Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) is a young man, remarkable in his complete lack of remarkability. Simon works for a data processing company and is completely in love with his co-worker Hanna (Mia Wasikowska), but is probably never going to do anything about it. When James (Jesse Eisenberg) is transferred in from a sister branch, Simon’s carefully ordered life is thrown into chaos; this newcomer looks exactly like him, yet no-one seems to be able to see it.
Based on a novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Double is adapted for the screen and directed by Richard Ayoade. Casting Jesse Eisenberg is a genius move; it seems hard to imagine an actor who could capture such arrogance in James, and such awkward frustration in Simon. As with the best double or twin performances, it is easy for the audience to tell who is who, as Eisenberg’s performances are so strong and assured.
Mia Wasikowska is warm and engaging as Hannah, and the rest of the supporting cast – including Wallace Shawn, James Fox – flesh out the world of The Double, while allowing the heart and soul of the film to hang on Simon and James’s interactions. There are also some nice nods to the work that Ayoade has done in the past, with Chris O’Dowd, Yasmin Paige and Craig Roberts turning up in the film.
Richard Ayoade has created a world that is as retro futuristic as a Terry Gilliam film, and has carefully layered in story and characters. The world is as drab and grey and Simon finds his life to be, and the cinematography with its sweeping cuts serves to back this up. Ayoade has created a world that lives and dies on rhythms; the data processing work is all about the beats, and the precise rhythm with which the characters talk serve to underline the oddness of this world; nothing seems to be thought about too much, everything is accepted without question. When Simon does question anything, he is punished for it.
The Double is a darkly funny drama that not only reminds us of the skill of Eisenberg as an actor, but also cements Richard Ayoade’s position as a skilled and precise director. The world of The Double is an odd one, for sure, but it is easy to relate to the characters and the mediocrity of their lives. The cinematography and design of the film is wonderful and the actors do a superb job. The Double isn’t always a comfortable watch, but it is a rewarding one.