For The Double, Richard Ayoade has invented a fascinating world. Somewhere between our own reality and a dystopian future, it feels like The Twilight Zone’s version of what 2014 would look like. It’s bleak and dark and vaguely Eastern European. The immediate influences abound. It’s like David Lynch and Orson Welles threw a party for Charlie Chaplin. Dostoevsky was invited, naturally, since the movie is based on a novella of his, and he brought along Jean-Pierre Jeunet as his plus one. Still, though the film may immediately remind you of ten different things, it is spectacularly unique.
The Double stars Jesse Eisenberg (twice). And if you still thought of him as the guy studios went to when they couldn’t afford Michael Cera, this movie should turn you right around. Eisenberg plays Simon James, a kind man and a good worker, but so meek and unassuming that he goes unnoticed by everyone in his life: his boss of seven years, the security guard who checks him into work everyday, his copy room crush (a subtle and charming Mia Wasikowska) whom he spends his evenings pining after, Rear Window-style with a telescope. He’s not just mildly forgettable, these people have no idea who he is.
After witnessing a suicide during one of his late night telescope sessions, Simon James’ life starts to take a turn for the weird(er). A new employee, who just happens to look exactly like Simon, is hired at the ominously generic government agency where he works. Except no one notices that either, because while the two may share a face, they are so fundamentally different that it’s impossible to mistake one for the other. This mysterious new employee—named, appropriately, James Simon— is everything Simon James is not. He’s confident, widely admired, and not too shabby in the lady department. At first James appears to take Simon under his studly wing, but the double soon turns to double-crossing, taking over Simon’s job, his Wasikowska, his very existence. As the two grow closer, the borders of their relationship blur. Are they two halves of a proverbial whole or an literal one? Is James the Tyler Durden to Simon’s Edward Norton, or the other way around?
In this follow up to his sweetly quirky Submarine, Ayoade has stripped away the whimsy and replaced it with something odd, and dark, and entrancing. The bleakness of this world he’s created is offset by a brilliant offbeat score and a relentless pace. The entire movie is mysterious, but never a mystery, per se. Because if it were a mystery, a whodunnit, we would need answers, and a tidiness that would ruin this little gem of weirdness. Instead, the film is closer to a caper. A darkly hilarious, wonderful and strange romp through the mind of a man who is far too relatable in his desperation to be acknowledged.
The Double is available now in select theaters and VOD.
Vivian Kane would sell all her non-essential organs for an invite to that Chaplin party. Forward her invitation here.