The Double

The Double

The Double
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Director: Richard Ayoade
Release Year: 2013
Runtime: 1h 33m

What an absolutely bizarre film this is. Luckily Bizarre is my middle name: Mr. Bizarre Hipster. Based on a novella by Dostoevsky, it’s a blacker-than-black comedy that goes down a psychological rabbit hole into mania. Or psychosis. Or whatever you call an absurdist, surreal tale of an office drone who is supplanted by his more talented, more charming, but nefarious doppelgänger who sabotages him at every turn. A part for which Jesse Eisenberg is particularly perfect. Playing both the mild-mannered Simon James and the charismatic James Simon, his twitchy, rapid-fire delivery and sometimes hollow-eyed countenance compliments the uncomfortable material and the creepy Cabinet of Dr. Caligari / Brazil like sets and world.

I came to this movie from a weird place. I somehow landed on Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. A bizarre 2004 British series send-up of a workplace drama that is actually a spoof of 80s low-budget horror. Sort of. And the director of this series is actor/director, Richard Ayoade. Hitting up his oeuvre, I came to realize the dude only directed two feature films since, including 2013’s The Double! And for as odd as Darkplace was, this was somehow even odder. More odd? I don’t know how English works. But the point is, the whole movie felt as though it were filmed in a warehouse. It’s dark and insular and almost play-like in its set designs. Even the exteriors feel like they were filmed inside. Everything seems to be drained of its color and slightly warped. Giving the entire film a surreal nightmare quality that smacks of Terry Gilliam retro-future vibes, that in turn stinks of post-apocolypse without the cannibals or zombies or burning atmosphere.

The story itself is an… allegory? Again, I struggle with the English language. But I don’t think there is anything “real” about any of this. Everyone other than our main character, Simon James, is a moron. Or just clueless and vaguely brain dead. Or, in the case of his double, James Simon, a completely soulless sociopath. I’m sure if I were a smarter person I’d talk about Id or something, but you understand that this exact double who shows up to his workplace one day is a projection of the part of him who lays dormant in Simon’s psyche. The one who goes after the woman he desires, but doesn’t have the courage to pursue, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). The one who has the courage to propose ideas to the big boss and schmooze his managers. The back-slapping charismatic guy he is not. The Brad Pitt to his Ed Norton. But, unlike Tyler Durden, identical in appearance and apparently visible to everyone else and stealing his shit and manipulating everyone in the process.

Like anything this absurd, there are some funny moments. Eisenberg’s manic energy and machine-gun delivery itself is funny in and of itself. And the absolutely confounding situation where his co-workers and bosses are looking at two of him and are completely blind to the fact is a continuing source of amusement. Eisenberg constantly confused by the fact nobody seems to notice they’re identical is really pretty funny. At one juncture there is some Cyrano action that goes on, but it soon turns dark. As does the movie. The comedy of the situation — comedy in the way the aforementioned Fight Club has “comedy” — really does take a turn that is suddenly way less funny. The relationship between the evil doppelgänger, James Simon, and Hannah getting way more serious and oddly deadly. Turns out he’s a real shit. And she way more emo than we could have known. When a woman basically turns to you and is like “kill yourself,” you know stuff isn’t going great.

Ultimately, the film is really cool looking and a very different experience than most everything you’ll see. Is it a great movie? I mean, no. But it’s definitely worth seeing if not for Eisenberg’s performance and the look and feel of the thing. So, it’s a decent movie. And one that reminds us that art can come in all shapes and sizes, and things that were once overlooked can have second lives as “cult” classics because of streaming. Plus J. Mascis just shows up for no reason, which is cool. I’m not sure why Ayoade hasn’t directed anything since, seeing as he’s clearly a skilled director with a very specific vision. One that is shared by more recent examples of things I really enjoyed, like Severance, which shares a lot of thematic and stylistic similarities. But when he does, I’m down.