Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Double - 2nd Look

The Double is weird. Like, really weird. Properly bloody peculiar. It’s weird like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, only weirder because it doesn’t really have any jokes. It’s weird like a really weird dream; only it’s even weirder than that because you don’t expect a really weird dream to be coming out of your television in the middle of the day. But you know what else it is, other than weird? Spellbinding, hilarious, frightening, heartrending, mystifying, and perfect, that’s what.

The 2013 film, written and directed by Richard Ayoade and starring Jessie Eisenberg (The Social Network), tells the story of Simon James – a lonely, beaten-down office worker who, despite having kept his job for seven years, has failed to make an impression on any of his co-workers. He gets ID’d by office security on a daily basis, the girl he likes doesn’t know he exists, and his boss (Wallace Shawn – Rex, from Toy Story) still calls him “Stanley”. Simon is resigned to his life as an unfulfilled “non-person”, whiling away his evenings attending to his unsupportive, elderly mother and spying on co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) in the apartment opposite his. But that all changes when he meets his doppelgänger and gets a taste of what he’s missing. James Simon (also played by Eisenberg) is everything Simon James wants to be: charismatic, assertive, and popular.

At first, Simon and James seem to complement each other well – James takes Simon under his wing, trying to understand what makes him so quiet and unassuming and even helping him catch Hannah’s eye, while Simon takes over some of James’s responsibilities at work. It doesn’t take long, however, for James to realise he can take advantage of his meek counterpart – he quickly starts muscling in on dates, taking credit for Simon’s work, and making him feel even more confused and alone than he did before. The rest of the film follows Simon’s desperate struggle to make himself heard and regain control of his life, in a world where no one even remembers who he is.

To call The Double’s visual style unique would be an understatement – the closest I can get to describing it is “Beetlejuice meets Nineteen Eighty-Four”. It’s Orwellian, otherworldly, and unsettling, but with that Burton-esque quirkiness and sense of humour peeking through. The setting is equal parts British and American, with some soviet bleakness thrown in for good measure, and it’s got a timeless quality, managing to look modern – perhaps even futuristic – in spite of the 1980s technology dotted about the place. I remember thinking, a few minutes in, how happy I was just to be looking at the film. And there are short appearances from British comedy icons like Tim Key, Paddy Considine, Chris O’Dowd, and Chris Morris that help to bolster the feeling of “wrongness” in the characters’ world whilst delivering some much-needed comic relief. Morris’s performance as an official who insists Simon doesn’t exist because he’s “not on the system” particularly sticks out in my mind. It’s that “computer says no” mentality, taken to its discomfiting conclusion.

Throw in a fantastic, thought-provoking ending that you’ll still be thinking about days after the film ends, and you can see why The Double has cemented itself not only as the best film I’ve seen in a long time, but one of my favourite films of all time.

Giving The Double anything less than 5/5 would be criminal.


Mike Lee

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