THE DOUBLE Review

I'm all for attempting innovation and being abstract and I understand to a certain extent I feel what director Richard Ayoade was trying to do here, but that it just isn't all that compelling and thus the reason I found it to be so dull. In fact, I felt like the whole time I was watching Ayoade's sophomore effort that I'd already seen this film and to much better and more engaging effect last month with Enemy. I liked his previous effort, 2010's Submarine, fine enough but never found it to be anything substantial or anything that moved me or left a mark in any way, but the idea alone of watching Jesse Eisenberg and his two distinct but recognizable personas go at it throughout the course of a film was intriguing enough on paper that to see it come to fruition must be an interesting experience to say the least, but as The Double rolled on and it became more and more evident that I wasn't going to be able to pick up what Ayoade was laying down I became all the more disappointed in myself strangely enough because unlike with Under the Skin, I truly feel like I'm missing something here, that Ayoade is such a clever, witty and intelligent individual that I must be missing a point or metaphorical reason he chose to convey this simple story in such an unconventional manner. Sure, I could applaud him for being daring and different in the way that he constructs his own world and his own society and his own rules in which that society functions that is just different enough from ours to be weird and the people act just weird enough in conjunction with the world that it all seems a little out of left field, a little uncomfortable and because of that I appreciate it rather than look down upon it because, well, at least he's trying. The fact of the matter is though, and I said this with Under the Skin also, is that trying to be different and actually accomplishing something original are two completely different things and whether it simply be because I enjoyed the style and tone that director Denis Villeneuve employed on Enemy more than that of Ayoade's here I felt that Enemy accomplished that level of uniqueness to greater effect than what The Double leaves you with because in all honesty I walked away from The Double with nothing more than a headache full of questions. Why did I stick the film out if I only saw it crashing and burning the moment I realized it wasn't going to be my cup of tea? Maybe to prove I can appreciate the academic, open mind of an artist and at least try to draw some meaning from it, but instead I was left cold with nothing to ponder and no questions that burned.

Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) is only half the man he knows he could be.
Like I said, the set-up is simple and the premise engaging as we first meet Simon James (Eisenberg) who is nothing more than a lonely office drone pining after a co-worker, the lovely Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), but never having the nerve to actually build a conversation with her while constantly cowering away from his boss Mr. Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn) who beats him over the head with threats and empty encouragement while pawning off his daughter on him so that he might train her for the same job Simon does, no doubt because she wasn't disciplined enough to even finish high school. Simon lives a quiet life, one he enjoys most when it is not interrupted. He goes home, he changes into his comfy shoes, he watches his favorite TV show and he looks creepily through a telescope aimed at the building across from him into Hannah's room so that he may keep tabs on her at all times. It is slightly obsessive and weird, but we get it because Simon is clearly a timid guy and beyond shy to the point of not being able to hardly talk to anyone, much less Hannah, without some kind of trepidation for something awkward setting in. This all changes when a new co-worker starts at the same government agency as Simon whose name just happens to be James and who just happens to look exactly like him, but when he begins to upset the balance of the timid, isolated existence Simon seems to not necessarily enjoy, but feels safe in he can't help but to at first feel like he might take advantage of the situation. You see, Simon has always been overlooked at work, scorned by his mother, and ignored by Hannah so when  this opportunity arises and the confident, charismatic James seems to take an interest in Simon's pity-worthy ways there looks to finally be an optimistic light at the end of Simon's depressing tunnel, but instead of actually helping Simon, James begins to slowly take over his life, disrupting his quiet existence in ways he'd never imagined and never wanted to confront. The crux of the story is motivating Simon to go after what he wants and stop allowing his life to completely serve others. To be the type of man he wants to be vs. the type of man he actually is (who he sees as permanently outside himself), yet he is incapable of doing what needs to be done to reach that point and so this illusion seems to be his way of dealing with that. A way around not directly facing his problem, but still getting him to where he wants to go, in essence, a valid excuse.

