I have a feeling in my gut that I’m going to be in the minority when it comes to this particular film, much like I used to be with many of the works of the Coen Brothers. A lot of folks are going to love The Double in a big way, but for a few reasons I was left in the cold by it, by and large. Yes filmmaker Richard Ayoade continues to show a lot of promise and I’m eager to see what he does next, but I never found an entrance point into this tale of doppelgangers and identity, so it seemed like a joke that I wasn’t let in on. The humor wasn’t funny to me, the bleakness was numbing, and everything except the admittedly excellent performance(s) by Jesse Eisenberg left me wanting more. I’m sure it’s possible that another viewing at some point in the future might result in a different take on the movie, but right now I don’t get the fuss. A hybrid of Brazil, Eraserhead, and earlier this year’s Enemy, Ayoade’s second flick is undoubtedly ambitious, but the intriguing presentation doesn’t resulting in compelling execution. The Double is very surreal, but only a sporadically cinematic experience. For me, it’ll just be fodder for a potential think piece on all the movies about doppelgangers and twins that have come out in 2014 (with at least one more still to come), and little more than that.
We begin by being introduced to Simon James (Eisenberg), a meek clerk in a sprawling hellscape of an office building who’s timid, consistently overlooked at work, and ignored by coworker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the woman he’s in love with. Simon leads a miserable existence, seemingly doomed to wallow in it forever. Then, he notices the arrival of a new person in the office, James Simon (Eisenberg as well). He looks just like him, only is the exact opposite. James is charismatic, confident both at work and with women, enjoyable to be around, and without the pure hear that Simon seems to have. Initially, James takes Simon under his wing to help him out, but soon it becomes apparent that there are darker designs within him. James is trying to take Simon’s life, getting in with their boss (Wallace Shawn), and generally usurping everything of Simon’s. Things get progressively more horrific, until Simon begins to go off the deep end and start to at least contemplate fighting back. It’s all done in a super surreal and arty way that will confound some and enthrall others. Me, I was caught somewhere in the middle, but I lean slightly more towards the former line of thinking than the latter one.
If there’s one thing I can agree on with those who love this film, it’s the performance of Jesse Eisenberg. He gives one of his five best performances here (technically even two of his best performances), consistently showing you two very different people who just happen to look alike. It’s a hard role and Eisenberg nails it, no question about that. If only every aspect of the flick was on this level. Alas. No one else besides Eisenberg gets too much to do, though Mia Wasikowska is solid in her underwritten part. I always enjoy seeing Wallace Shawn in a movie, so that was no exception here. As for the other main supporting players, Noah Taylor is fine as a coworker/almost friend of Simon’s, while folks like Paddy Caonsidine, Chris O’Dowd (basically cameoing), Craig Roberts, and Phyllis Somerville have basically nothing to do. The film also wastes Sally Hawkins completely, basically ignoring her. This is really the Eisenberg show, as well it should be, but I do wish that the rest of the cast had at least been given a fighting chance to compete here. They weren’t though, so only Eisenberg gets a chance to shine, though shine he does.
I enjoyed Richard Ayoade’s last film Submarine (which also had Considine, Hawkins, Roberts, and Taylor in the cast…though they all had more to do) and was ready to see what he did next. Sadly, while he upped the ambition in adapting the Fyodor Dostoevsky novel of the same name, his writing (along with scribe Avi Korine) just doesn’t translate it to the screen. I will say that Ayoade’s direction is very solid here, though it perhaps is a bit too indebted to early David Lynch for my tastes. That’s the thing with this movie, it’s just in almost no way geared towards me. I’m sure I won’t be alone in my issues, but I do realize that I’m in the minority.
There is definitely an audience for The Double, and I expect it to develop a cult following, but I just wasn’t on the same wavelength. Aside from Eisenberg, I was left wanting a lot more than what I got. I didn’t really dislike it, but it just came off confounding and dull to me, so take that information for what it’s worth. You might love this flick. I won’t try and dissuade you from checking it out, but The Double won’t be getting a recommendation from yours truly…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!