Frequently emphasized in Western culture, the development of a stable, unique identity is a journey that usually entails confusion and precariousness. “The Double” directly represents this abstract journey through the tale of Simon James, whose uneventful life is turned upside down when he meets his doppelganger and exact opposite, James Simon.
Beginning as a dry, quirky comedy, the film progressively morphs into a dark, gripping thriller-drama with an ending that can only be described as clever. Based off an 1846 Fyodor Dostoevsky novella of the same name, “The Double” is a 2013 British independent film from Magnolia Pictures starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska.
Eisenberg once again fills the role of a shy but sweet guy. However, it is difficult to imagine anyone else playing the role of Simon, the timid office worker who is amiable and loyal but continuously overlooked by everyone in the dystopian world in which he lives. The first scene chronicles a typical day in Simon’s frustrating life, which includes, but is not limited to, getting his briefcase stuck in the train, his boss of seven years still calling him Stanley, his elderly mother’s nursing home taking the rest of his money, and, most importantly, being ignored by his love interest, Hannah (Wasikowska). While comical, the audience easily senses desperation in Simon early on, mimicking the uncertainty and lack of existence that comes without a consistent identity. “I know what it feels like to be lost and lonely and invisible,” Simon eventually says.
Cinematographically, “The Double” is different, but in an intriguing and interesting kind of way. The visual dullness, all the monotone colors and plain clothing, and unembellished script, one word responses and flat speech, allow the thickening situation to stay at the forefront of the plot and frame the bare setting that reminds one of a page ripped from “1984.” Both Simon and Hannah work at a data collection government agency headed by an elusive “Colonel” and live in cookie cutter apartment style buildings.
The film had the potential to get annoying and petty, but effectively reintroduced an archetype storyline. A manipulative person takes advantage of a seemingly weaker counterpart for personal benefit, and stayed just irritating enough to keep the audience invested in what is going to happen next. Through the dullness, “The Double” initially seems like a calm movie, but, by the latter half, the viewer wants, honestly, to punch the screen because the situation Simon is thrown in is so unfair and frustrating.
The mess is instigated when Simon’s charismatic, obnoxious and manipulative doppelganger, James Simon, enters his life and immediately attracts the attention of everyone that has disregarded the main character for seven years, including Hannah. James Simon is also played by Eisenberg, which sounds ridiculous, but, for some appealing reason, “The Double” pulls it off. Actually, the split screen becomes the most interesting aspect of the movie. For some reason, no one realizes or seems to care that they are the exact same person, except Simon, who faints at the first sight of James, creating this captivating and never explained confusion. It soon becomes clear that James plans to manipulate the resemblance to erase Simon from existence. “How will we get caught?” James asks at one point. “We have the same face.”
Embodied by Simon taking control of his own life, the film is cemented in the theme of transformation, illustrating that it is possible to overcome social anxiety and loneliness by generating a new path in the system. Culminating in an immensely satisfying ending, “The Double,” while most definitely not for everyone, is a solid watch available for instant streaming on Netflix.
CW: The movie includes frequent mention and situations involving suicide.