Here is a film that I admired more than I enjoyed or embraced. It clearly wears its influences too loudly with Brazil looming largely over every single frame. The Double suffers in the unintentional comparison, but it borrows the oppressive production design from that film while forsaking the human qualities. There’s also a sideways sense of humor that recalls the work of David Lynch, but again, it’s more obvious influence sleeve-wearing than it is successful adaption of said style.
The worst problem with The Double is the lead character of Simon, a diminished little creep that practically wreaks of Nice Guy™. You know the type, and if you don’t, ask the women in your life. He creepily moves into the apartment complex across the street from his object of obsession (Mia Wasikowska), goes through her trash several times, and still somehow gets off easily by ending up with the girl and besting his doppelgänger. Simon is a meek little man who can’t seem to string a single sentence together without an apology, yet he also projects a simpering rage that he’s not been given what he should have. Much of this renders The Double as a beta-male tantrum, so your mileage may vary at the various humiliations and jokes at his expense.
Where The Double succeeds is as an excuse for Jesse Eisenberg to strut his stuff as an actor. He has to play two extremes in personality, and both of the performances are smartly textured and fully realized. Granted, Eisenberg as an arrogant prick is probably not much of a stretch if you’ve read his essays in the New Yorker, but he still nails the dichotomy and tension between the two characters. His version of James, the arrogant half to Simon’s meek one, is like his performance in The Social Network gone broad, big, and for dark laughs.
And while the film clearly is heavily indebted to the works of Lynch and Gilliam, it still looks quite lovely. The world of the film is a strange other, a hodge-podge of various timelines buttressing against each other, and a heavy dose of grim and grit slathered over everything. At times the world is so dark that the Catch 22-esque bits of circuitous and satirical humor are the lone bright spots in this world.
The tone of icy detachment is suffocating, and eventually proves to be an arm’s length towards embracing the film in a more profound way. The characters are held at a distance, and this could have been deeper both thematically and emotionally if the film was interested in exploring the isolation and exhaustive loneliness that’s clearly the hallmarks of this world, but it’s not. The Double is a gloomy march towards an extended fit when it could have easily been a raging lament.