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The Double (2014)

May 23, 2014

posterSimon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is an unnoticeable speck on a dingy coat; one so commonplace and ordinary that he blends into the background of his own life. His co-workers barely remember his name while others, including his boss Mr. Papadopoulous (Wallace Shawn), forget they’ve met him despite Simon having worked at the same company for seven years. Simon is bland, unconfident, unremarkable, and obsessed with his neighbor and co-worker, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). Yet, things change for Simon after he witnesses a suicide while spying on his unrequited love. The tragic event coincides with the appearance of James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), a new neighbor and co-worker endowed with confidence and a magnetic charm. Despite their polarizing opposite personalities, James and Simon share one thing in common: the exact same face. As the two become acquainted James begins to slowly seep into Simon’s life and soon the tables turn when Simon learns of James’ ulterior motives.

The Double is the phantasmal collaboration of writer/director Richard Ayoade and his screenplay partner Avi Korine, cinematographer Erik Wilson, music coordinator Andrew Hewitt and Eisenberg who tackles two momentous roles at once. The Double is a slightly palatable, albeit frustrating, viewing experience that can engage and intrigue from its magnetic start even into its faltering, disappointing end. As Simon, Jesse Eisenberg exudes awkwardness with genuineness than say Michael Cera. That is by no means an attempt to knock Cera or typecast him, though both actors have pitted themselves into the “dorky weird guy” stereotype. Here, Eisenberg masters his character’s textbook awkwardness: twitching fingers, the inability to hold a casual conversation, shifty eyes that can barely hold contact with another human in fear of being figured out or judged.

The Double’s adapted script from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s short story helps too. Simon’s fate lies in the confines of the narrative which just so happens to see fit to abuse and berate him. Elevators never work when Simon wants them to, characters rarely speak kindly to or of him, and Murphy’s Law seems more effective than Boyle’s. Simon’s pathetic life raises wonders from characters and audiences alike as to why he just doesn’t kill himself. However, Eisenberg captures a humility and likability within Simon that translates to sympathy and sorrow. He simultaneously brings life to the unscrupulous douche-baggary of James, a character that gives Simon awful advice that include degrading and lying to women.

The technicality of The Double is astounding, and judging from the multiple production companies that take up the first few minutes of the film’s opening credits, The Double had a pretty respectable budget. The lighting is extravagant featuring heavy emphasis on amber tinged oranges, sapphire blues, stark whites, and brooding reds. Some scenes glow in their brightness while others cast perfect shadows that make them seem like colorized versions of silver screened products.

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But, amidst all of these glorifying moments, no element could save this film from its lack of clarity and its buffoonish ending. In 2004 Lindsey Lohan stared in the hilariously awful film I Know Who Killed Me, a psychological thriller that follows a pair of twins whose suffer from a sensational trait that allows them to feel each other’s pain. This is felt by one twin when the other is captured and tortured by a psychopath. Aside from its barely passable performances, I Know Who Killed Me suffers most from its jostled script that raises more questions than it was prepared to answer. The Double falters for the same weakness. What it makes up for in production and technical prowess, it lacks from its slippery thin story that exists on screen. Despite its vast amount of colorful symbolism, The Double left me feeling unsatisfied since nothing adds up enough to make sense of it.

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It’s hard not to see the influences of Chuck Palahniuk, or Charlie Kauffman and the Coen Brothers within The Double. The attempt to produce a savvy psychological art-house thriller is there from Ayoade, but the execution is a meager one. The Double is the type of film that may be enjoyable to watch unfold for its surrealistic, psychedelic elements. Yet, while it’s funny and urges your brain to work a mile a minute to decipher its meaning, once the smoke and mirrors disappear we are left with a slow, bland story that runs in circles since the physics and continuity of the events fumble. Most infuriating of all is that doppleganger of another character is revealed, but nothing ever comes of it. The Double’s greatness lies in its physical prowess rather than its brain, a sad reality from a film with so much potential.

TOSS UP. It’s a great cinematic achievement, despite its annoyingly poor story. 

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