The Double – Review (Spoiler Free)

This bleak social commentary is laced with absurdist comedy and touching insight…


In The Double Richard Ayoade presents us with an adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s novella, which at times feels like a collaboration between George Orwell and Franz Kafka. The film’s world feels very much like 1984’s dystopian vision with an office worker who lives a dictated life under a constant feeling of intrusion and observation, but mixed into that is a Kafka-esque alienation and distorted reality. This is a story where lead actor Jesse Eisenberg encounters a twin, a double of himself. This new Eisenberg is confident, funny and well thought of by everyone – in short everything the original one wants to be.

The cynic in me would summarise Eisenberg’s roles in this film as his neurotic Zombieland role meeting his Social Network persona… and there is some truth in that, but it is unfair of me to belittle his excellent work here like that. One of the key tests when an actor has to play their twin is whether we can tell, unaided by different colour shirts or hairstyles, which twin is which before the actor even opens his mouth – and Eisenberg pulls it off here. His various stances and gestures can clearly signal which character he is at any time, and although this isn’t the most subtle work at times when compared to somebody like Nicolas Cage in Adaptation, it’s still impressive and deserving of high praise. The truth is that there have been few more interesting and fun to watch duos on screen in recent years than Eisenberg and Eisenberg as ridiculous as that sounds.

Perhaps my biggest issue with this film is that it never quite delves deep enough into its themes of alienation and existential crisis to make something truly great and memorable. On the other hand though it doesn’t, as some reviewers have stated, purely pay lip service to those themes either. Instead it strides some sort of middle ground with an interesting story, good performances and a healthy dose of existentialism that gets you thinking but never once threatens to overwhelm the story by any means.

The film’s actually at its strongest when it looks at Eisenberg’s relationship (or lack of) with Mia Wasikowska’s character. Here, and largely due to Wasikowska’s work, we are provided with a human streak in the film that provides a surprisingly emotional look at alienation and loneliness. It’s a welcome breath of humanity into what otherwise could have become a very cold affair, and it’s this balancing of the various competing elements in the script which marks Ayoade out as a director to watch for the future.

Summary:

What is the film’s greatest strength? Eisenberg’s two leading performances.

Its greatest weakness? It feels just a little hollow at times.

Would I see it again? Certainly, it will be interesting to see how the film holds up over time.

Thanks for reading, please do let loose in the comment box below!

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10 comments

  1. Caught this one at Cinema City; enjoyed it a lot, though you’re right it could have been deeper thematically – though viewed as a dark comedy that perhaps isn’t as big a deal as in a drama. Eisenberg pulled off a good double-act – I need to see Adaptation but I think the best “playing two characters” I’ve ever seen is Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent/Superman – it’s almost amazing they’re the same actor, really helps you buy into the silly glasses disguise.

    1. True, good point… this one can be placed in many genres I guess but it does just feel a little light to me.
      Hmm well Cage’s is very subtle as thy are just two different but not spectacularly different twins. I’d want to know why you think of him and the film when you see it.

  2. I really wanted to like this one but it was just a little bit too weird for me.

    1. Hmm fair enough, I rather liked it’s oddness and just wish it was developed a little further. Eisenberg was good though didn’t you think?

      1. He really was and I am a big Ayoade fan so to some extent I think it’s a case of it’s not you, it’s me.

        1. Hmmm fair enough. I haven’t seen Submarine yet, have you? Is it decent?

          1. I liked it.

          2. I’ll try to see it soon I reckon.

  3. Hi James! I’ve been saying this on some other reviews I read about this film, I’m just not fond of Eisenberg as an actor. I mean I like him in The Social Network but he kinda I dunno, aggravates me. Not sure I want to see him play more than 1 role in a movie, ahah.

    1. Hey Ruth, I really get why he would aggravate you. He comes close to winding me up at times too but mostly I’m a fan.
      You’re right though, given that he annoys you a double dose probably isn’t a good idea!

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