Review: The Double (TIFF 2013)
PLOT: Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) is a mid-level office drone who's horrified to discover that he has an exact doppelganger that's everything he's not- charming, sophisticated and confident. Soon James, the double, begins taking over Simon's life.
REVIEW: I guess doppelgangers are hot this year. THE DOUBLE is the second movie I've seen at this year's TIFF that focuses on a guy discovering a heretofore unknown duplicate of himself, the other being ENEMY. Like that film, the protagonist is the quiet, shy double, while the more aggressive, charismatic double is the marginal antagonist.
That obvious- major- similarity aside, Richard Ayoade's THE DOUBLE is stunningly different from Denis Villeneuve's ENEMY. While that was a Lynchian mind-f*ck of the highest order, Ayoade's THE DOUBLE is a far more accessible film.. Despite the origins as a story by Fydor Dostoyevsky, THE DOUBLE is a more like Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL, with a heavy dose of Kafka thrown in, and a dab of George Orwell for good measure.
THE DOUBLE is set in a semi-dystopian, retro-futuristic world. Eisenberg's Simon works for a Big Brother-esque figure called “The Colonel” (James Fox) at a monolithic company that seemingly does nothing constructive, but runs everything. It's a hopelessly bland existence, where's he's bossed around by an idiotic supervisor (played by Wallace Shawn), and is such a faceless cog at his company that no one can seem to remember him, to the point that security has to check his id every morning. The only upside to his existence seems to be watching a cheesy BLAKE'S 7-style TV show (starring Paddy Considine, the show within the movie is such cheesy fun I hope there's more footage lying around for the DVD/Blu-ray). That, and his unrequited love of his corporation's copy girl, played by a ravishing Mia Wasikowska.
Simon is the type of guy that wouldn't say boo to a goose, and it's not a stretch for Eisenberg, who's made a career out of these types of roles. However, his part as James is an interesting departure, with Eisenberg forced to play him as outgoing and possibly sinister, which is something I've never seen him do before. Like Gyllenhaal in ENEMY the film is less reliant on special effects to differentiate the characters than the performance. Going even further than ENEMY, THE DOUBLE has both characters dressed identically (in a cheap off-the-rack suit that looks like it's out of JCPenny), although from the wildly different ways Eisenberg inhabits the characters it's always obvious exactly which double you're watching.
It's funny that Eisenberg's “good” protagonist always feels more robotic and less “human” than his double, who shirks responsibility, but at least seems passionate. Other than the bad double, the only other person in the film that acts recognizably human is Wasikowska as Eisenberg's dream girl, who exudes a warmth that feels alien in this cold, impersonal world, but acts in such a schizophrenic way, it practically seems like she has a double herself (I'm certain THE DOUBLE is a film that can- and will- be endlessly deconstructed).
While I'm probably not as high on THE DOUBLE as I was on Ayoade's last film, SUBMARINE, THE DOUBLE is another good one, albeit radically different from what you might expect given his track record. I'd still say it's essentially a comedy, although most of the laughs come from the banality of Eisenberg's world and existence. Past that, there's also something interesting being said about the loss of individuality, through the nightmare scenario of watching your double slowly phase you out of your own life, as anything you can do, the double does better. While it's not quite BRAZIL, THE DOUBLE feels like Ayoade- sooner rather than later- just may have what it takes to create something on that level. THE DOUBLE is an interesting step in a whole new direction for him, and I'm excited to see where he takes us next.