The Double is bleak, atmospheric, haunting, and visually captivating. It’s a major film from Richard Ayoade that demonstrates his ability to tackle heavier topics with his traditionally dry comedic touch. The film centers on Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), a clerk at a government agency who lives a mostly invisible life. His badge doesn’t work, his boss doesn’t notice his accomplishments, people forget his name, and he pisses off just about everyone for always making one copy in the copy room. He has a crush on Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), a woman who works at the office and lives in the apartment building across from him. He spies on her through a telescope, hopes to reach out to her romantically, yet he doesn’t have the courage or ability to win her over. Then everything changes one day when James Simon shows up, an exact physical double of Simon who is the opposite: charismatic, charming, womanizing, and confident. Simon’s life slowly begins to unravel.
This is an extraordinarily confident sophomore feature from Ayoade, who is coming off of his quirky independent comedy from 2010, Submarine. The film occupies a space in time and place that is unidentifiable yet never bland; it feels as if it’s archaic and bleak and the setting could be anywhere in a central city in the U.S. The film relies on shadows and drained images to make for this character’s torment, with the cinematography often borrowing from film noir and emphasizing the duality of the main character. Eisenberg is terrific in the lead, surprisingly able to pull off being a charming asshole while playing his usually quiet, weak role. There are storytelling and framing odes to David Lynch and other surrealist storytelling, with the film occupying a landscape in independent film that demonstrates a minimalist approach with emphasis on character and story. It’s a darkly funny, refreshing, and beautiful film.
Grade: ★★★★½ (out of 5)