Director: Richard Ayoade, Great Britain
What if one day you showed up at work and found that there was a new employee who looked just like you, but is a slicker, shrewder and more confident version of yourself? This is the situation that presents itself to Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) in The Double.
Simon has always been an intelligent, yet underachieving and unremarkable clerk working at a government office in a surrealistic, dystopian world. He has great ideas, but his shyness and general lack of confidence has turned him into a forgettable office drone. When one day James Simon comes to work, Simon is shocked to find that the man looks identical to him and merely has his own name, but reversed. For some reason, no one in the office notices this phenomenon, and James begins to slowly take over Simon’s life. This includes romancing the quirky copy girl (Mia Wasikowska) with whom Simon is in love.
While this is a clever film and stylistically extremely interesting, there is something simply lost in the plot. The question comes down to who is James Simon? Is he like Tyler Durden in Fight Club (1999), a representation of Simon’s own mind, a split personality? Or is James perhaps an entirely normal and different person whom Simon has projected this identity onto due to a psychosis? Both possibilities are hinted at, with the ending suggesting one thing and the rest of the film suggesting the other. While it could be argued that such ambiguity does not ruin the film, considering that the whole plot is leading to and begs for an answer to this question, it seems a failure that it is not delivered.
The Double owes great debts visually and structurally to filmmakers like David Lynch and Terry Gilliam. In particular, there are many stylistic and character connections that can be made between this and Brazil (1985). Clearly, director Richard Ayoade has a lot of talent, but until he learns how to progress past the point of homage into originality, he will never make a truly great film. It will be interesting to see how his career progresses, but, as it stands, The Double is only partly a great film.