The Double review: now you see him… again

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The Double green light

A painfully funny odyssey of personal ineffectualness that is bitterly wonderful in how it revels in the decrepit horror of the everyday world.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I had been so looking forward to Terry Gilliam’s new film The Zero Theorem at last year’s London Film Festival, and it turned out to be a crushing disappointment. (I haven’t reviewed it yet. Maybe I’ll do so when it comes to DVD.) And then, literally immediately afterward — I stepped from one screening room to the one next door — I walked into Richard Ayoade’s second feature film The Double, and by the time I walked out, I was thinking: Now that was the Gilliam film I was hoping to see!

I saw The Double for a second time recently, and if anything, I feel even more strongly about that now.

I was not a particular fan of Ayoade’s first feature, Submarine: yet another teen-boy-wants-to-get-laid dramedy, if stylishly presented. But The Double is a quantum leap of imagination beyond that, a painfully funny odyssey of personal ineffectualness and jealousy at the ease with which others seem to go through life that is bitterly wonderful in how it revels in the decrepit horror of the everyday world.

This isn’t our world, however. It could be the 1980s after the Cold War went nuclear in some distant place 20 years earlier but in a way still widespread in its economic and cultural devastation. It could be the 2040s. Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg: Rio 2, Now You See Me) lives surrounded by a bland drab so depressing the only word for it is postapocalyptic. Everything from the walls to the people to Simon’s ill-fitting suit is an oddly colorless gray-green. It’s Gilliam on antidepressants that aren’t working. And even by the beige standards of this world, Simon is a nonentity. His boss (Wallace Shawn: Admission, A Late Quartet) at a generic information-processing company can barely remember him, though he’s worked there for years. He can’t ever catch the eye of pretty Hannah (Mia Wasikowska: Lawless, Restless), who works in the photocopy room… and doing so could very well be vital for the perpetuation of the human race, because there don’t appear to be many other young people around. And now his magnetic company ID card has stopped working, and no one seems to recognize him anymore. It’s like the whole world is pushing him out and away.

Ayoade and his coscreenwriter, Avi Korine, based this very loosely on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel of the same name, though it’s much funnier than probably would have occurred to the author — perhaps the collective insanity of the world has increased in the past 150-plus years, requiring that we laugh at the perfectly normal personal psychosis it inspires lest we actually lose our minds. For when Simon meets his brash, confident, ladies-man of a new coworker, James Simon, and Eisenberg completely transforms his onscreen persona with subtle shifts in body language to play Simon’s doppelganger, it’s bleakly hilarious, even as we feel for poor Simon. For here is the very embodiment of the man Simon has spoken of what he dreams he might be, if only he were a completely different person.

Oh, and no one else notices that Simon and James are physically identical.

This is the sort of world in which everyone is mad except for Simon, and he is being driven mad by it. The endless quiet affronts are reaching a climax of indignity.

Maybe this isn’t a postapocalyptic world. Perhaps it’s just the world as Simon sees it.

That is a pathetic of a very recognizable color.

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Fri, Apr 04, 2014 10:11pm

Sounds great, but why in the world would you list Mia Wasikowska’s credits as “Lawless” and “Restless”? Is it because they both end in “less”?. How about “Stoker” and “Jane Eyre”, two great parts in outstanding films.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  nickmandel
Fri, Apr 04, 2014 10:47pm

Because I haven’t reviewed those films. *Lawless* and *Restless* are the most recent film she’s been in that I’ve reviewed.

Tue, Apr 08, 2014 8:42pm

I was very much put off by the whole comedy-of-embarrassment, look-what-a-hopeless-loser-this-guy-is style that seemed to pervade the trailer. Is there more to it than that?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Wed, Apr 09, 2014 12:05am

It’s not a comedy of embarrassment.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Apr 09, 2014 12:09am


Mon, May 05, 2014 8:09pm

I’ve now been able to see “The Double” – it’s a brilliant brew of existentialist, absurdist comedy that, at the same time, is deadly serious. It also is surprisingly touching.

Hank Graham
Hank Graham
Mon, Aug 25, 2014 8:16pm

One slight correction to your review, MaryAnn–this is the first film version of “The Double” I’ve ever seen that does, indeed, duplicate Dostoevsky’s humor. That hasn’t been notice by many folks, particularly if they’ve read the atrocious Garnett translations (she bowdlerized things she considered crude).