The Double is based on a Dovstoevesky story about a man who meets his doppelganger — but this movie by Richard Ayoade owes a huge debt to Kafka, too. And stylistically, it really is like a fan-film of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. And it does a brilliant job of capturing the horrors of a soul-crushing job and an empty life.
The Double came out in limited release in the United States last week but is hitting a lot more theaters this week. And it's definitely worth checking out.
In The Double, Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a shy overthinking loser who struggles with a dead-end job in a weird surveillance facility, where everybody's lives are crunched into data for a figure known as The Colonel. Simon pines for Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) from afar and spies on her at night.
But one day, a doppelganger named James Simon appears — he's also played by Eisenberg, and he's a cocky jerkwad who exploits Simon and steals Simon's work. He even steals Hannah away from Simon and also screws the boss' daughter, whom Simon is supposed to be tutoring.
The notion of an evil twin coming in and taking over your life is an old one in literature as well as science fiction — but what makes this version somewhat special is the nightmarish quality of the whole setup, and the awfulness of the job where James Simon is becoming a superstar and Simon James is failing. (As opposed to the other recent doppelganger movie, Enemy, which fails to distinguish itself apart from a few surreal scenes involving naked women and big spiders.)
Ayoade crams his movie with lots of weird touches. Everybody uses crappy -looking old 1980s technology, and the characters move among dirty Eastern European buildings and interiors. The overall feeling of the movie is industrial and bizarre, and you would expect even Sam Lowry to be horrified by the dark, dingy, prison-like office where Simon works.
Every other shot is full of weird colored lights, and oddly framed shots of windows, mirrors and shadows. Weird faces loom into the shots here and there. There's some scarily campy old Japanese music playing over and over, interspersed with horror movie violins and jarring noises. There's a weird old-school science fiction TV show that absolutely everybody watches, which comes across like a nightmare version of the 1980 Buck Rogers.
Ayoade takes the doppelganger story and turns it into a tale of an alpha male and a beta male — but then uses that, in turn, to explore the emasculation that comes from being part of a machine. The Double is absolutely crammed with self-loathing, and the spectre of suicide is brought up constantly — but it's also got some weirdly funny moments, especially involving the boss (Wallace Shawn).
So yes, The Double wears its influences on its sleeve, and in the end probably seems too indebted to Gilliam and some other sources. The ending, in particular, falls a bit flat. But this movie is still a must-watch for people who crave dark surrealism — it's brutally bizarre, and it will help you put your terrible job in perspective.