This British film is a dark drama that is based loosely on the 1846 novella, The Double, by the Russian author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, writes Peter W. Sheehan.
Not to be confused with a 2011 American spy movie of the same name, it is about a man driven to the edge of madness when he finds that his existence has been usurped by someone else.
Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a lonely, shy, and self-effacing man, whom most people ignore. He works in a government agency, that has something to do with data processing, where every day he has to identify himself as a worker. He is mis-understood by his own mother, and he is the kind of person who is asked to give up his seat to someone else on an empty bus. He feels permanently 'incapable of what needs to be done.'
One day, he is stunned to find that a new employee in the place where he works, James Simon, bears a striking resemblance to himself. The two men, though, have different personalities. Simon is unassertive, deferential and awkward, while James is confident, popular and aggressive. Simon is interested romantically in a co-worker, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who lives in an apartment opposite his own, but he doesn't know how to court her. James coaches Simon on how to get close to Hannah, and Simon, in return for James' advice, does James's work for him. James, however, takes credit for Simon's work, and seduces Hannah. Simon's mental stability is threatened by all that has happened, and Simon and James move to confront each other violently.
One of the special characteristics of Dostoyevsky's brilliance is his ability to capture what is completely idiosyncratic to the personality he is writing about. Films can always differ from books, but in this respect at least a film based on Dostoyevsky's writings should aim to capture what makes a person essentially different from other people. It is a special challenge when a main character is the double of someone else. The resolution of similar physical appearance with personality distinctiveness necessarily rests in the capacity to portray a 'unique' configuration of what makes one person separate from another. In this film, the appearance of differences creatively fuses with the perception of physical sameness.
This is a boldly intelligent movie that impresses in style. It builds up tension in an original way, is directed smartly, and Ayoade brings imagination to the film by virtue of the paranoid fantasies that he develops meticulously. The film becomes a surrealistic experience for the viewer, who must try to cope with perceptions of sameness and difference in a world that is filled with sinister, dark and unusual happenings.
- Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
The Double, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska, with Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, and James Fox. Directed by Richard Ayoade.
Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language). 93 min.