The Double opens in what can only be described as a steampunk subway car from the future, a shaking, blinkering rattletrap that seems slapped together from a combination of old spare parts and yet-to-be-invented gadgets. It’s an early clue as to what will be the movie’s defining characteristic: bizarre and imaginative production design.
Not that there aren’t other pleasures. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Simon, a cautious, simpering office drone whose work life is disrupted by the hiring of his exact double, and the actor delivers a droll dual performance. (The double, who goes by the name of James, is of course reckless and cocky.) Mia Wasikowska is also on hand to deliver a spiky dose of sweetness as Hannah, the neighbor and coworker Simon has been pining after/stalking. Could James be a tool for winning her over, as well as others at work? Or will he be a force of chaos in Simon’s carefully compartmentalized life?
Underneath the humor is the pestering sense of despair that Dostoyevsky and Kafka both share.
The Double is based on the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novella of the same name, but director Richard Ayoade certainly gives it the air of Kafka. Some of the more amusing moments involve the bureaucratic absurdity of Simon’s workplace, such as the variety of identity cards he needs to prove to security that he exists. Underneath the offbeat humor, however, there is also the pestering sense of despair that Dostoyevsky and Kafka both share. In fact, the recent film it most reminded me of was Wristcutters: A Love Story.
All of this is to say The Double, for all its oddness, is a bit familiar (Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is another clear influence). How much more interesting might this have been if Hannah was the one with the doppelganger, rather than the foil for yet another male protagonist’s social anxiety? Instead, The Double is best enjoyed for its truly idiosyncratic touches, such as the giant air vents that loom over each individual cubicle, threatening to suck up the workers as much as offer ventilation. Or the way the office’s lights blink on and off so pointedly that they almost amount to a Greek chorus. When production design is this cleverly incorporated into the story at hand, it can carry an entire movie.