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.
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.
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