Overview: Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), a lonely and mild-mannered office drone, is shocked when his doppelgänger, the brash and extroverted James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), begins to take over his life. Magnolia Pictures; 2014; Rated R; 93 Minutes
Double Vision: Simon James is missing something. You can see it in his eyes as he spies on his coworker Hannah (Mia Wasikowsa) through a telescope. Or maybe it’s the opposite, and there’s something in him that not even he can see. Why does he stand to one side of the elevator even when no one else is in there with him, as though he’s making room for some invisible other half? Whichever it is, it’s made Simon a non-presence to everyone around him. It takes the arrival of his exact physical double, the charismatic James Simon, to make him a character in his own story. Does James arrive because Simon needs him, or was James there all along? And was Simon better off without him? Richard Ayoade’s paranoid thriller The Double isn’t interested in answering questions, and it’s all the more delightful for it.
Mirror, Mirror: The Double wears its influences on its sleeve, but it never becomes consumed by them. Its vision of a bureaucratic dystopia is straight out of Brazil, with a grimy film noir aesthetic. That particular flavor of corporate satire isn’t the film’s end product. It offers the perfect backdrop for Simon and James’ conflict, and it informs their interactions in an important way. James is lazy where Simon is motivated, James is charming where Simon is self-conscious, and James is successful where Simon is ignored. Cinematographer Erik Wilson rather brilliantly uses framing and lighting to reinforce the reflective relationship without leaning too heavily on obvious motifs. Ayoade’s blocking underlines the complicated connection between Simon and James. They sit on opposite sides of a table, but not facing each other as though they are mirror images. Instead, they sit at opposite corners; still a reflection, but one that further reverses itself. Simon and James aren’t identical after all. They may appear to be, but their personalities could not be more different. Ayoade’s direction is outstanding in this regard.
Object of Affection: Wasikowska’s Hannah is not only a fantastic character, she might be the most important element in the movie. Hannah is a blatant subversion of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” stereotype and a critique of those who indulge it. Simon appreciates her quirks from afar, knowing that if he only had the courage to talk to her she would fall for him instantly. But in Hannah’s first major scene, she talks to Simon about a man who had been stalking her, who claimed to be in love with her despite not actually knowing her. It’s so refreshing to see a love interest defy objectification in no uncertain terms.
Wrap-Up: The Double is a very well-made movie with a great cast, a beautifully ugly aesthetic, and a captivating narrative.