double poster“The Double” is set, much like Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” or Godard’s “Alphaville”, in a fantasy world that is part future and part past. There are televisions, copy machines and elevators but the devices and sets are gray, cumbersome variants of their contemporary versions, inflected by the style and paranoia of Stalinist bureaucracy. Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a shy, ineffectual clerk hopelessly in love with a blonde copy girl (a winning performance by Mia Wasikowska). A new employee, James Simon, turns out to be his doppelgänger. James looks just like Simon (though he has a hard time getting people to acknowledge this) but James is a confident, popular, swaggering cad who quickly wins over everyone he meets including the copy girl and the boss’s goth-punk daughter. The funniest scenes in the film involve James coaching Simon on how to get girls. This dual role performance by Eisenberg is a thrilling example of his acting skills. Simon’s frustration at his lookalike’s grand reception —cheerfully waved through by the same security guard who always challenges Simon’s credentials— keeps building as he is cuckolded by his bolder self.

The mentorship sours quickly, though, as James steals Simon’s research to get promoted and turns into a monstrous lothario  dragging countless women back to Simon’s apartment (including  a crabby, aging waitress, played by Cathy Moriarity. Based on a Dostoevsky novella and adapted by director Richard Ayoade (“Submarine”) and Avi Korine (Harmony’s brother), “The Double” is a hugely entertaining parable of paranoia and self-loathing, set in an allegorical world that anyone working in a cube farm today will relate to at once.

Some may find Andrew Hewitt’s excellent, thunderous soundtrack to be too on-the-nose but I think it is overused in a cartoony way that fits the the paranoid and winking tone of the film. The soundtrack also includes the type of musical discoveries —rarely heard singles, often in other languages— that music and film geeks love to find in cultish films. Several Japanese pop songs are featured but the most memorable tune may be the Finnish group Danny & The Islanders’ 1964 cover of the Joan Baez song “East Virginia,” used in one party sequence. It’s lip-synched to fiendish effect by a group of aging men in metallic blazers.

“The Double” opens theatrically, on demand and on iTunes on Friday, May 9th.

Leave a Reply