Richard Ayoade‘s The Double is a Terry Gilliam-esque journey into the psyche of a man that has lost his sense of self. Twisted and strange, I couldn’t get into it in the slightest as it deals with a guy suffering from something of a psychotic breakdown as his life is slowly taken over by his doppelgÃ¤nger. It’s all so obvious, the strange narrative and world Ayoade has created feels as if it’s weird for the sake of being weird, almost as a justification for why the film exists at all. I understand there are people that will fall head over heels for this kind of storytelling, that’s fine, I’m just not one of them.
As for the story, Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a hard worker, plugging away each and every day at a nondescript data processing center. He has a crush on the photocopy girl, Hanna (Mia Wasikowska), but nary a friend in the world.
An opening scene sets the tone as he rides the subway to work only to have a stranger step up to him in an empty car and tell him he’s sitting in his spot. After a quick look around, noticing they’re all alone, he relents, stands and gives up his seat. Upon exiting the car he loses his briefcase and at work the security guard doesn’t recognize him, despite the fact he’s worked the same job for seven years. Such is Simon’s life, real or imagined, it’s one huge metaphor. Eventually he’s plainly told he simply no longer exists. What’s a guy to do?
In the meantime his perfect double, James Simon (see what they did there), has just been hired and begins receiving attention and adulation from his boss (Wallace Shawn), his co-workers and even Hannah. Seeing how Simon and James look exactly the same and James doesn’t have the first idea what he’s doing, Simon’s frustration is inevitable, but, again, it’s all a metaphor.
Ayoade mines this twisted, but straight-forward adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novella without altering course once. Eisenberg is in his element as the role calls for his two chief character personalities; 1.) timid and stuttering and 2.) cocky and self-confident. No surprise, he’s comfortable with both.
The production design can almost best be described as steampunk minimalsim, captured in smoke and shadows. Considering the narrative it serves the story well. Andrew Hewitt‘s score is also appropriate, but also very on the nose as the jaunty notes of a piano dominate virtually every scene. It doesn’t get much more “Gilliam” than that.
The easiest, most obvious and constant comparison you’re going to find is to Gilliam’s Brazil, but this is mostly in terms of tone. Brazil, however, is far more complex. The ideas behind The Double are rather simple and while rare in its approach, I couldn’t help but tire of the plot device as each and every little turn of the corner offers up yet another cute little representation of Simon’s identity crisis. I get it, but I don’t have to like it.