Everybody wants to be noticed. When we work hard, we want others to acknowledge our efforts. This makes us feel like a true individual, using our unique abilities to make the world run a little smoother. Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) does not feel like an individual. Her works at a generic data processing company, in a workspace as industrial and ambiguous as the city where he lives. His remarkable work ethic is ignored by his superior, Mr. Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn), who can hardly be bothered to remember Simon’s name. The sheepish, tongue-tied Simon also can’t generate interest from the pretty copy girl Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), and spends his nights admiring her Rear Window style from his bedroom.
Scorned by his aging mother and unable to even command respect from a local waitress, Simon can hardly be considered in control of his own life. This sentiment becomes even clearer when a new face starts working at the office; or rather an old face, as the new employee, James Simon, is Simon’s exact physical duplicate. Nobody else seems to notice the similarity, as Simon leaves no impression on his co-workers. At first, Simon befriends James, who – despite looking exactly like him – is his total opposite in regards to personality. Brimming with charm and wit, James manipulates those around him to his will, quickly becoming an office legend. James’ antics soon turn disturbing for Simon, as it becomes evident that his inexplicable double is aiming to take over his life.
The Double is an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella of the same name, written by Richard Ayoade and Avi Korine. This deeply philosophical story could only be told through borderline experimental filmmaking, and director Ayoade explores this to it’s furthest potential. Firstly, he creates a non-specific city that is in fact incredibly specific to this story. With a distinct Russian feel, the city oozes drab colors and seems to exist in a time in between technological revolutions. We can’t even put a finger on what country this city is in, as the money is unrecognizable and the accents range from American to British to Irish. The city is a mirror of Simon, who wears an over-sized, forgettable brown suit and fails to leave his mark anywhere he goes.
The true brilliance of Ayoade’s direction lies in his remarkable use of the entire film medium. Clever use of diagetic and non-diagetic sound not only underscores key moments with tension, but also assists in furthering the narrative and establishing the world. Equally marvelous is his use of lighting, an accomplishment shared with cinematographer Erik Wilson. Many areas are lit only by a single source, while others require smaller, rapidly moving lights that create new shapes and ideas as they travel. There are seemingly long stretches in The Double without dialogue, but Ayoade doesn’t skip a beat when conveying themes and plot through audio and visual means alone.
Anchored by a thrilling dual performance by Jesse Eisenberg, The Double is a nimble, thought-provoking film that is easy to digest thanks to some well-executed humor. There is just enough here to leave you questioning and debating afterward, without making you feel cheated, stumped, or deliberately toyed with. Ayoade had already earned praise for his debut film, Submarine, which was a deft-but-straightforward coming-of-age story. With The Double, Ayoade does what Simon couldn’t: he separates himself from the pack and earns the right to be called one of the best young directors today. Ayoade simply has no double.
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