Birds of a Feather
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska
Review written by Robert D. Patrick
James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) is working in a cubicle the size of a kennel. Those around him, decrepit and methodical, type away endlessly. Plumes of wild, uncombed hair envelope their ears. They have been in this office a long, long time. And, from the looks of things, these cubicles will be their tombs. James has been at this company for seven years, but nobody can seem to remember who he is. He has ideas, longs for change, but seems to be stuck – lodged like a musket ball in the belly of a discarded rifle. “Nobody even wants to be here,” he bellows to a glowering co-worker, who, of course, disagrees with him. James is alone, it appears, until he meets a new co-worker: himself.
James’ doppelganger is empirically the same, but the cogs and gears inside of the visage are different. It’s a James that is more buzz saw than milquetoast. A James that doesn’t stammer or arrive with staccato uncertainty, but one whose confidence expels social success. At first, the two begin to work together, scheming and plotting and using each other’s strengths to further their lives, but eventually one entity wants to overpower the other – one can only guess which entity it is.
Director Richard Ayoade’s opus, based on the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novella of the same name, borrows its skins from many other movies. The Double has the aesthetic compass of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, complete with workplace claustrophobia, hulking buttons, and surreal plasticity. Spike Jonze’s maladroit working environment in Being John Malkovich can also be referenced, with its satirical and sometimes glum portrait of the office life. Ayoade uses off-putting lighting to add to the nausea and fear (fly paper yellows are basically everywhere). Because of its palette, The Double almost feels like having your head in a toilet bowl after a bad night of drinking. It’s a deliberately ugly film that reeks of brine and stale air. While giving the movie its sense of claustrophobia, it’s too suffocating to wade through, despite the film’s brief running time.
Eisenberg does a terrific job of switching between crass huckster and meek, doddling worker. Meanwhile, Mia Wasikowska, who plays third fiddle to the dueling Eisenbergs, continues her reign of Easter Island statue, as she barely lifts a finger during her screen time. Ayoade’s film can be compared to Miguel Arteta’s Youth in Revolt, only with more brooding and philosophical pandering. While not a complete disaster or a significant piece of cinema, The Double is an interesting entry into Eisenberg’s catalog of films, and should be seen by those who court Gilliam-like craft.