It’s easy to wonder if there’s a ‘better you’ out there. One who made different choices, one who was braver, one who works out and eats well, one who studies hard, one who takes that risk. It’s easy to wonder if your life would be better if you just were more outgoing, more confident, more forceful.
Now what if you met that ‘better’ you’.
And they wanted to destroy you.
Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is in a tough place in his life. Nobody at his soul-crushing job appreciates him, his elderly mother is dying in an uncaring rest home and Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the girl of his dreams, does not even know he exists. One night he witnesses a suicide and the clean-up crew that arrives explains they’re very common. They take one look at Simon and put him down as a future ‘maybe’.
Then a new worker starts at his bureaucratic place of employ. A bright young man introduced with fanfare ad excitement. A young man…who looks exactly like him.
Simon’s double is, naturally, named James Simon and while nobody else seems to notice the physical similarity, they certainly notice James. The boss loves him, the security guard is his immediate friend and his confidence and ease is everything Simon is not.
In return for covering for him at work, James takes Simon under his wing, offering to teach him confidence and how to win the heart of Hannah. But quickly it becomes apparent that actually what James wants…is everything Simon has.
The Double is the second feature film from director Richard Aoyade and, like his assured debut Submarine, shows him again making very shrewd decisions. He chooses once again an adaptation (this time, the Dostoevsky novella) and shows once more a superb visual eye. Where Submarine was all wide shots and symmetrical compositions of the Wes Anderson variety, The Double is all shadows and coloured lighting, with a period-less production design more than a little reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
The result is an underpopulated world that feels vague and dreamlike. It could be anywhere. It could be anytime. It creates an atmosphere where nothing can be trusted – are we seeing Simon’s perception of events? Or are we seeing things that are in Simon’s head?
This dis-associative approach allows the focus to shift from the mechanical to the philosophical. As Simon’s plight worsens – his job, his dream girl, even his apartment all being taken away from him – we cannot help but to project. What would you do in such a situation? Would you give up? Would you fight back? How can you fight back when your opponent is everything you are…but better?
Eisenberg plays to type as the stammering, awkward Simon, but shows a reptilian swagger as James. He is careful to not overdo it, though, and the effect is of two markedly separate individuals without ever having to revert to physical quirks for differentiation.
Wasikowska does well with what is a fairly limited, reactionary role and continues to prove herself as one of the most interesting young actresses around today. Her choice of projects remains impeccable and her name is quickly becoming an indicator of a film worth watching.
Darkly comic and wonderfully realised, The Double is a gem of a film. Evocative and yet leaving enough ambiguity for the audience to draw its own conclusions on standing up for yourself, what aspects of your personality are truly important, and thoughts of the road not taken.
The extras on the Blu-Ray include a behind the scenes featurette which includes comments from the producers, Aoyade, co-writer Avi Korine (Harmony Korine’s brother, trivia fans!) and various cast members. It also gives a bit of a window into the complexities of motion control camerawork to include two Jesse Eisenbergs in so many frames.
There are also some fairly superfluous deleted scenes and also the full scenes of the TV show that is shown on background TV sets a lot – a micro-budget sci-fi action piece starring Paddy Considine.