. Simon has been pigeonholed as a mediocre employee, but James is lauded as bright and promising. While Simon is socially awkward, James is confident, glib, and successful with the ladies. Under the guise of friendship, Simon’s double begins to take over his life, robbing him of his hopes.
This is an interesting, atmospheric movie with some humorous moments, such as when James coaches Simon on making himself more appealing to women. With its cold, stark, gloomy sets, pale flickering lights, and narrow claustrophobic hallways, it successfully evokes a mood reflecting Simon’s life. But it ultimately fell flat for me. I do enjoy art films. However, this movie felt too studied and too deliberately clever, and aspects of the film that should have been intriguingly ambiguous just seemed confusing. The one thing that stood out, in a positive way, was the performances, especially by Eisenberg. This is not a bad film, by any means, but it seems to fall far short of its potential, and I suspect it will have limited appeal.