Jesse Eisenberg Takes On A Dual Role In The Kafkaesque Nightmare Of 'The Double'
Richard Ayoade's second film, The Double, is ironically the third film this year about doppelgängers, coming in the wake of Denis Villeneuve's Enemy and Muppets Most Wanted. One can even loosen the definition a little bit to include Zoe Kazan's turn as twins in The Pretty One.
In The Double, inspired by Dostoyevsky's novella, Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is an anonymous drone in a bureaucratic hell eternally trapped in the Eastern Bloc that is some combination of Orwell and Kafka with a dash of Wes Anderson's overbearing tidiness. Simon, despite having worked as a data processor at the same job for seven years, can hardly make himself noticed by his colleagues and even the machinery that surrounds him in his everyday life. Even his clothes ignore his presence; his oversized suit recalls David Byrne's own in Stop Making Sense.
Notably these colleagues that ignore him includes his superior Mr. Papadopoulos (the always delightful Wallace Shawn) and Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the object of his affection. Simon is meek, his personality dominated by a nervous passivity, and he is only able to observe Hannah from afar outside of brief interactions at the office. Simon's whole world is turned upside down when Mr. Papadopoulos introduces James Simon (Eisenberg) to the office, an exact replica of Simon whose only superficial difference is the confident sneer that he wears on his face. Despite looking just like Simon, James is assertive, pompous, and manipulative nearly to the point of being predatory. At first he forges a friendship with Simon out of his own amusement and with a touch of sympathy, but it turns sinister when he steals Simon's work and also the attention of Hannah.
The Double plays into Jesse Eisenberg's strengths as an actor and also showcases him as one of the better ones working in film today. Prior to his brilliant performance as The Zuck in The Social Network, Eisenberg was always seen and cast as a Michael Cera clone. But what makes Eisenberg a much more compelling presence than Cera, despite both playing the roles of nervous young white men, is that he taps into the ugly core of male insecurity that Cera mollifies with goofiness. The Simon/James duo of The Double are polar opposites but come from the same masculine id.
But the psychologizing of Eisenberg's personae in The Double stops there and hardly scratches enough of the surface to be compelling or say anything interesting beyond this dichotomy. Ayoade's directing creates such an oppressive atmosphere of gray walls and harsh yellow lights that it becomes tiring much too quickly. The elaborate world that The Double bombards the audience with concludes on an intentionally opaque ruse that the film feels less like a concise statement and more a pastiche of its influences.
The Double opens tomorrow at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles and Sunshine Cinema 5 in New York. Click here for more opening dates across the country.