Movie a Day Blog has a theory why there are so many doppelganger movies surfacing recently; it’s the same reason the future is always dystopian in current science fiction. We seem divided from our natural selves, and the despoiling of an entire planet is just one reflection of that.
THE DOUBLE (2013) is the latest but certainly not the best of the genre, which includes ENEMY (2014, Movie a Day 9/22/14), VERTIGO (1958), THE PRESTIGE (2006) and a dozen or so more. Richard Ayoade, a British director of mixed Norwegian and Nigerian ethnicity, made a very interesting first feature, SUBMARINE (2010), which was a quirky and original look at a teenager determined to lose his virginity.
Based on a Fyodor Dostoevsky 19th century Russian novella, THE DOUBLE tries to be equally innovative in its look at guess what, a dystopian future that grinds down one version of sad sack Jesse Eisenberg, while his identical twin uses the same situation to prosper, becoming successful and popular.
This time Ayoade can’t pull it off, and THE DOUBLE becomes increasingly confusing and therefore ever more irritating as the two Eisenbergs compete, quarrel, collaborate and generally get on each other’s nerves. Think how we in the audience feel, because we don’t just hate the greedy manipulative Jesse, we despise his nerdy, whiny counterpart, too.
That doesn’t leave much to root for, not even Mia Wasikowska, who is wasted more in this role than any movie I’ve seen her in. She of course falls for the shiny Jesse and ignores the milquetoast, who of course adores her. The entire film is predictable in this manner, despite Ayoade’s efforts to clutter up the plot, and when all else fails, brings out Wallace Shawn to scream at unsuccessful Jesse and praise unctuous Jesse.
The place where the Jesses works is never clearly defined, and it doesn’t matter since it’s a complete rip-off of Terry Gilliam’s totalitarian vision of factory hell in BRAZIL (1985).
The plot is the same in every doppelganger film: the bad version of the hero begins to take over the life of the good version, with dire consequences to follow. The problem in THE DOUBLE is that neither version is attractive or empathetic, and no other character of any substance, so the effort seems entirely self-referential, the equivalent of a movie under glass. The only improvement is that digital technology is so seamless now that having two Jesses in the same scene is child’s play.
There is a report that Roman Polanski was going to direct his adaptation of THE DOUBLE in 1996 in Paris. John Travolta was to have played the two leads, with Isabelle Adjani, John Goodman and Jean Reno also cast. But apparently days before principal photography began, Travolta abandoned the production after a heated argument with Polanski about script revisions and his character. Without Travolta’s name value, the financing collapsed and the movie was never made.
That may have been a good thing, because imagining Travolta in this role makes Jesse Eisenberg seem suddenly better. But Polanski would have had much more fun with the story and his supporting cast, and I have to believe a better film would have resulted than THE DOUBLE.