‘The Double,’ In Which Jesse Eisenberg Bullies Himself

By Diana Barth
Diana Barth
Diana Barth
Diana Barth writes for various theatrical publications and for New Millennium. She may be contacted at diabarth99@gmail.com
May 8, 2014 Updated: May 7, 2014

Troubling and amusing, both dark and light in feel, filmmaker Richard Ayoade’s “The Double” takes us into a bleak bureaucratic world that hopefully can never come to pass. At least one wishes so.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James and James Simon, two men who look identical but have polar opposite character traits.

Simon James is a painfully shy, awkward young man who simply cannot make his needs or wants known. In the opening sequence, a stranger forces Simon to give up his seat on a subway train, even though the car is completely empty. 

After Simon loses his work pass on the subway, the security guard (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) at Simon’s forbidding office building tries to refuse him entrance, even though he pleads that he’s worked there for seven years. 

As Simon is consistently unknown and insignificant to everybody, his hypercritical boss, Mr. Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn), has only scorn for him. Simon’s attractive co-worker, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), doesn’t so much reject him as treat him as if he doesn’t exist.

Simon can’t get over Hannah, even spying on her via telescope as she moves about her apartment, which is directly opposite his. A strange man appears to be on the ledge outside Hannah’s window; he shakes a finger at Simon critically, and then falls to his death in the courtyard below. Not much is made of this incident, however. Apparently just another minor event in the impersonal city’s life.

Soon there arrives at the workplace new employee James Simon. He is confident, dashing—the women swoon for him—and the boss is overwhelmed by James’s personality and excellent work performance. Although neither James nor anybody else seems to know just what that work is.

Simon tries to ingratiate himself with James, even doing some of the latter’s work for him. But James is ruthless; the more one gives him the more he takes—even winning over Hannah, which, of course, angers Simon.

Although a lot of comedic potshots are taken at Simon, one can’t help but feel sympathy for him. It’s also a pleasure to watch the dual roles played so effortlessly by Eisenberg, who quickly and convincingly changes character. 

The ever-somber photography (by Erik Alexander Wilson) ensures that there’s little escape from a dark, almost Kafka-esque atmosphere. However, the proceedings are livened up a bit by the occasional, rather bizarre use of what sound like Japanese popular songs. There’s also original music by Andrew Hewitt.

Although the screenplay is credited to Richard Ayoade, the story was adapted by Avi Korine, based on a novella of the same title, “The Double,” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. That, in itself, explains a lot about this film. 

“The Double” opens in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Cinemas.

Diana Barth writes and publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information: diabarth@juno.com

‘The Double’
Director: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn 
Run Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Release Date: May 9 
Rated R

3. 5 stars out of 5

Diana Barth
Diana Barth writes for various theatrical publications and for New Millennium. She may be contacted at diabarth99@gmail.com