Does anyone have Terry Gilliam’s number? I think some film student may have crushed him into a fine powder and snorted him and used his subsequent trip to make film starring two Jesse Eisenbergs (which is already pretty terrifying when you consider how Eisenberg is already a clone of Michael Cera.) All joking aside, The Double is a surreal little trip that is perhaps a bit full of itself and its ever-important message, but once it moves beyond its self-important world-building, there’s actually something worth thinking about wrapped in an abstract, existential nightmare.
The central conflict of the film isn’t even introduced until about a third of the way in. The first thirty minutes of The Double is spent showing the day-to-day happenings of Simon James (Eisenberg), an average nobody in all senses of the word. Nobody at work remembers him or the hard work that he does, and he is surrounded by the elderly in a job that clearly doesn’t offer him opportunity to advance. Dull oranges and blues hover forebodingly in almost every scene, betraying a sense of oppression and gloom that Simon can’t seem to escape from. Even suicide is treated nonchalantly as an everyday occurrence. In short, the film is basically shouting at us that this is what being a young adult in the modern world is like. It’s pretty ham-fisted when you get right down to it, and if that’s all the film were trying to convey, it would have been a pretty shallow, if visually appealing, experience.
However, things pick up when Simon James’s exact double begins work at the same place; his name is James Simon. (Well isn’t that clever…) James is essentially the polar opposite to Simon. He lazes about and convinces Simon to do all his work for him, yet gets all the praise that Simon not only deserves for doing James’s work, but the work that Simon had always been doing up until that point. Eventually, it becomes clear that James is out to take over Simon’s life, and what follows is an exploration of the nature of individuality and what makes us more than working-class drones.
The film delves into some pretty abstract territory by the time the third act rolls around, leaving much of what happens on-screen up to interpretation. Your enjoyment will largely be dictated by how willing you are to hang on for a trip that has little in the way of narrative hand-holding, but I thought it was worth sitting through. The film is short enough at ninety minutes that its eccentricities never overstay their welcome, but as much as it’s obviously inspired by Terry Gilliam’s body of work, it doesn’t quite capture the same level of depth or surreality that permeates films like 12 Monkeys or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
This film may be a little bit full of itself and may be a bit too obviously trying to show off its cinematic storytelling smarts, but for the time spent watching it, I feel like I got a pretty good experience. This isn’t a film that’s likely to garner popular praise anytime soon, but I can easily see a cult following emerging now that the film has a DVD release. Go ahead and give this one a shot!
So, will Jesse Eisenberg ever escape the Michael Cera comparison? Leave your thoughts below!