The movie is inspired by a Dostoevsky novella in which a mundane government employee begins a downward spiral upon discovering a doppelganger. Jesse Eisenberg plays both parts, the insecure Simon James and the confident James Simon. It’s the former that Ayoade holds at center-stage. Simon is a melancholy fellow and the kind person you could meet a dozen times and not remember a single detail about. He is a smart, consistent worker at his office, where he writes various algorithms and turns big clunky nobs.
The settings undeniably resemble Terry Gilliam’s beloved Brazil, with its uni-culture and ever-present bureaucracy. The Double has a different tone though, spending more time in the morose nature of its lead character. Ayoade presents Simon as more than a nice, unsure man trying to find himself. Simon is, well not a creep, but certainly creepy. He is a voyeur, watching his neighbor through a telescope, including Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), a co-worker he is smitten by, despite knowing very little about her. He longs to live a better, happier life, even stating that he knows how to do so, but is emotionally unable to make the maneuvers to improve his place in life, unlike James Simon.
One of the intriguing twists on the doppelganger tales Ayoade runs with is that while two identical men exist in this society, even working at the same place, nobody else notices. This allows for various scenes where the disparate nature of the Eisenbergs comes to the forefront in peculiar ways. Where one can’t even get a simple Coke from a waitress, the other, through shear force of personality, receives his request of bacon and eggs, despite the restaurants policy of serving such items only for breakfast.
Eisenberg is terrific in both parts, each mirroring his perceived acting styles. James is blathering and all over himself. At one point he is told by his other-half to seductively lick his lips towards Hannah, with the express comment not to make himself look like a lizard while doing so; the outcome is a supremely funny failure. The successful secondary figure is more akin to Eisenberg's recent turns as the smooth-talker, able to work his words into making people do what he wants.
For all the perceived fingerprints that can be seen on The Double, which includes movies like The Apartment and Alphaville, Ayoade’s film isn’t some Frankenstein creature. The aura of sadness permeates every frame, molding it into a unified piece. It's aided by a melodic, strange score by Andrew Hewitt and consistently haunting visuals via Erik Wilson, one of cinema’s great unsung cinematographers. Under it all is a comedic tone that is pitch black, including a wise-cracking pair of cops who work the suicide beat, which is apparently surprisingly busy.
That 2014 has given us to doppelganger films is strange. That they both are compelling in drastically unique ways is a treat.
The Double is now available on various VOD formats.