Let me get this out of the way: You wonâ€™t see a film that looks or feels anything like "The Double," one of the many doppelgÃ¤nger films that have been released so far this year alongside Denis Villeneuveâ€™s "Enemy" and Disneyâ€™s "Muppets Most Wanted."
This is particularly an offbeat, gloomy tale that is told with curiosity, playfulness and quite a bit of intelligence. Richard Ayoade, a British comic actor turned filmmaker who went from appearing in the show "The IT Crowd" to directing the Wes Anderson-esque coming-of-age comedy "Submarine," adapts Fyodor Dostoyevskyâ€™s 1846 novella of the same name to tell the tale of a timid loner who experiences an existential crisis of sorts.
In a dark Soviet-like deserted dystopian urban wasteland, the diffident Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in the shadows wherever he is, almost like a ghost. And, much like a ghost, heâ€™s seemingly invisible moving about. The doorman at his office never recognizes him, insisting that all visitors must sign the book. Later in the film, a personnel manager even takes his identity card, insisting that there is no record of his ever having existed.
He works as an office clerk where none of his much older co-workers recognize him or know his name, despite the fact that heâ€™s worked there for seven years. The company itself looks appears to be a retro-looking data processing service, where workers sit in aligned cubicles and use giant, boxy computer operating systems.
The tasks asked of Simon and his co-workers are vague, but itâ€™s clear that thereâ€™s hardly any movement for upward mobility. He thinks he may have the chance to leave a lasting impact on how the company operates if only he can meet face-to-face with The Colonel (James Fox), a figure whoâ€™s idolized in the office as if heâ€™s some sort of pop celebrity.
When heâ€™s not in the office, heâ€™s sitting inside of his unimaginative apartment where he peeks through his telescope to spy on his mysterious and very pretty co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) from across the courtyard. As his self-esteem is challenged, he finds it particularly difficult to offer a welcoming smile or even utter a "hello" whenever he comes into contact with her. To Simon, sheâ€™s unobtainable.
Heâ€™s slowly fading away until he strangely encounters his own doppelgÃ¤nger who calls himself James Simon. He looks exactly like Simon, wearing the same oversized suit, but his personality is completely different. What Simon lacks, James has. His confidence sticks out like a sore thumb, and heâ€™s a real ladiesâ€™ man, moving in on Hannah while pretending to help Simon to get acquainted. Slowly but surely, James drives Simon into madness as no one recognizes the resemblance, thus making Simonâ€™s attempt to be recognized to go haywire.
Jesse Eisenberg â€“ who you may know best from his Oscar-nominated performance as the tyrant Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network" â€“ gives not only one, but two very different performances.
Like the film itself, his performance as Simon is strange, appropriately fitting for the character. On the flip of a switch, he brings restlessness to the role of James, who is the polar opposite of Simon in terms of behavior, but obviously not in looks.Â With an abundance of talent, Eisenberg gives them both subtle differences in their swagger and their demeanor, and makes it impossible to lose track on whoâ€™s who.
His conversations with himself are always fascinating, and his run-ins with Hannah display obvious discomfort. Itâ€™s my hope that someday, when people write or talk about Eisenberg, they bring up his performances in "The Double" alongside his work in "The Social Network." One earned him awards buzz and numerous nominations, and the other thatâ€™s just as deserving, if not more so.
Mia Wasikowska ("Alice in Wonderland," "Stoker") is also great as Hannah, one who is strange in her own way, but not nearly in the same way and especially not as timid as Simon.Â
The film perfectly fits the bill as an oddball entity that hinges on anti-naturalism because of not only the story, but also the setting and the performances. It has a very appealingly surreal quality that makes the dystopian setting appear as a dark, nightmarish landscape, but still unique and utterly fascinating.
From the mechanical and classical score to Erik Wilsonâ€™s retro-noir cinematography to the distinctive production design, Ayoade has constructed a film that recalls inspiration from Franz Kafka, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch and a bit of Charlie Kaufman. Itâ€™s obvious that these filmmakers and authors have fed Ayoadeâ€™s imagination. I wouldnâ€™t call him a thief, though, as he has an original mind and approach to his filmmaking. Iâ€™ll even go as far to state that Ayoade has enormous potential to have the status as an auteur, whose filmic style will be recognized rather than forgotten.
