WARNING: May contain some spoilers. I don’t know.
I return once more to my film critic seat, having finally viewed a film worth being gushed about. Last night, I watched the movie The Double, and was taken with it. At first. In fact I may be, I’m just not sure yet.
The film stars Jesse Eisenberg as Simon James, who is essentially a nobody in the eyes of everyone he knows. The film opens to Simon on a dimly-lit train, traveling through some unknown and mysterious environment that is synecdochical to the texture of the entire film. The first line uttered from a faceless stranger equally foretells the coming events: “You’re in my place.” Despite the train being utterly empty save the two of them, the timid Simon relinquishes his seat to the man.
The entire film is odd and beautifully dystopian. The scenes march along with a marvelous rhythm, carried by the fast, choppy cuts and the constantly staccato and percussive soundtrack. In addition to its weird and dark style, the film is hilarious. I laughed out loud repeatedly, sometimes at the situations befalling Simon James, and sometimes at the pure weirdness of the film.
As Simon continues through his drab life as a data processor for the big-brotheresque Colonel, he repeatedly finds himself attempting to catch the eye of Hannah, played by the stunning Mia Wasikowska. She is an equally quirky girl who lives near him and works with him, but like everyone else in his life, doesn’t remember him. In the words of one of his ‘friends,’ Simon James is utterly forgettable.
One day, the short and loud boss announces a new hire. All the dead-eyed employees storm out of their cubicles to look at the new hire, a bright, young, and enthusiastic man named James Simon–also played by Jesse Eisenberg. However, no one notices the visibly identical Simon’s resemblance to the new charismatic James. James slowly begins taking over Simon’s life by being everything he is not: good with women, outspoken, friendly, and dishonest. I was torn between laughing and feeling bad for the original Eisenberg thanks to the twisted and satirical brain of Richard Ayoade, the director of The Double, and one of my other quirky British favorites, Submarine.
The film is rated R for language and something I had never heard of in a rating system before: “Existential torture.” And the tag sticks. The ontological origins of James are ambiguous, and whether or not he actually exists, or is simply a projection of Simon’s head, is left to the viewer. Simon screams out “you stole my face!” but the exact meaning of the phrase is buried beneath layers of satirical symbolism. The two eventually find out that they receive identical injuries. When Simon slices his face open, James receives a duplicate one. When James nips Simon’s throat with a blade, they both earn a neck bandage. Rather than clarifying whether or not they are one and the same or two different people, this addition to the plot further confounds us, though it is used to finally kill one of the two men. In a similar fashion to Fight Club’s final scene, the dual-personality death-of-one-at-the-hands-of-the-other is left a mystery.
In the wake of this chainsaw of a film, I am left wondering what it all meant. What was the significance of the strict security guard, or the man who was spying on Simon and then killed himself? Who did the boss’s rebellious and hyper-sexualized daughter represent? Who was the Colonel, who made one enigmatic appearance at the end of the film and encourages the downtrodden Simon? If I knew, dear blog reader, I would certainly share. The film leaves us asking more questions than satisfied with answers.
What I can say is that, borrowing from Palahniuk, Kauffman, Magritte, and Gilliam, Richard Ayoade delivers a film that is a treat to watch, screams volumes at big government, and leaves us wondering what the heck just happened. Perhaps a second viewing will bring some things to light.
I can’t even think of a spiritual application to this film.
Just watch it and tell me what you think.