Dostoyevsky is certainly NOT for everyone!
The Double is based on a story by the Russian writer, Dostoyevsky. And, I’ll be blunt here—he is NOT for everyone! In fact, his stories are really not going to generate a lot of revenue when they are made into films because they are so strange and non-cinematic. Obviously the filmmakers really must have wanted to make this and they knew they’d never get rich off this one! This must be the reason Jesse Eisenberg decided to do this ‘little’ film. Interestingly, one of the executive producers* is Michael Caine—so he, too, must have really liked the material and wasn’t too concerned about raking in the cash! As for the director, Richard Ayoade, he isn’t that experienced with full-length films but certainly is someone to watch, as he really made the most of this strange tale by infusing it with some incredibly odd but satisfying touches—such as, for no reason I could discern, infusing the film with Japanese music! He also has a Fellini sort of love of strange supporting characters—all with very odd faces. It’s all very weird…but it works! In addition, Ayoade wrote the screenplay based on the Dostoyevsky novel.
The story is about as bizarre as any I’ve seen lately. Simon (Eisenberg) is a very emotionally constricted and lonely young man. No one seems to notice him or care about him as he plods away at his job making no particular mark. In fact, he’s literally a real ‘nothing’ as soon his work identification badge stops working and he is repeatedly hassled by the strange security guard who acts like he’s never seen Simon before—though he’s worked at the company for years. Then, out of the blue, a new employee comes to work—and he is the exact double for Simon. James (also Eisenberg) looks like Simon but no one seems to think this is unusual. What is really strange is that everyone seems to naturally love James and he’s much the opposite of his lookalike. He’s confident, aggressive and Simon eventually learns that he’s also a bit of a user. While they are friends at first and James seems to be trying to help Simon, soon you see that James is trying to take over Simon’s life…and lonely Simon is becoming more and more alienated and depressed. What is poor Simon to do?
In many ways, this story looks like it was infused with liberal doses of the movies 1984 as well as Brazil. While the film lacks the huge budget of Brazil, the dystopian look to this place gives it an otherworldly feel that seems oppressive, strange and gloomy. It also has an odd sense of humor—though it certainly is not a comedy. This actually works well with the story. But what is it all about? THAT is the thing about The Double—no one is exactly sure what it all means. Since the story was written long ago folks have been debating this. Is this simply Simon’s descent into madness? Are there literally two of him, a yin and a yang? Or, is there some other meaning? Some will like the film’s vagueness—others will hate that they aren’t being spoon-fed the answers. The bottom line is that the story is difficult, strange and confusing—and these are NOT qualities you find in a Hollywood picture. As for me, I liked it and appreciated that the filmmakers didn’t try to make a film like any other. And, the strangeness certainly wasn’t a bad thing. Would I like more films like this? Perhaps I might—but not in large quantities. But, as a change of pace, I really enjoyed the film. Whether or not you’ll enjoy this strange film, I cannot say—it all depends on your tolerance for the surreal.
*I am confused. How can a film realistically have four executive producers? Usually, there is one producer in charge (the executive producer) and the others are simply called producers.
Review by Lead Entertainment Writer & Film Critic, Martin Hafer
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