While Dostoyevskyâ€™s tale is often interpreted as a study of mental illness and schizophrenia, "The Double" is more of a looser adaptation but nonetheless contains the same themes. Weâ€™re expected to suspect that James may be a figment of Simonâ€™s clouded psychosis, but Ayoade refuses to offer any clear-cut answers, forcing the viewer to draw their own conclusions. After having seen the film, I canâ€™t say whether James is a figment of Simonâ€™s psychosis, or if heâ€™s actually a real person. As far as I know, Ayoade may have thrown in a curveball to suggest that the reality is not far from skewed between the two possibilities.
With the themes of mental illness and identity loss, itâ€™s clear that "The Double" was bleaker than expected. Despite the bleakness, however, there are moments of humor that are scattered throughout. The bleakness itself could make one interpret the film as a story of madness, but with the implemented humor and added humanism, it could also be interpreted as a story of a loner trying to find his place in society.
Much like the humor in Ayoadeâ€™s "Submarine," the humor is often subtle, but itâ€™s also clever and sharp. Following a suicide at the apartment complex where he lives, investigators question Simon. They ask him if heâ€™s thinking about killing himself. When he answers no, one of them says to the other, "Put him down as a maybe."
Itâ€™s particularly difficult to classify "The Double" as a comedy or a drama, however. It has elements of both of these genres (heck, Iâ€™d even throw in a hint of sci-fi in there for good measure). The film is so utterly unique that it doesnâ€™t belong in any genre, which will undoubtedly make it very difficult for video store clerks to find a spot for it on a categorized shelf.
Much like Simon, the film itself doesnâ€™t have an identity. The lack of belonging in a category isnâ€™t a flaw by any means, however, because the mix of the different elements working well in unison is what makes it work as a whole.Â
"The Double" is currently available on iTunes, VOD (check your cable provider), and Amazon.Â
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Colton Dunham
Published May 2, 2015
OnMilwaukee.com recently chatted with Mike Scott before he and the rest of The Waterboys swing through Milwaukee for a show at Turner Hall on Tuesday, May 5 about the latest album "Modern Blues," the time spent recording in Nashville and what keeps him going.
Published April 30, 2015
OnMilwaukee.com recently chatted with singer-songwriter Caroline Smith before her show at Shank Hall on Friday, May 1 about her musical beginnings - including a four-hour gig at a restaurant in her hometown - her last record, her collaboration with her friend and fellow musician Lizzo, and her charity work.
Published April 22, 2015
Just recently, Netflix has made a few announcements. Marvel's "Daredevil" has thankfully been picked up for a second season, "Parks and Recreation" funnyman Aziz Ansari has a new series on the way and the "Full House" revival titled "Fuller House" is actually going to be a thing and not just a figment of TV's bad idea dream factory. If that all wasn't enough, Lena Dunham said that she wants to make a "Girls" movie ... when she's 40 years old.
Published April 15, 2015
For nearly an hour, MPS superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver spoke to an assembled crowd of early birds at YP Week's State of Education event about some of the work that's been happening as well as some of the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Published April 15, 2015
NEWaukee founder Ian Abston was joined on stage with president Angela Damiani, and over the course of nearly an hour, spoke in detail about their start, the work they've accomplished so far -- such as establishing connections, fueling the art community and changing perceptions with their popular Night Market -- and their hopes are for the city of Milwaukee in coming years.
Published April 8, 2015
Cable-cutters rejoice! HBO Now is available starting this month for free! If that doesn't make you squeal with joy, then sour your mood even more so with the news that David Lynch isn't coming back for "Twin Peaks" because of money. But, look on the bright side, there might be new episodes of "Arrested Development" coming up, and "Game of Thrones," "Veep" and "Silicon Valley" are all coming back this Sunday.
Published April 4, 2015
Over the past few days, Trevor Noah has been named as the new host of "The Daily Show" and has been ridiculed on social media for tweets he wrote. Maybe it's time for some folks to lighten up a little bit.
Published April 3, 2015
Recently, it was announced that Foxygen's current tour will be its last, with a scheduled stop in Milwaukee on Apr. 7 at Turner Hall Ballroom. Does this mean that France and Rado are calling it quits? Not necessarily so. OnMilwaukee.com got the chance to speak with Rado about Foxygen's adolescent beginnings, their album "... And Star Power," on stage antics, alter egos and their current tour.
Published March 26, 2015
A fella from New Jersey must have some extra time and some pent-up Hilton-fueled anger this week because he formed a petition on change.org to remove DJ Paris Hilton from the Summerfest lineup.
Published March 25, 2015
Why, oh why did "The Office" have to end? The series celebrated it's 10th anniversary and as I saw former cast members tweet about it, it reminded me just how much fun I had watching the series on a weekly basis for nine seasons. Before I start binging, however, there's plenty of news to share.