Simon James (Zombieland’s Jesse Eisenberg) is a non-person. Mild mannered and full of angst Simon is eking out a meaningless life as an underappreciated office drone frustrated by his friends, ignored by his bosses and worst of all the girl of his dreams Hannah (Mia Wasikowska from Stoker) doesn’t know he exists.
All this changes for the worst however with the arrival of James Simon (obviously also played by Eisenberg) his exact double in physical appearance but his opposite in attitude. Aggressive, outgoing and extremely willing to break all the rules James quickly becomes the golden boy of the office with no one apart from Simon able to see that he is his doppelganger.
Starting out as friends with James attempting to coach Simon in confidence with an eye to attaining Hannah’s hand the symbiotic relationship soon slips into a one sided abuse of power as Simon bullies and abuses James to get whatever he wants. As Simon spins into a dark spiral of despair it seems James is taking over his life piece by piece but can he act before it’s too late and Simon simply ceases to exist?
Operating as a very dark comic thriller The Double is based on the novella by Dostoyevsky of the same name and like Edgar Alan Poe’s brilliant William Wilson amongst other great works of fiction deals with the horrific nightmarish idea of loss of identity to someone who looks just like you.
At first it may seem strange that this twisted film with a such a heavy weight theme is written and directed by Richard Ayoade best known for his comic turns acting in such cult sitcoms as the IT Crowd and the great Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace however Ayoade has already proved his directorial prowess in his excellent debut Submarine a coming of age tale as hilarious as it was heartfelt.
With The Double Ayoade goes much further accentuating the absurd and abstract for both comedy and creative value upping the stylized shots and fully exploiting the surreal sets making the movie feel like fever dream filled with both fear and funny moments in equal measure.
Packed full of amazing imagery the look of the movie is a blend of bland Communist utilitarianism and 80’s consumerism with a simultaneously real and fake feel that heightens the unhinged and tense atmosphere that infuses every scene of Simon James story.
Collecting together a great central cast with Wasikowska and Wallace Shawn as Simon’s boss there are also a ton of cameo’s from many of Ayoade’s previous work including Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Christopher Morris, Chris O’Dowd and Paddy Considine in a laughable 80’s-esque Sci-Fi show.
Central to it all is The Double himself and although Eisenberg may seem an unlikely leading man his casting is inspired. Having crafted a career in uncomfortable intellectual outcaste characters that are on a sliding scale of interchangeability (not mentioning his many similarities to Michael Cere) the viewer comes to The Double with a level of expectation which is both confirmed and confounded as Eisenberg offers up a brilliant turn as two sides of the same coin.
As the foul mouthed fast talking bad side James Simon his physicality is that of a cocky con man accustomed to getting his way any way possible uncaring in who he hurts and his outbursts of violence and obsession with sex almost make him into a manifestation of Freud’s instinctual uninhibited Id to Simon’s smothering Super-ego.
As Simon James Eisenberg engages the audiences sympathies from the start as an eternal underdog perpetually beaten down by the world and trapped in an bizarre eternal comedy of manners. His performances is subtly nuanced each minute movement betraying the internal turmoil of tragedy raging underneath the surface making for moments of heartbreak as he searches for his own identity in a literal face off against his own mirror image.
Unlike anything you have seen The Double is an unnerving and entertaining experience with a two great performances from the one actor further proving that Ayoade has a bright future ahead in crafting dark and highly creative comedies.
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