It's not even the end of the year and 2014 is already going down in cinema history as the year of the cooler and more attractive doppelgangers. Denis Villeneuve's Lynchian psychological thriller Enemy pitted Jake Gyllenhaal's college professor against his more adventurous actor doppelganger as a way of dealing with the character's duplicitous love life. The recent sci-fi/romance The One I Love was about a couple finding exact copies of themselves at a couples' therapy retreat, only these versions provided each of them with an idealized representation of their significant other.
Now comes The Double, actor/comedian/writer/director Richard Ayoade's follow-up to Submarine, which exploited every single quirky indie coming-of-age trick in the book, but at least sported a unique visual style and strong performances.
Adapted loosely from Dostoevsky's novella by Ayaode and Avi Korine (Harmony's brother), The Double can simply be described as Brazil-light. It's also about an extremely introverted pushover worker drone trying to make sense out of a nightmarish bureaucratic hellscape of an undetermined time and location while searching for true love that might or might not turn out to be his salvation.
Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) has been working for the same depressing data processing company for seven years and pretty much no one even recognizes his presence. He's obsessed with a copy girl named Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who also suffers from pathological loneliness, yet he can't bring himself to ask her out.
One day, a new addition to Simon's workplace, a charismatic ladies' man named James, turns his entire world upside down. Not only is James an exact copy of Simon, no one even notices the resemblance since Simon himself has been practically invisible his entire life. Slowly and meticulously, James begins to take over Simon's life, climbing up the corporate ladder using Simon's work as his own and even getting Hannah to fall in love with him.
The doppelganger trying to take over the original is not a new concept in science-fiction. Dostoevsky's original source material for this film is almost 200-years-old. In the 50s and 60s, this plot reflected the cold war-era fears of the autonomous government body taking over individuality. The original Invasion of the Body Stanchers and countless Twilight Zone episodes are good examples of this approach. However, being taken over by a more attractive, likable and charismatic copy seems to be a more recent twist on this concept.
In our social media-driven world, we usually present a more charismatic, successful and interesting version of ourselves on the web. It's no surprise that the thought of losing our grip on the thin line between the reality of ourselves and the fantasy we have created for our alternate identity can be utilized by pop culture as a contemporary social phobia.
Ayoade enhances the paranoia of the story by taking full advantage of the genuinely drab and gloomy locations and lighting. Just like the way it is in Brazil, the world The Double inhabits looks like we become privy to a mild-mannered bureaucrat's nightmare where nothing works the way it should, even though everything is tightly controlled and managed.
Ripping a page out of Nicholas Cage's performance from Adaptation, Jesse Eisenberg presents his two roles as Simon and James as polar opposites in behavioral exaggeration. Simon is a spineless, twitchy and a mind-numbingly passive character, which makes it hard to root for him at times. James, on the other hand, is a narcissistic motor mouth manipulation expert. Even though the characters look identical, Eisenberg's deft performance lets us know which character we're dealing with at any time.
The Double's use of oppressive and drab locations, coupled with very creative camera and lighting work makes it a must-see on Blu-Ray. This is a gorgeous and unique-looking film and the 1080p presentation is as close as you're going to get to the theatrical experience. As far as I could notice, the transfer lacks any blemishes in the presentation and does not suffer from any video noise. The Double was shot on film and the Blu-Ray perfectly transfers the depth and contrast of the cinematography without utilizing a lot of digital noise reduction.
This is a film that begs to be watched on a surround system with some power and depth. The use of sound in The Double is almost more vital than the eccentric visuals in order to sell its nightmare world. Ayoade's sound team takes full advantage of dynamic range and creates a mix that squeezes tension out of even the most seemingly innocent day-to-day sounds. The 5.1 DTS-HD track perfectly encapsulates this mix through a crisp transfer.
Cast and Characters: A 4-minute EPK where the cast introduce their characters. Just watch the film instead to get that information.
Creating The Double: Another brief, 4-minute EPK about the design of the film's world.
Behind the Scenes Comparisons: A short picture-in-picture video showing some of the behind-the-scenes footage alongside the finished scenes from the film.
Interview with Director Richard Ayoade: A 6-minute interview where Ayoade talks about how he came across The Double as his next project.
AXS TV, A Look at The Double: Another very short EPK about the film.
We also get a Trailer and some Previews from other Magnolia Home Entertainment releases.
The Double is nowhere near as groundbreaking or memorable as Brazil but it's endlessly creative, especially in an audiovisual sense. It's brimming with style and actually manages to provide some biting satire and dark comedy. The Blu-Ray transfer is excellent, more comprehensive extras would have been welcome, but overall it's worth a look.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com