There is a lot of calculation going on here. Everything from the way the characters deliver dialogue to the way in which the lighting specifically silhouettes a characters face and what that might represent or "outline" in terms of the characters personality changes is all very much put together and it is obvious. It helps with the creation of this indifferent world and Ayoade clearly has an affection for seventies cinema as the entire piece shares an aesthetic with the films of that decade as well as many nods within the context of the story that suggest this lost in time landscape namely the band that plays at the ball about half an hour into the film that, if you haven't noticed it already, will re-enforce the style and mood that we have both seen these ideas before while also feeling as if they're completely foreign. Speaking of the way in which the actors deliver their dialogue it is more a way to compliment and round out the atmosphere the director is building rather than something that actually resembles a human performance that conveys emotion. Ayoade has made everything about this film, every little detail and element something that helps build his off-kilter world. The music choices, like the lighting, seem very obvious but it serves to conjure up the type of emotions we should be feeling since the dialogue and the performances are mostly devoid of any such thing. Even the movement of the camera mimics the not so smooth, old fashioned crane shots of yesteryear as they sweep across what is clearly a set, but is meant to be perceived this way because it is all meant to feel like we are in a dream-like state, or so I took it to be. When the camera isn't moving the shots are static and specific and meant to focus on whatever symbolism might hint at the ideas the film is trying to provoke. The problem is I don't see a coherent through line of a plot, but instead feel the film strives to be so abstract that there really is no central string that ties it all together. Is it all in fact just a weird dream Simon is having about his life? Is that why things are slightly off in an altered reality and he seems to have no control? Is he actually married to Hannah and simply experiencing a time of trouble represented in this dream or what might the other possibilities be? The final shot would suggest such theories have substance, but it is literally so open to interpretation someone sitting beside me watching this same film could most definitely have a different meaning they took away. It feels completely open-ended, but in a way that is more frustrating than it is thrilling.  

Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) hides in the shadows of her ambitions, much like Simon.
Clearly who Simon is seeing isn't who he thinks he's seeing (lots of references to the Chinese and Asian culture in this regard that I didn't get at all) and this is more about an internal conflict that is also an excuse to lash out at those who he's worked around for seven years who hardly seem notice him (this is, of course, in the context of his dream). I can only deduce that most of what we see unfold is the ongoing battle between two sides of Simon's personality and how his environment has forced him to draw such distinct lines between his personality. Eisenberg is an expert in portraying the comically timid tones that Ayoade likes to infuse all over the film as well as into the language of his script, but is also more than capable of making us believe and buy into the reserved punching bag that Simon is while also being the one knocking him over. Essentially this is like watching his Mark Zuckerberg pick on Columbus from Zombieland for an hour and as entertaining as that may sound it doesn't live up to the potential. There are moments of comedy, moments where the cocky James will spit out lines to the timid Simon like, "I would tear the asshole off an elephant for a piece of trim I wanted that bad," and it is the moments such as this and those too few and far between that take place in Simon's mothers nursing home that are darkly funny and frankly, a relief from the stress of trying to figure out exactly what the film is trying to say and simply being what it wants to be. It gives glimpses of no longer being a convoluted metaphor, but instead becoming that wholly original and quirky piece that Ayoade no doubt had in mind when he set out to make the film. This tone is ever present in the interaction between the two roles Eisenberg plays to perfection, but too often we are taken away from these pleasures into the bleak surroundings of the weighty plot. Based on an 1846 novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky's (Crime and Punishment) it is easy to see that Ayoade either likely adores Dostoevsky's writing or the idea of adapting such high-minded writing, but whether this is purely an attempt to appear more of a hipster (I mean, the guy is regarded as writing the most famous novel in the world yet you hardly hear his name whispered outside of college lit classes) or that he is actually in sincere admiration of his work, his interpretation of the deeply depressed writers story at least conveys that drowning, mournful emotion yet fails to capture any real, resonating essence of life or struggle.