Watching ‘The Double’ was a very strange and conflicting experience for me. I found myself trying desperately to like what I was watching, but the more I saw the more confused and detached I found myself, and confused and detached are never feelings I want to have while watching a film. Comparing this to the borderline masterpiece that is ‘Enemy’ was also hard not to do, considering the obvious similarity in central plot point, and yet the two are so vastly different that it almost felt a shame to be making any kind of comparison.
Regardless, my feelings for this film can pretty much be summed up in the tweet I ‘tweeted’ mere minutes after starting the film:
Twenty minutes into #TheDouble and I'm getting total 90's Cronenberg vibes, if he were directing a 30's screwball comedy...
— Andrew Ellington (@fististhoughts) January 31, 2015
To some, this will probably sound like a great thing, but for me, it left me unfulfilled. Cronenberg is not a director that I always respond to. In fact, I rarely respond to him, and the 90’s film in particular that I got serious vibes for was ‘Naked Lunch’, which is a messy, messy film. This film’s tone is so deadpan that it feels stagnant, and it tries (I mean, really…so many ‘let’s laugh at the fact that he didn’t get what he ordered’ moments) to emulate comedic cleverness in a way that feels fresh, but it fails. It’s like David Cronenberg found a long lost Billy Wilder script and said, “I can do this”, but he can’t.
The film tells the story of a shy, naïve and somewhat introverted clerk named Simon who pines for co-worker Hannah and watches over his bitter and opinionated mother. His life is altered tragically when he witnesses a suicide (the theme plays heavily here) and then is introduced to his new co-worker, James, a man who shares Simon’s face but possesses charisma, confidence and a malicious intent. Simon is swept up in James’ plot to further his own status, promising to help Simon with his obvious issues, but instead he completely uses and disposes of Simon when the time is right, leaving Simon feeling duped and even more alone, now that Hannah is taken by this new ‘imposter’ of a man.
This all sounds so interesting and yet…nothing.
‘The Double’ feels so unsure of itself, cluttered and confused by its own intentions, and the final twenty minutes just feels so overwrought and at the same time under-developed. It’s a shame that this film is so awfully uneven (and tonally confused) because the performances by the two stars are actually pretty tremendous. Jesse Eisenberg juggles the two extremes of his characters with such fluidity, and these are major ying and yangs here, but it’s Mia Wasikowska who actually tackles the uneven tone here with a studied understanding of it. Just her manner of speaking, her rapid fire dialog exchange, her facial movements, eye flutters, tonal shifts; all feel so in the moment and completely tied into what Ayoade was going for.
I want to see her alongside Cary Grant so badly, but, like, that’s impossible.
In the end, I’m almost indifferent here if it weren’t for the performances and the score, which is spectacular. I just feel like Ayoade’s intentions were almost too ambitious for his skill level, for he wasn’t able to make it all mesh properly. I had a similar reaction to Wes Anderson’s ‘Rushmore’ (I know, a film that everyone loves that I barely like), and in a way this kind of feels like what would have happened had Wes Anderson directed ‘Fight Club’; and who wants to see that?
I've settled on a C- here, mostly due to the strength of the performances (which deserved a better movie, as did the audience).