Twitter Plot Summary: Simon James, mostly ignored in his job, is confounded by the arrival of James Simon – his double – who begins to take over his life.
Five Point Summary:
1. Very Eastern European look to all of this.
2. Making one copy. Prescient.
3. James starts to worm his way in.
4. Death, unravelling, Chris Morris…
5. Full circle, clever plotting.
Richard Ayoade has long been a comedy hero of mine, and not just for his work as Moss in The IT Crowd. Before that he provided us with Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Man To Man With Dean Learner and some notable appearances as Crunch-obsessed shaman Saboo in The Mighty Boosh. The Double marks what is technically Ayoade’s third feature film in the director’s chair, following AD/BC: A Rock Opera (which is actually listed as a TV movie) and 2010’s Submarine.
Based on The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Simon James (Eisenberg) is a clerk in a government agency. He is meek and mild mannered, almost entirely invisible to those around him and entirely incapable of speaking with women. His life takes a surprising turn when a new co-worker starts in his department – this is James Simon, Simon’s exact double and who is his complete opposite – full of confidence and charm. Eisenberg is impressive as both characters, and it’s a testament to his skill as an actor that you always know which of the two is on screen at any time. This is none more apparent as James starts to woo Hannah (Wasikowska), the object of Simon’s affections and, personality wise, not too dissimilar to him in many respects. It would also be remiss of me to ignore the presence of Wallace Shawn – the man needs to be in more films.
In his suit that is at least a couple of sizes too big, Simon James is an intriguing figure almost instantly. Facing an existential crisis as it looks like he is to be replaced by his slightly sinister yet eternally loved double, Simon fears becoming a boy held up by string – a narrative thread that becomes all the more prescient as James worms his way deeper into people’s affections and slowly starts to edge Simon out of his own life. Are they two sides of the same coin, akin to that episode of Star Trek where Captain Kirk is split into two people, the good and evil sides of his personality? Perhaps. You’ll have to decide this for yourself.
I enjoyed the eastern European/communist Russia visual style employed throughout – it’s dark, moody and conjures up an image of an almost fascistic state without directly saying as much. It’s almost cliche to say it, but the visual links to the likes of 1984 or Brazil are immediately apparent – unless of course you haven’t seen either of those, in which case you’ll probably just think everything is a bit dark. It’s also incredibly funny, if you’re attuned to this sort of comedy – very dark, very black, yet also raises the amusing point that literally nobody can see the similarities between Simon and James – are they all really that blind to it?
As may be expected, there are a couple of cameos from the likes of Chris Morris and Chris O’Dowd, which are nice little moments for fans of their work and are momentary distractions at some key points in the narrative. There’s also a recurring set of clips from a science fiction TV show featuring Paddy Considine as a sub-par Flash Gordon character, and whilst entirely unfeasible is something I’d like to see expanded upon and told in its own film or TV series – stranger things have happened!
I felt that the narrative in the second half wasn’t quite as clear as it perhaps should have been, but otherwise it’s an enjoyable romp. Everything established in the first act links nicely to events in the third, so whilst it may not have been as clear as I would have preferred, the script is at least tightly structured. Whilst the more intricate aspects of the plot may not have received the clarity they deserved, Ayoade has at least provided a very competently made film and, combined with Eisenberg’s performance, makes you believe that Simon and James are coexisting in the same space.