This is the second doppelganger film I’ve reviewed this year; the first being Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy. I think I may have an obsession and secret adoration for this kind of subject matter. Maybe I’m unconsciously drawn to these stories because of my struggle to find myself. Maybe those idiosyncrasies I attribute to myself aren’t so special or unique. Whatever it may be, I’m convinced that Richard Ayoade’s The Double is unique despite its recycled premise. The film is based off Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel of the same name. Even Dostoyevsky himself was influenced by Nikolai Gogol. I doubt that there are any original ideas anymore. Everything is just an interpretation of pre-existing work.
Nevertheless, The Double is a refreshing and auspicious film. Jessie Eisenberg plays Simon James, a quiet introvert who is dismissed by practically everyone he meets. We first encounter Simon on his way to work. A man tells Simon that he is in his seat even though the entire train is utterly empty. Soon after vacating the man’s seat, he spots his co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). Simon tries to exit the train but, a man stacking boxes is inconveniently in the way. If that’s not enough, Simon’s briefcase gets caught in the train doors. And so, with the opening scene, the tone is set for the rest of the film.
I recently read an essay on Dostoevsky’s use of projection. Richard J. Rosenthal made an excellent case for the use of projection in The Double. Projection is a mental mechanism whereby aspects of the self are projected onto others. In Simon’s case, he uses projection as a self defense mechanism. He attempts to rid himself of unacceptable impulses and aspects of the self by externalizing them to the people and the environment around him. The excessive use of projective mechanisms leaves him internally depleted and more susceptible to his external environment. Quite literally, Simon James encounters a projection of himself; the mirror image of his self, James Simon.
James is everything Simon’s not. He’s extroverted, aggressive, and charismatic. The only thing they share in common is their appearance. James even wears the same dingy, oversized suit. At their workplace however, no one seems to see the resemblance. This aspect of the story demonstrates the second underlying message, existentialism.
“There’s no such thing as special people. Only people”
One of the central concepts of existentialism is the notion that existence precedes essence. People are individuals with a conscience. They create their own values and find a meaning for their own life. Simon James does not possess facticity nor transcendence. He does not exist within the system although he proclaims that he’s worked there for seven years. His existence is defined by the system.
“I’m like Pinocchio, I’m a wooden boy. Not a real boy.”
The Double is a film that can probably be interpreted in many different ways. Perhaps the notion of the Absurd may be attributed to this story. There is no meaning except for the one we give. Needless to say, it’s a film that stands on its own. There aren’t too many films like this. It’s pretty unique.
“There aren’t too many of you, are there Simon?”
“I’d like to think I’m pretty unique.”