The Double

UK Release Date 4th April 2014
Director Richard Ayoade
Starring Jesse Eisenberg
Runtime 93 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 4th April 2014

Richard Ayoade is an interesting character. A Cambridge law graduate with a Nigerian father and a Norwegian mother, we’ve witnessed him at a couple of live events and for a man who has spent so much time in front of the camera, he doesn’t come across as the most confident person. Yet his intelligence and slightly off-kilter wit keeps him going, seemingly occupying a sort of tangental world to our own. At the most recent event, a Q&A after a preview of his new film, one quote stood out “The brilliant thing about me, is there is always someone better.” This in response to a question as to whether he was tempted to give himself a role in the film…..

His second movie venture, following 2010’s Submarine, The Double is a rough adaptation of a Dostoevsky novel which of course, I haven’t read. It tells the very personal tale of Jesse Eisenberg’s Simon James, (weirdly my first two names) a data processor in an alternate (but not that alternate) reality. Riven with self confidence issues, Simon spends his train journeys to his meaningless job staring out of the window at Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the object of his constant, distant love. During the day he spends his time dutifully printing out one copy of meaningless documents so he can use the photocopy services provided by Hannah. His constant vain attempts to impress his boss Mr. Papadopoulos (a great, bustling performance by Wallace Shawn) fall on deaf ears and after working late he returns to his bedsit to watch trash TV on a micro-set and stalk Hannah through a telescope trained on her apartment across the square.

Bullied and harried by everyone he meets, Simon is the absolute picture of impotent rage as he drifts through his turgid existence so utterly terrified by failure that any attempts to succeed at anything are stymied from the off. As the film opens, a mysterious stranger insists that Simon is sitting in his place in the otherwise deserted train carriage. Mystified by the statement but unable to refute it, Simon meekly goes to stand further down the carriage. The stranger’s identity is not revealed but it’s safe to assume it’s the same guy who turns up some days later as the new boy in Simon’s office. James Simon is an exact replica and the exact antitheses of Simon. He is confident, outgoing, brash and although he wears identical clothing to Simon, somehow gets noticed (whilst at the same time, nobody seems to notice the resemblance). It’s not long before James has gone from being a confidant and helper to stealing Simon’s ideas and his woman.

The Double is a superbly relatable movie for anyone who has ever spent any time doubting themselves. Scene after scene went by with me not really watching the actual scene, just reading the catastrophic failure of Simon’s confidence and nodding my head along with it. For this, Eisenberg is absolutely perfect. Both his Simon and his James are outwardly flawlessly identical, not a lank hair or ill-fitting jacket out of place. Internally they are poles apart and you never doubt Eisenberg’s performance of either. He is equally at home accepting a nonsensical refused entrance to a mandatory work party as he is balling out a surly waitress for refusing him breakfast at dinner.

And for this brilliant character, Ayoade has constructed the perfectly bland and monstrous world. Filmed in an abandoned business park with no natural light whatsoever (a serendipitous combination of technical requirement and perfect world building), Simon’s surrounding are arguably just a reflection of his internal malaise. Nobody listens to him, he is an abject failure in not only his ailing mother’s eyes but also in the eyes of her unhinged roommates. His attempts to please her only worsen the situation as does his constant attempts to get noticed at work. Late nights and ingenious regression techniques for dealing with data are completely ignored until James appears and presents them as his own. Standing impotently by, Simon finally vents his frustration on a group of co-workers, inevitably exacerbating the situation.

Running alongside his work travails, Simon’s attempt to woo the charming Hannah meet with an equally self defeating prophesy style failure. Wasikowska shines in the dark world and her Hannah is just sexy enough for us to take notice but not so over the top for us to think that Simon wouldn’t stand any chance with her. Like Simon she is a lost soul and Wasikowska is responsible for some of the more heartbreaking moments in the movie. Hannah’s artwork, completed, then torn up and fed into the anonymous building’s waste system is studiously collected by Simon, his stalker like behaviours somehow always staying on the side of boyish charm and only rarely skating close to all out creepy.

Once James arrives on the scene, Simon has nowhere to hide. Facing down his double seems destined to end in disaster but what other choice does he have? Surrender his final feelings of relevance and disappear quietly into nothing whilst James takes the spoils?

For the most part the viewer can make their own mind up as to whether Simon and James are the same person but a Fight Club like scene near the end of the movie will probably push you in a particular direction. It doesn’t matter by that point, Ayoade’s brilliantly funny, heartbreakingly real and wonderfully constructed point has been long since made. He has crafted a wonderfully horrific place, reflecting Simon / James’ turmoil vividly. Ayoade has proved himself to be one of the most intelligent, interesting film makers currently working and he and co-writer Avi Korine have created a world full of oddball characters that prevent this movie from becoming anything like navel-gazing. Cast in a permanently dark yellow seventies version of the future with a constant cacophony of disjointed noises making us perpetually aware of the artificiality of it all, Eisenberg’s dual performances are a masterclass of internal acting. 

As a superbly funny rendering of the long, silent scream into the eternal abyss that we all feel at one point or other, The Double is going to take some beating. There is always somebody better….

Check out the trailer here.

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