Director: Richard Ayoade
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn
Watch The Double online in the UK: Amazon Prime Instant Video / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / iTunes / Google Play
Richard Ayoade captured hearts when Submarine surfaced a few years ago with a warm, funny tale of young romance. A word of warning: this is not that. Based on the Dostoevsky story of the same name, The Double sinks to much darker depths, a cooler, stylised place where things are detached and faintly surreal.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a hard-working employee for a nameless company that mostly seems to do things that involve pressing lots of buttons. It’s a strange, silly, Kafka-esque environment, led by “The Colonel”, a figure who pops up in motivational videos around the office. He says things like: “The Colonel knows that people are business. And business is people.”
Business goes wrong, though, when a new person turns up. He looks like Simon James. He sounds like Simon James. But he behaves nothing like him, winning people over with boisterous charisma rather than sitting alone in his cubicle. His name? James Simon.
Sure enough, everything goes wrong for Simon. The girl he likes (Mia Wasikowska – who impresses more and more with every role) falls for James, his boss (a wonderfully clueless Wallace Shawn) gets their work mixed up and soon Simon even finds himself giving his double his apartment.
Eisenberg is excellently awkward as the shy, submissive protagonist, more at home staring at people through telescopes than actually talking to them. He’s even better as the assertive antagonist, taking that abrupt delivery to create an aloof air of authority. The problem is that neither of the two polar opposites are particularly likeable. Ayoade shoots everything in a precisely offbeat way, using smoke and lights in dimly-lit corridors to create an other-worldly atmosphere; an uncanny, Lynch-esque tone emphasised by the retro architecture and costumes. Not to mention the sight of a priest attacking people with a spade.
“He stole my face!” yells Simon to a confused crowd. He’s right, but the deliberate distance the director sets up (not to mention Simon’s stalkerish tendencies) leaves you more on the crowd’s side than feeling sorry for him. Instead, we marvel at the technical skill on display as The Double’s bizarre, symbiotic relationship leaps from reality into the dank shadows below. If you can leap with it, you’ll be rewarded with an enjoyably twisted comic drama. After Submarine, The Double may not win your heart, but it can certainly win your mind.
The Double is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, if you want free next day UK delivery too, as part of a £79 annual Amazon Prime membership. (A 30-day free trial is available.)
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