MOVIE l The Double l M l
As I watched, I wondered if I was supposed to understand what, exactly, was going on. Just a few minutes into Richard Ayoade’s latest film, I realised it was not going to be a hopeful comedy of self-realisation and ‘turning one’s life around’. Oh, no. It was going to be a lot more gruelling than that.
It can be said that main character Simon (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network) faces himself in this story. He is literally shown facing his exact physical image, but the reflection is much deeper than that. Simon comes uncomfortably close to seeing the reality of his life; pausing from his obsessional observation of others to truly observe himself through his interaction with doppelganger/alter ego (real or signifier) James.
Simon lives in a dark, decrepit apartment. He works in a dark, decrepit office where he is systemically overlooked. He is romantically interested in fellow employee Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) and uses his telescope, mounted at the window of his studio apartment, to watch her in her apartment opposite. He is lonely – TV is no real solace, despite the existence of a show he idolises.
Eisenberg switches between voyeur Simon, timid and unnoticed – or when noticed, treated as an annoyance – to opposite personality James who is confident and smooth-talking, someone who experiences rather than observes life; who takes rather than begs.
Simon/James both act as they do in response to each’s self-evaluation. Simon sees himself as inconsequential, overlooked and powerless. James sees himself as important, entitled and desirable. Each one’s ensuing actions greatly dictate how their divergent professional and personal lives play out.
The film feels like a dimly-lit nightmare where the viewer is dragged, somewhat frightened, into the shadowy workings of an ill mind. It’s hard to know what this movie is attempting to say – but we do know Simon wishes to be seen, to be special; to count. He is, quite literally, dying to be noticed. We also learn that Hannah is no stranger to such longings.
The film is based on Russian Christian-socialist author Fyodor Dostoevsky’s (famed author of Crime and Punishment) short story of the same name which is equally as bizarre and perplexing.
The film is reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, although The Double’s loose ends are left carelessly to unravel. Missing from the plot is a satisfying Fight Club explanation. This omission denies the audience the significant pleasure of seeing a complex plot masterfully come together, in spite of the fact it’s virtually a promise implicit in a film such as this.
The contrast between laugh-out-loud humour and an ominous tone is disquieting even if it maintains the intrigue. Topics such as suicide are raised from the beginning of the film, along with stalking/voyeurism, the dehumanisation of ‘cubicle slavery’ and psychotic mental illness.
Eisenberg does a great job playing both Simon and James and embodying completely contrasting attitudes and personas. Australian Wasikowska is captivating and convincing as Hannah, though the development of her character, relevant only in the ways it informs Eisenberg’s, becomes confused in the general incoherency of the plot.
Surreal and intellectually absorbing, The Double may leave you seeing double or, through lack of coherency, it might leave you feeling how I felt after watching it – close to nothing.