The Double

The Double
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Director: Richard Ayoade
Cert: 16
Genre: Drama
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor
Running Time: 1 hr 38 mins

Simon James (played by Jesse Eisenberg in a career best, surely?) is a socially awkward, cripplingly polite office wonk, whose innovations at work go unnoticed by his invariably irate boss, Mr Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn, who, in a better world, would appear in all movies).

Sat upon and ill-served by fellow commuters, surly waiting staff, the company security guard, Simon mostly seems to exist in an invisible register. His affection for Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) in the photocopying room – a pretty blonde who lives at a respectable Rear Window viewing distance from Simon's own dreary apartment block – goes unrequited. Even his own mother isn't terribly interested.

Simon's strange, suffocating routines are suddenly disrupted by the appearance of a doppelganger, James Simon (also Eisenberg), a brash, wildly popular cad who takes little time to win over both Hannah and Mr Papadopoulis. In keeping with the Dostoyevsky novella that inspired the screenplay, nobody else seems to clock the resemblance, and Simon is increasingly usurped by his unwanted double.

Shot in dark hues and stifling sepias by cinematographer Erik Wilson and pieced together from random analogue flotsam by production designer David Crank, art director Denis Schnegg and set decorator Barbara Herman-Skelding, The Double plays with the high-fallutin' influences of Orwell's 1984, Kafka's The Trial and most everything by Nikolai Gogol. It remains a singular project, several states over from writer-director Richard Ayoade's bittersweet debut feature, Submarine, and even his most surreal comic creations.


A dark, sinister comedy of steampunk bureaucracy and fractured psyches, The Double feels like a suspicious tap on the shoulder for its 93-minute duration. The film's micro-world (picture Gilliam's Brazil remade within Berberian Sound Studio) adds to its discombobulating effects.

Size isn’t everything but it will, one suspects, condemn the film into the loving arms of a devoted cult and away from mainstream success. Still, we predict themed drinking games and many repertoire screenings in the future.

How on earth will Ayoade follow this tremendously idiosyncratic curio? We can’t wait to find out.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic