Monday, May 12, 2014

The Double

In Richard Ayoade's new stunt of a movie, "The Double," Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a mouse of a man employed in data entry in a dimly lit, windowless, seemingly subterranean sea of cubicles overseen by fast-talking Mr. Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn), a conceit that owes as much to Jeunet and Caro as to Dostoevsky.

Ayoade revels in Simon's humiliation: the guard makes him sign for a guest pass every day after seven years on the job; the elevator to the copy room won't start with him in it; and his mother tells him, "There's something about you that's just not right." Simon spends his nights peering across the street through his telescope at the apartment of his co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the photocopy clerk, to whom he's barely mustered the temerity to speak.

Into this miserable world comes Simon James' double, James Simon, also played by Eisenberg. James is the picture of brash careerism, initially befriending Simon but later stealing his regression-analysis models and horning in on Hannah. It's not too long before James has joined the chorus of people telling Simon he's such a "nonperson," he might as well off himself, a theme I didn't find one bit funny.

Ayoade's movie is stylish and well-made from a production design perspective, but he's at grave risk of painting himself into a Wes Anderson corner. He too has constructed a dollhouse of fetishistic detail in which to move inanimate objects around. (Hannah, for example, never becomes more than an unattainable pretty girl with no interior life, a real waste of Wasikowsa's talent.) 

And take the reactions of Simon's colleagues to James' appearance. To his stupefaction, nobody notices their physical resemblance. "Does he look like anyone you know?" Shrug. "Me, for instance?!" This has the immediate effect of removing "The Double" from the realm of reality, reducing the stakes to nothing, and rendering the characters we're forced to spend time with blithering idiots.

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