Sundance 2014 Review: The Double

The Double Jesse Eisenberg Mia Wasikowska

I really liked The Double but it’s going to be very difficult to describe it. The tone is a unique combination of aesthetics that all appealed to me. It is a very sure and confident film. This is would seem to be exactly the movie writer/director Richard Ayoade intended to make, and now it’s on me to describe his voice.

Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a meek working stiff who can’t speak up to correct the bureaucracy from persecuting him with expired access badges and blaming him for mistakes he is actually the one fixing. He tries to take care of his mother who these days can’t form two sentences in a row that go together, though each non sequitur is thoroughly disapproving. He longs for his co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) who clearly only sees him as a friend at best, if even that.

It starts out weird already with a surreal noir look of framing and shadows. It gets weirder when Stanley witnesses a suicide across the street who waved to him, but it gets weirdest when James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) shows up to work. Obviously, James looks just like Simon, their names are inverted, and James becomes everyone’s favorite.

James wants to help Simon by showing him how to be more of an alpha male. He starts taking some liberties with the whole twin thing though and that causes problems for Simon. There is that skeleton of a narrative but it’s not what The Double is about. The narrative twists happen so quickly that you don’t process them in the form of sympathy for Simon. It’s more creating the tone of frustrations and insecurities. The banter is rapid fire too, sharp and clever but also less about what is said than the intensity of its delivery. With respect to film festival’s theaters, some of the banter was unintelligible through the speakers, but I felt the pressure of being talked at when poor Simon is struggling to formulate his thoughts.

The Double Mia Wasikowska Jesse Eisenberg

Ayoade is exploring social constructs with abstract dynamics. The Double is about how our presentation affects the way others treat us. We don’t know what the company Simon and James work for does, or even what some of the relationships are. Simon presumably only likes Hannah because she’s pretty and she’s there and out of his league. However, we get the desire to succeed, the desire to be loved and the natural desire for sex. In the abstract, it only comes down to James displaying confidence and Simon weakness.

Basically we get nervous Jesse Eisenberg and alpha Jesse Eisenberg in the same movie. Seeing two of the strong personas he created go at each other is another level to appreciating The Double. It’s about the dichotomy of Simon James and James Simon, but it’s also about the two sides of Jesse Eisenberg.

I think I understand who James Simon really was on the plot level of The Double, but it really doesn’t matter whether I did or not. The Double is about feeling what it’s like to look at yourself, only not yourself, but also internally. It’s really funny, but it’s just weird. Doing a premise this mainstream (opposite twins, doubling the actor) so obscurely is awesome.