“I have all these things that I want to say to her, like… Like how I can tell she’s a lonely person, even if other people can’t. Cause I know what it feels like to be lost and lonely and invisible.” –Simon, “The Double” (Ayoade 2013).
If you have ever taken a literature class with Dr. McKinney, you know the name Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Sound familiar? He’s the author of “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov,” among others. “The Double” is a film directed by Richard Ayoade and is based on a Dostoyevsky novel of the same name. Also—surprise—it’s on Netflix!
Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network,” “Zombieland”) plays Simon, an invisible low-level cog in the wheel of a dingy company in London. He has a crush on Mia Wasikowska’s (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Jane Eyre”) character Hannah, who lives in the apartment across the street. One night, while spying on Hannah’s activities via telescope, he witnesses an event that disrupts his life forever. A mysterious man is standing on the ledge in the shadows outside her apartment. He waves at Simon—slowly— and after one menacing moment that will have you hugging the stuffing out of your pillow, the man shatters the suspense with a shocking act.
It gets better. After this event, a shaken Simon discovers something truly terrible. It seems a new employee named James has taken over the office. He has everything Simon lacks: charisma, charm, power and a way with women. And he looks identical to Simon. For the rest of the film, Simon is fighting his own double, a man who has essentially stolen his identity, but does everything better. Who will win?
Jesse Eisenberg slips into his familiar role as a stuttering, socially awkward, yet sharp-witted character faced with surpassing his own perception of his inferiority. He slips seamlessly between his roles as both Simon and James, playing both the shy character and the domineering and attractive one. For those who have seen “The Social Network,” James is much like the character of Mark Zuckerberg. Mia Wasikowska as Hannah is innocent and a little withdrawn. She is the manifestation of all of Simon’s fears about his own inadequacy.
Dostoyevsky’s novels illuminate the dark parts of human nature and the cinematography seems to do the same. It feels like you are shining a light in a dark place and scattering the cockroaches. The sound also plays a divisive role. The rhythmic sounds of the workplace create a false sense of order in the midst of Simon’s personal hell.
In one scene, you even get to witness a bizarre date between Simon and Hannah. Beforehand, James gives him advice on how to woo her (“No riding on a motorcycle with another man. Exceptions are drive-by shootings, bomb throwings and purse snatchings. Anything else is gay.”) We become subject to Simon’s creeping insecurity in front of her as she sits stone-faced and unamused at a dinner table. Simon’s date with Hannah lies somewhere between a nightmare and a joke.
Of course, it isn’t all darkness. The dialogue is as sharp and quick as Eisenberg can deliver it, especially in his role as James. Simon essentially bickers with himself the entire time.
If you liked “1984” by George Orwell or any other dystopian aesthetic, you should check this out. Or, if you are a die-hard “Zombieland” fan like I am, you won’t be disappointed in Eisenberg’s performance.
Also, this is a friendly reminder that season 3 of “House of Cards” is now available on Netflix. Happy bingeing!