Richard Ayoade’s second directorial outing reflects on the previous statement, taking inspiration from Dostoyevsky’s novella, The Double. Here, Jesse Eisenberg features as an introverted office worker, Simon James, with clear ambition for progression, but lacks the personality required to become what he sees as a fully rounded human being either in his professional or personal life.
Paranoid and self-absorbed, much of this individuals mental and emotional issues are reflective, it seems, and this becomes all the more apparent upon the appearance of a new employee ar his workplace who looks and sounds exactly like him. However, this new ‘double’, James Simon, has none of Simon’s limiting traits. His double is confident, resourceful and funny. All of the things he would like to be himself.
The refrences with Ayoade’s second feature are numerous and varied, from Fight Club, through Gilliam’s Brazil, all the way to Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Whether Ayoade should really be genuflecting to such an extent is a bit of a poser, but you cannot deny his vision and his seemingly inate ability to create it. This bleak, dystopian outlook of a heartless, grey, slightly grimy insular world that Simon inhabits does not sit well with him as he appears to be one of few individuals with a soul that we can really spot. The vast majority of the employees in his workplace, with the exception of Melanie (Yasmin Paige) and love interest Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) are painted as one-dimensional drones. With the arrival of the irrepressible James, all of these main characters tie together nicely enough, weaving in and out of relevance as Simon slowly descends into what seems like an inevitable defence mechanism in the form of a delusion from a reality he just can’t accept any longer.
Cast very well indeed, Eisenberg is just what the character of Simon required. He has the ability to portray a mumbling nobody and yet convincingly switch to a motor-mouthed know-it-all with the requisite amount of swagger. He does have trouble with everything in between, but seeing as the role didn’t really require any kind of middle ground, we’re in safe hands. Wasikowska plays probably her most likeable character to date (and I include Alice in that statement) of a fairly eclectic career thus far, as Hannah, the girl with the photocopier over whom Simon frequently obsesses.
At first glance, this cast could potentially worry those that are aware of their previous career choices, which have tended towards bland, vague, vanilla character depictions that do not require too much engagement from the players themselves. And this is also true to a certain extent here with Eisenberg’s performance as Simon. James, on the other hand, is much more satisfying to witness, and it does beg the question of why Eisenberg doesn’t choose more roles that stretch his acting chops.
Ayoade has achieved another very interesting piece of work with this effort. Like Submarine, he chooses to focus his main attention on a lonely, misunderstood male, who could easily be described as harmlessly anti-social, with a hint of quirky enthusuiasm which the audience will find intriguing, if not exactly admirable or inspiring. His previous work is far easier to engage with due to its contemporary themes and tone, whereas with The Double, this is a much more ambitious project, attempting to engage the audience on a deeper level than just teenage angst.
As a standalone piece of work, Ayoade continues to make great progress in his writing and direction here, even if some of the ideas are seemingly regurgitated from elsewhere. Nonetheless, our leads are engaging enough (just enough, mind) to not tire the more impatient viewer and the film doesn’t overstay its welcome too much (maybe just a little). Not quite as ‘thrilling’ as I was personally hoping for, but still, worth a watch.