Everything You Are. Everything You Are Not.
Simon James [Eisenberg] is the ultimate introvert: closed off, devoid of confidence, unnoticed by all. He works long days at a tedious unfulfilling job, only to go home to a small empty apartment. His only real interaction is with his forgetful, coarsely blunt mother and spying on a co-worker, Hannah [Wasikowska], through a telescope in his bedroom. Despite working solidly for the last seven years, he is invisible to his colleagues and shown little more than common courtesy by his boss (even if he can’t actually remember that his name is Simon, not Stanley). After being ejected from a mandatory office party – which feels fairly tame but to a socially anxious individual can be a crushing experience – Simon notices a new tenant in the building opposite; a gentleman who looks exactly like him. He quickly dismisses the encounter and returns to work the following day, only to be introduced to a new employee, James Simon [Eisenberg], who is an exact physical duplicate of Simon but characteristically antithetical. The two start out as friends, with James bringing out Simon’s unkindled rebellious side but this quickly turns and Simon starts to feel that James is in fact taking over and ruining his life.
The idea of a double, doppelganger or fetch is a folklore legend that appears in various cultures around the world. The notion that someone, usually unseen by others, witnesses an echo of themselves is usually a prelude or an omen to an approaching death or grisly demise. In cinematic fiction, we’ve had quite a few features dealing with the nature of duality and schizophrenic manifestation but Ayoade’s take on it is extremely beautiful, curiously funny and at times heartbreakingly cutting. In the same way that Kafka bluntly asserts Gregor has transformed into a giant bug in The Metamorphosis, we are simply told to accept this fact without question. No explanation will be given. No supernatural or medical angle is addressed (unlike in Dostoyevsky’s book, which has a very finite close). It’s this confidence (if that’s the right word) that takes the audience by surprise and either hooks or loses them. For those that are transfixed, you’re merely brought along for the ride, helpless to escape, helpless to intervene – much like the timid Simon.
Despite this only being his second feature, Ayoade has surrounded himself with an exceptional wealth of talent and in doing so, has managed to achieve something that most independent filmmakers spend their whole life dreaming of and chasing. The production design is wonderfully detailed and stylistically reminiscent of Brazil: based in an inescapable dreamlike environment littered with technology, fashions and architecture that doesn’t exactly fit into any particular nation or time period. Coupled with Erik Wilson’s shadow-heavy cinematography, The Double is gifted with a very unique look which cements its nightmarish setting. Despite this, with so many simple social comedic and tragic occurrences, even the more extreme and farfetched elements feel somehow relatable. The editing is also beautifully paced, demonstrating a life of horrific misery and isolation, littered with comedic intervals and finally interspersed with incidents and conversations that frankly can’t happen or be real. It’s also evident how much time has gone into plotting and creating the detailed level of sound. The mixing and design are rhythmic and run with a clockwork repetition but seem rooted in the cold mechanical surroundings that the characters inhabit. Laced over all this is Andrew Hewitt’s amazingly haunting and almost operatic score. Combining heavy piano chords and stabbing strings, the music is both perfectly fitting and tensely oppressive.
Actors love the opportunity to play multiple roles; they can’t help themselves. Like greedy, angry babies they crave more attention, more focus and more exposure. But when a good actor is presented with this opportunity, he can achieve something really transformative and delightful. Much like Michael Cera, we’re used to seeing a very specific type of performance from Eisenberg and allowing him to visit the polar extremes of that introverted and extroverted nature is not only very impressive, it’s addictive to watch. Both the lives of Simon James and James Simon are presented with a voyeuristic honesty. We’re shown their strengths and failings and not so much asked to judge their actions and decisions but appreciate that in all of our good intentions or fantasised outcomes, external perception and reality corrupt and ruin them almost every time. Then there’s the aloof Hannah, played by Wasikowska; the ethereal dream girl of every reclusive guy, a woman who seems to mirror his loneliness but somehow keeps an optimistic outlook to the whole thing. On top of that we are given a cavalcade of talent in the form of short supporting roles and cameos, all of whom fill this unbelievably drab fictional existence with seeming ease.
With this and Submarine under his belt, Ayoade no longer needs to prove himself to anyone. As an artist and a filmmaker he has shown not only great potential but immense talent. Like a young Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Terry Gilliam, it’s hard to ignore the long, bright and illustrious cinematic future sprawling out before him.
4th April 2014
The Scene To Look Out For:
For whatever reason, the scene that has lodged itself in my mind most firmly is in fact just a simple moment, no more than two or three shots. During his many voyeuristic telescope sessions, Simon often witnesses Hannah sketching simple little doodles, then tearing them to pieces and blowing them into the garbage chute. With a rabid drive, Simon runs downstairs, crosses the small courtyard into Hannah’s building and uses a makeshift wire hanger hook to retrieve the pieces and reassemble the picture. The scene I’m referring to, however, is when Hannah finally catches Simon in the act and in his desperate blind panic, all he can do is hold the hook in his hand, wide-eyed and timidly explain, “I haven’t done anything wrong.”
This film is Eisenberg’s. No one else really gets a look in. Of course, the supporting roles are very well handled and the little cameo parts are very entertaining but it really comes down to the fact that Eisenberg presents the audience with two distinct individuals and carries the entire running time on his shoulders.
“I like to think I’m pretty unique”
In A Few Words:
“A clever, funny, dark and subversive feature, filled with great performances, gripping cinematography and a marvellous appreciation of the importance of sound”