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Review: The Double

June 13, 2014

By John Corrado

***1/2 (out of 4)

The Double Poster

The Double is a film that quietly grows on you and is impossible to shake afterwards, a fascinating tragicomedy filled with perfectly mannered character quirks and dark subtext about the often futile struggle for individuality.

This is what the work of Wes Anderson might look like if he went to the dark side, and the Texas auteur is a clear influence behind this second feature from British director Richard Ayoade.  After premiering at the festival last year, The Double opens exclusively at TIFF Bell Lightbox this weekend, courtesy of D Films.

Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a hopelessly shy office worker, slaving away at his dystopic desk job and barely noticed by his employers, pining for the attention of a cute coworker, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska).

But then the charismatic James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) arrives at the office, immediately attracting the attention of their boss Mr. Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn), and also Hannah.  The problem is that he’s an exact doppelgänger of Simon, except more social and less moral, threatening to derail his entire existence.

Jesse Eisenberg plays both roles brilliantly, with his signature mannerisms allowing us to tell the two characters apart.  Simon walks stiffly, his arms always steady by his side, with his fingers either flicking or clenched into a fist.  He speaks nervously, often audibly hesitating before opening his mouth.  James is a complete inversion of this, always walking confidently with his arms swaying by his side, talking freely and openly with no line he won’t cross.  Neither one is balanced between these two extremes, representing the clashing id and ego that can be at war within an individual personality.

Although this is only Richard Ayoade’s second directorial effort, after the very good coming of age dramedy Submarine, it’s already clear that he is a filmmaker with something to say, carving out a unique voice for himself.  The screenplay, which was written by Richard Ayoade and Avi Korine, was inspired by the work of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, and is loosely based on his novella of the same name.

It’s never specified exactly what era The Double takes place in, but the boxy TVs and huge computer machines give the film a distinctive retro futuristic feel.  The cinematography is made of cold grey tones that provide a feeling of suspense right from the opening frames, and things become increasingly weirder throughout the story, leading up to a haunting finale that culminates with an unforgettable final scene.

Although The Double clearly won’t be for everyone, I urge you to check it out.  With a weirdly brilliant soundtrack of Japanese pop songs, this is an intriguing and boldly original mix of absurdist humour and psychological thriller, with instantly memorable visuals and a mesmerizing double performance from Jesse Eisenberg.

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