Bleak, Absurd, and Memorable: A Review of Richard Ayoade’s The Double

the double jesse eisenberg

The Film: The Double
Director: Richard Ayoade
Primary Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Yasmin Page, Noah Taylor
U.S. Release Date: 9 May 2014

I apologize for the recent delay between posts, and I promise I will analyze something again soonish. Until then, here is a quick review of one of the movies I watched on Netflix recently (Spoiler alert: I like it.)

Review Time, Huzah!
In The Double, Richard Ayoade presents a bleakly comic adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novella. The film stars Jesse Eisenberg (as Simon James and James Simon) and Mia Wasikowska (as Hannah). The movie is also quite good. At least, it is if you like comedic nightmares that make you want to jump out a window, because everything is pretty damn hopeless really. As someone who takes a great deal of pleasure in films that ask me to laugh even though they themselves are utterly cheerless, I found The Double to be rather enjoyable indeed.

As this is a “quick review,” I’ll not bother with an extensive recap here (ha ha, suck it, nerds!). All you really need to know is that Simon (Eisenberg) is so invisible to those around him that even automatic doors don’t seem to register his presence (as one character remarks, he’s “a bit of nonperson”). He’s also good at his job (some sort of mind-numbingly dull data analysis thing), but he doesn’t not get any credit for his work (this probably has something to do with the fact that no one can seem to remember his name). He lives in an apartment directly across from his coworker Hannah (Wasikowska), and he has a habit of watching her with a telescope from his window (think Rear Window, but with his castration so overwhelmingly obvious, that there is no reason for Ayoade to give Simon a leg cast). Hannah is pretty and sweet and is also sad and lonely (like Simon). One day, a man who looks just like Simon named James (also Eisenberg) shows up. James has Simon’s face, but his personality and demeanor are quite different. Identity trouble and other strange things ensue.

Ok, so one of the film’s greatest strengths is it’s atmosphere and set designThe Double is set in a very small portion of a strangely stark and decidedly retro version of a dystopian near-future. The audience is completely limited to those places that Simon haunts regularly (namely his apartment, work, the train to work, and one small diner where the waitress always treats him poorly). The world of the film is both claustrophobic and fully realized all at once. It’s dark, it’s hard to forget, and even though it’s almost ridiculously absurd, it always feel terrifyingly real and never once feels entirely impossible. The stylized but precise way in which the film is shot enhances the impact that it’s world and atmosphere make as does it’s fantastic score.

At it’s heart, this strange despair-filled comedy is the ultimate existential crisis made visible. What does it mean to be a person? What separates one person from another person? What’s the point of existing at all? The film does not necessarily seek to answer such questions, but it is certainly interested in the weight with which they make themselves known.

In fact, The Double even goes so far as to question who “the double” actually is. Is it James (who looks just like Simon, but has all those qualities that Simon lacks) or is it Hannah (who feels as Simon does, but is apparently an entirely separate person)? The film also leaves James’s true nature wide open to interpretation (Is he a doppelganger? Is he who Simon wants to be? Is he some dark and hidden part of Simon?). This palpable uncertainty pervades the film so intensely, that it is figured as an inescapable fact of life. In The Double, to exist is also not to know (or to even think that there is a real point in knowing). 

I suppose I should also say a word or two on the film’s performances. As James Simon and Simon James, Eisenberg does a fine job. Is the performance entirely surprising given Eisenberg’s past roles? Not necessarily, but it is watchable, believable, and well executed. Even when Simon and James are dressed identically (which is most of the time), viewers never really have to question which character is on the screen; Eisenberg’s ability to full embody James and Simon while also keeping the two distinct for viewers is crucial to The Double‘s success.

Wasikowska’s performance is perfectly passable, but she is somewhat underutilized and underwritten if you ask me. For most of the movie, she’s nothing more than a sad and lonely girl for Simon to stare at longingly. Damn.

TL;DR
Watch The Double now. 
I suppose that will have to do it for this review. With, The Double, Ayoade presents a bleak, absurd, and perfectly memorable film that is well-made, entertaining, and even thought-provoking. The dark irreverence of the film might cause some to view it with disdain; I, however, have a hard time finding much fault with it at all. 

Until Next Time
Thanks so much for reading. I haven’t been to the theater in a while, because my local theater hasn’t added anything worth watching since Nightcrawler. Sucks for me. Anyway, feel free to share this post or to leave a comment. You could even rec me a movie to watch or suggest a future post. Bye now.

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