***1/2 (out of 5)
May 9, 2014
Jesse Eisenberg as SIMON/JAMES
Mia Wasikowska as HANNAH
Wallace Shawn as MR. PAPADOPOULOS
Yasmin Paige as MELANIE PAPADOPOULOS
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Directed by: Richard Ayoade
BY KEVIN CARR
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Sometimes you just want something different.
In a cinematic world of formula releases, predictable romantic comedies and fun but generic blockbusters, sometimes what really hits the spot is an out-of-the-box film that defies categorization. In his sophomore directing effort, Richard Ayoade gives us something like that with his adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s story “The Double.”
Before I go any further, it’s relevant to mention that I’ve never read Dostoyevsky, which means I’ve not read his original story, so I cannot tell you if it’s a faithful adaptation or one wrought with alterations and interpretation. Let’s leave that to the scholars. I can only say what I felt about the movie itself, and on that front, my opinion is quite positive.
I feel it’s also relevant to mention that I am mostly familiar with Ayoade’s on-screen work in the hilarious British sit com “The IT Crowd” and his scene-stealing performance in “The Watch” a couple years back. While “The Watch” is forgettable, it’s worth noting that “The Double” seems like exactly the kind of movie that Moss from “The IT Crowd” would direct. It’s not nearly as cute as his character, but we know that character has a dark side, and it comes out in this movie.
“The Double” follows the humdrum life of Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), a lowly worker in a soul-crushing government bureaucracy. He secretly loves a Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who works in another department and lives across the street, however he lacks the social graces to let her know he even exists. One day, a new worker shows up in the office, and there’s something strangely familiar. James Simon (also Jesse Eisenberg) is his exact double in physical appearance, down to his ill-fitting suits, but it is his demeanor that sets him apart.
James is confident and strong, the opposite of Simon. Because they share a face, they get to know each other, and James starts to coach Simon on how to better deal with life, including how to woo Hannah. However, soon Simon starts to discover that James isn’t just stealing his face, he is stealing his life.
Part of the appeal to a film like “The Double” is that it has a surreal quality that makes the world fascinating to visit. Like the off-kilter retro-futuristic worlds of “Brazil” and “Delicatessen,” “The Double” feels like a parallel universe that allows more fascinating things happen. However, even against its “1984” depression backdrop, “The Double” presents an often humorous and intimate human story of one man trying to find his place in life.
I couldn’t say whether James is a figment of Simon’s psychosis, or if he is a real person – or if the reality exists somewhere between these two possibilities. Like David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.,” the movie is the story equivalent of a devil’s fork or impossible object. Just when it starts to make sense, the lines lead you back to a level of surrealism and impossible reality.
I’m reluctant to classify “The Double” as a comedy or a drama, or even as a piece of science fiction. It is none of these things, truly an out-of-the-box movie. That’s what makes it fascinating. And supported with strong performances by Eisenberg, Wasikowska and Wallace Shawn, “The Double” can be multiple things. It can be an empowering story of how to handle one’s identity and the ability to assert yourself. It can also be a movie about crumbling reality and madness.
It may defy explanation, but “The Double” is a solid effort and interesting film. Even in the wake of the release of Denis Villeneuve’s doppelganger thriller “Enemy,” it’s a wholly unique film that’s worth checking out.