“The Double” plays like a movie made by the love child of David Lynch and Terry Gilliam. Based on Fyodor Dostoevsky novella about a man who finds his life being usurped by his doppelgänger, it is a quietly surreal story about the existential misfortune of a man (Jesse Eisenberg) with no sense of himself.
Eisenberg is Simon, an insecure twenty-something trying to make a name for himself, personally and professionally, to no avail. His boss (Wallace Shawn) ignores his ideas and even his mother isn’t a fan. He’s in love with co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who lives in an apartment across the street from him, but like everyone else Hannah looks right through Simon.
“I have all these things that I want to say to her,” he says, “like how I can tell she’s a lonely person, even if other people can’t. Cause I know what it feels like to be lost and lonely and invisible.”
Everything changes when James (Eisenberg again) is hired at work. Physically he’s Simon’s doppelgänger, an exact match, but personality-wise he a polar opposite. Confident and charismatic, he excels at work and worst of all, Hannah wants to date him.
In front of the camera “The Double” writer-director Richard Ayoade is best known for playing computer nerd Maurice Moss on the much-loved British sitcom “The IT Crowd.” Behind the camera his work takes a much more darkly comedic approach. His first film, “Submarine,” was an edgy coming-of-age story that earned him a BAFTA nomination for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.
“The Double” strays into even stranger territory. Imagine “The Nutty Professor’s” Professor Julius Kelp / Buddy Love filtered through Dostoevsky’s “mystery of spiritual existence.” Ayoade creates a personal dystopia, inhabited by Simon, Hannah and James; a stylized study of paranoia with a few laughs thrown in. It’s an unabashedly weird movie that lets its freak flag fly.
This is Eisenberg’s film. He and Michael Cera (who tread on similar dual character territory in 2009’s “Youth in Revolt”) have made careers playing up the socially awkward nature of their characters, so half of “The Social Network” actor’s performance is no surprise. His work as Simon is something we’ve seen before from him, but his take on James is fresh, accomplished with shifts in body language. He effectively plays two characters in one movie.
In the end “The Double” stands as a unique movie, rich in Orwellian details and with good performances, but marred by a difficult, confusing story that may alienate less adventurous viewers.