May 062014

the double

Imagine that one day a person who looks exactly like you appears in your life. This person has a name similar to yours, but their personality is almost the exact opposite. Your friends and workmates don’t think there’s anything strange about this person, and they slowly move in your life. Wouldn’t you feel like you were in a horror film? That you were going mad? My review of The Double after the jump.

Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a quiet young man. Some might call him a bit of a recluse or a social outsider. He lives a mostly solitary life and when he does interact with people he does so with absolutely no confidence. He has such a lack of presence that at times it is like he doesn’t exist at all. Even the security guard (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) at his data processing job appears to have no recollection of him, despite him working there for several years. He has admired his colleague Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) for some time, but even having a mundane conversation with her is an almost insurmountable challenge. Simon’s already dire life is made even more difficult with the arrival of a new colleague named James Simon (also Eisenberg), who happens to be Simon’s mirror image, a fact that goes unnoticed by his co-workers and boss (played wonderfully by Wallace Shawn). James is everything Simon is not – he’s brash, confident, cocky, smooth-talking and very manipulative. As James worms himself further and further into Simon’s life, Simon loses grip on reality and just like Alice falls down the rabbit hole.

In his follow-up to Submarine, Richard Ayoade has created a bold mad-cap thriller, which doesn’t shy away from taking the audience on ride as confusing and disturbing as it does Simon. Ayoade doesn’t give a whole lot for viewers to grasp onto – this film is more about the experience than it is the narrative. Clearly displaying elements inspired by the likes of Hitchcock & Lynch (particularly Eraserhead), the creepy atmosphere in this film is palpable. The further down the rabbit hole Simon falls, the stronger the horror elements manifest. While there are moments of comedy (mostly due to the absurdity of the situation), I would not consider this even to be a dark comedy. This is a psychological mind game and it’s a great one.

The haunting score composed by Andrew Hewitt helps to set the temperature of the film, creating an atmosphere of uneasiness and anticipation. This is one of those scores which lingers, haunting my thoughts days after seeing the film. The sound edited also played a large part in this film, with the clang of the typewriters, the screech of the train and the sharp rapping of footsteps approaching, all so important in the creation of the film’s unnerving atmosphere. Cinematography from Erik Wilson (who was the cinematographer for the beautifully shot documentary The Impostor) is sharp and interesting. He uses a variety of camera angles to help portray the confused state of existence which Simon increasingly finds himself in. Production design is of the highest quality, with the setting somehow seeming both in the past and in a weird Orwellian version of the future.

Jesse Eisenberg is extremely impressive as both Simon James and James Simon, changing his mannerisms, body language and way of talking enough for the two characters to be obviously different from each other, but evidently from the same mold and psyche. They are less two halves of one whole than they are two creations of the same ingredients. It’s through Simon’s confusion and fear that we experience the film and it’s a bewildering, intense and enjoyable ride.

By Sam McCosh

The Facts

Director: Richard Ayoade
Writer(s): Richard Ayoade & Avi Korine (screenplay), Fyodor Dostoevsky (novella)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, James Fox
Runtime: 93 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: May 8 2014