Jesse Eisenberg heartily devours the dual-role of Simon and James in director Richard Ayoade's The Double. He is a treat to watch, beginning to end. Unfortunately, he is the only reason I watched to the end. Simon is the type of person nobody sees or cares about, in an unglamorous, quasi-dystopian post-modern future-past office, reminiscent of (read: stolen from) Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Simon is not a clown; he's a serious, honest, hard-working individual, but is essentially an uninteresting, unimportant and invisible person. His fate is worse than that of a person that bad things happen to, because nothing happens to him. Security, his boss, the girl he likes, even inanimate objects like the subway and the elevator do not see him or respond to him. When James, the new-hire, arrives at the office, Simon's world is turned upside down. Suddenly James is noticed for all the hard work Simon has been doing for years; girls see the same face, and are attracted to James but still ignore Simon. As James becomes more ingrained in the office and wins the approval of his superiors and associates, the more Simon is seen as less worthy. And of course, the girl of Simon's dreams can't see him for who he really is when James is in the spotlight. It's time for drastic action, if only he can summon the requisite bravery, and can solve the puzzle he's put himself in. People's opinions of him are much harder to sway when his carbon-copy is the better him in every way. And this is where director Richard Ayoade falls flat. Through terrific lighting and exacting shots and specific manipulation of plot pieces, he fails to distinguish Simon from James in the most meaningful way: to the other characters around them. Though it is much more than a wink at the duality of our own existence as ego (what we see ourselves as) and objective (how others see us), it is near impossible to understand how not only do the other co-workers not see the two as identical in appearance (and not discuss this) but also how they see them as wholly different individuals, character-wise. This allows James to somehow con everyone into believing bad acts he committed were done by Simon, and good acts Simon did were his. The crux of the film lies on this point: that because nobody sees him, Simon must be the one to own all negative character aspects. As Simon works harder to establish himself as the good character, he becomes less so. There is so much psychology going on here it is difficult to put into words. Far more challenging is for the director trying to put it into images. From the opening scene it is very obvious that the director is sending a strong message. It is this omnipresent stamp on every scene, every shot, that doesn't allow the movie to breathe. There is no build up and release, just one depressing scene after another. Poor Simon can't catch a break, and neither can we. While the deliberate use of lighting and color is excellent and contributes to the mood, it seems rigueure du jour and the colors don't seem to set a tone or create a style. Music selections are unusual and offbeat, but not interesting enough, and no consistent style emerges from the selections. Also deliberate is the underdevelopment of all secondary characters. We know nothing of Mia Wasikowska's character, except to accept that she's lonely like Simon. We know none of the office's other characters, save the supervisor, and he's as two dimensional as cardboard - as is the security guard, the investigators, the copy manager, and Simon's mother. It's sad that as robust as Jesse Eisenburg has filled in the characters of Simon and James, the rest of this world is two- dimensional. While The Double has two of the main thing, it has too little of anything else to sustain it.
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A clerk in a government agency finds his unenviable life takes a turn for the horrific with the arrival of a new co-worker who is both his exact physical double and his opposite - confident, charismatic and seductive with women.
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April 11, 2019