The Double
Director: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn
93 mins; Class 15; KRS

Jesse Eisenberg excels in this bleak entry from director Richard Ayoade. The Double is based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s eponymous novella and explores themes of isolation and the search for one’s identity.

Eisenberg is Simon, a shy, self-conscious man living in an unnamed oppressive society eking out a living in a mono-tonous, soul-destroying bureaucratic job that slowly bleeds the life out of him.

He is a nonentity at work, disdained by his mother and helpless in the presence of the woman he fancies. He lives his mundane life day in day out, with no hope of change.

Things do change, however, but not in the way he ever imagined with the arrival of James (Eisenberg again), a new employee at the company. Much to Simon’s horror, James is his exact double physically and complete opposite emotionally – outgoing, personable and confident.

Simon and James strike up a tentative friendship, which inevitably takes a turn for the sinister.

The Double is a film that works on some levels more than others. The film’s design expertly creates the claustro-phobic atmosphere of this downbeat society – an amalgam of a dystopian future and a recent past – grey, grim and gloomy.

People go about their lives in the same mundane routine – spending the day as drones in a suffocating job, only to go home to kitsch TV to face the same day over and over again.

It is not all dark and depressing though; the script by Ayoade and Avi Korine inject many moments of bleak humour in Simon’s attempts to get his life back on balance, such as the fact that no one notices the striking resemblance between Simon and James or sees nothing untoward.

The unhappy characters are brought to life by a solid cast

The unhappy characters that populate the film are brought to life by a solid cast led by Eisenberg, who does a creditable job of keeping the two characters remarkably different. The one is a pathetic weed of a man who allows himself to be bullied out of a seat on an empty train; the other is the life and soul of the party. Fleeting moments of confusion as to who is who are soon dissipated as soon as he opens his mouth.

Mia Wasikowska, fast becoming one of industry’s most exciting actresses, adds some light to Simon’s murky life as Hannah, the object of his affections. Cameos from the likes of Wallace Shawn, Chris O’Dowd and Sally Hawkins fill out the cast of idiosyncratic characters.

Style and characters notwithstanding, there is opacity to the narrative that makes it hard to engage fully with the story. This may be deliberate, yet it serves to alienate the viewers from the characters. So, while we are interested in Simon’s plight, it is hard to feel truly moved by it, and we always feel like observers – much the same as he observes Hannah via telescope.

That said, it is always refreshing to be able to witness something that lies outside the box of the conventional. The Double always fascinates and, despite the confusing narrative, it is a curio worth checking out for those who seek something different.

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