The Double, an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1866 novella, is brought to the screen via writer/director Richard Ayoade and co-screenwriter Avi Korine. What Ayoade and Korine get right is Dostoyevsky’s impending sense of doom. No one is going to walk out of this situation unscathed, and they know it. The only thing left to do is play out the script, go through the motions, and bring down the house. As Hunter S. Thompson used to say, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
The scenario is as such: Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a meek and timid data processor for a large unnamed company. He pines for Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the blonde in the copy room, hopes that the boss, Mr. Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn), will be impressed with him and just once would like the security guard (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) to recognize him. Simon has been working here for seven years, but nothing ever changes—nothing ever advances.
Simon is not just an invisible man; he is a nothing man. He is of no consequence to this world. Then one day, James Simon (Eisenberg again) shows up. He is Simon’s exact double, except his better in every single way. He is confident, cool, and collected. He immediately becomes Mr. Papadopoulos’s favorite, starts a relationship with Hannah, and even gets what he wants at the local diner. When James orders breakfast, the waitress informs him that they don’t serve breakfast all day. James finds a way to get what he wants. Simon orders a glass of orange juice and ends up with a tall glass of blue juice.
James takes pity on Simon (or delights in watching him fail) and begins to coach him. Simon goes with it at first, trying to make it work to his advantage, but when it becomes clear that James has other plans, Simon can’t undo the damage he helped create. It does not go well for Simon, but there is a sense that Simon knew this from the moment go. Simon lives in a world resigned to cause and accepts effect. In one scene, Simon is called in by a clerk and is told that he owes more money thanks to “improvements.” After a moment of hesitation, Simon hands over all the cash in his wallet. “It’s all I have,” Simon states. “It’s not enough,” the clerk responds, offering no reason as to why it is not enough.
In addition to Dostoyevsky, Ayoade and Korine weave in elements of Terry Gilliam’s steam-punk production design (the sheer number of tubes on-screen is amazing) and Albert Camus’s special brand of absurdism. When Simon decides to commit suicide, he struggles to compose a suicide note. His first draft explains that he doesn’t exist, but he ditches that draft and writes, “I am a ghost.”
The Double is the second feature from writer/director Ayoade. His first, Submarine from 2010, was a look at first love through the lens of The French New Wave and Wes Anderson. Ayoade is a cinephile, and watching his movies invoke, but never copy, from their sources. The Double has major influences from the works of David Cronenberg and Gilliam’s Brazil, but there are also hints of Bergman, Fellini, and many more. Watching The Double is like hitting the buffet line. So many options, so much to choose from.
The Double (2013)
Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Written by: Richard Ayoade & Avi Korine
Based on the novella by: Fyodor Dostoevsky
Produced by: Amina Dasmal & Robin C. Fox
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Wallace Shawn, Mia Wasikowska, Noah Taylor, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Chris O’Dowd, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins
Magnolia Pictures, Rated R, Running time 93 minutes, Released May 9, 2014