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22 August 2015 @ 04:49 pm
Film Review: The Double (2013)  

Based on the Fyodor Dostoevsky novella, the second film directed by Richard Ayoade tells the story of Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) whose unremarkable life takes an unsettling turn when he meets his double, James Simon (also Eisenberg).

Short review: I really enjoyed this movie. A lot. I love Ayoade's visual sensibility and some of the frames in this film were gorgeous. However, I also recognize that the movie won't be to everyone's taste as it's a black comedy that focuses much more on the black and the very bleakly surreal. I want people to see it because I want Ayoade to make another movie but I feel the need to warn that some will find the pacing slow and the material potentially depressing (it's based on a Dostoevsky novella after all). The poster for this movie which I have above is a pretty good summary of the film itself: darkly beautiful images but very bleak. And did I mention bleak?

The movie is purposefully set in an unnamed country during an unnamed time that has shades of a Communist regime-like system. Simon James works in some sort of company that does something that we never really learn about and lives a repetitive life full of slights from others. The company he's worked at for 7 years refuses to acknowledge he even exists (he's not in the system), his boss never gets his name right, the diner he loyally frequents never gives him the right order if he even gets food at all. Simon responds to this with a meek, haplessness, letting himself get steamrolled. Apart from his mother who lives in a depressing retirement home and barely acknowledges his existance, he's all alone in the world. The only bright spot in his life is Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), his coworker and his neighbor across the street. While Hannah barely knows who Simon is (like just about everyone), Simon pines for her in a vaguely stalkery way. Eventually, a new employee joins the company and Simon is shocked to discover that James Simon is his exact double. James is the extroverted, charming, aggressive version of Simon who quickly becomes quite popular at the company and no one seems to really care that Simon and James are identical.

The psychologist in me found this film to be tons of fun to analyze. There are all sorts of visual moments Ayoade throws in that you can interpret in various ways. Themes of loneliness and fractured psyches are strong as Simon and James start out as friends first before James begins to take over Simon's life entirely. I went with the interpretation that Simon and James were halves of the same person. Ayoade has a nice way of telling this with Simon getting dumped on for all the bad acts James commits which feels psychologically sound. It's the aggressive side of you that takes pleasure in doing bad things but it's the meek side of you that feels the anxiety and fear of what you've just done.

The pacing, some have said is slow. And I can understand the complaint since James doesn't show up for quite awhile. But for me he showed up at exactly the right moment. While Simon is ostensibly the 'hero' of this story, the movie does a good job of setting him up as someone you feel bad for in the beginning until you start to feel frustrated with him for being such a pushover. Also, him spying on Hannah through a telescope was decidedly creepy. By the time James shows up, you're ready for a version of Simon that stands up for himself and pursues Hannah more directly.

The acting I found to be top notch all around. Eisenberg probably had the toughest job since he's in just about every scene as either Simon or James and frequently has to act against himself. I thought he did quite well playing two very different personalities while still suggesting they might be the same person, fractured in two. Because by the end of the movie, I felt strangely sympathetic and frustrated with both Simon and James for various reasons.

But the true star of this film for me was Ayoade's direction. He created a surreal world with a very strong look that fitted in perfectly with the bizarre, discomforting story he was telling. There are hints of the same visual style from Submarine, his first movie, but it feels much more fleshed out in this. I both lament and cheer about Ayoade's distinctive direction because on one hand, I love the look. But on the other hand, I can easily see why some people will hate it which probably means he may forever be an esoteric director of indie movies who often struggles to get financing. I could go on for another several paragraphs about other stuff in this movie that are amazing but I'll leave it here with the hopes that more people will check it out.

EDIT: Even if you don't watch the movie, you can watch this 3 minute clip of an interview with Ayoade and Eisenberg about the film. Only because it really shows you in a nutshell that Ayoade is such that he'll always make brilliant things that probably will always be niche.