“The post-theatrical world”— this phrase has bandied about and been debated with much fervor over the last few years. If you believe the prognosticators, the days of going to the movie theater, buying a ticket, and indulging in overpriced snacks may be nearing its demise.
Growing trends like streaming media and advanced home theater systems make watching movies almost indiscernible from watching them at cineplexes. Industry analysts have been writing the obituary for the movie theater since television was first introduced. Then they were preaching doom and gloom when VCRs rose to popularity. Once the video rental business got going, it was to be the death of cinema—then DVDs, flatscreen TVs, and home surround sound systems … and then Netflix. The sky has been falling on cinema for more years than I’ve been alive, and yet movie theaters are still a fixture of our culture.
Industry analysts talk about “the post-theatrical world,” but instant streaming hasn’t killed the theatrical experience; however, it has eroded the marketplace to a point where only certain kinds of movies can sustain success. Independent film almost completely vanished from the multiplexes as to stock screens with big-budget spectacles to put asses in seats. If you want to find smart, engaging movies, and your particular corner of the world lacks an art house theater, you’re almost forced to go online or On Demand.
“The Double” comes as the kind of wonderfully weird, witty movie that would be lost in a theatrical landscape stocked with superheroes and sensory overload blockbusters. It tells the story of a clerk named Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) who stumbles through his socially awkward life, longing to be a better version of himself. Lonely and troubled, he pines for his beautiful neighbor, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who seems to be the only source of inspiration in his listless life. He walks around in ill-fitting suits that cut a frame similar to David Byrne in early Talking Heads videos. Simon desperately searches for purpose in an unfrorgiving world.
Simon’s place in the world is further called into question when his doppelganger is hired at his office. James, also played by Eisenberg, is a carbon-copy of Simon, down to every physical detail. Under the surface, they couldn’t be more divergent. James exhibits arrogance, smoothness, and fearlessness; everything Simon is not. Existential crisis presents itself by James’ arrival.
Things worsen when Hannah becomes attracted to James. Simon’s admiration for James quickly turns to contempt as he watches a more charismatic version of himself succeed everywhere he had failed. James is not just erasing Simon, he is overwriting him. Simon’s mental state erodes and paranoia sets in.
Richard Ayoade (known to many as ‘Moss’ from “The IT Crowd”) is a unique filmmaker who has crafted very different, yet intriguing movies. His first effort, “Submarine,” is a kind-hearted coming-of-age film that felt like equal parts John Hughes and Wes Anderson. “The Double” is a far more challenging and less inviting affair. It has a sense of style that feels influenced by the work of Terry Gilliam. Certain moments clearly are inspired by movies like “Brazil”—little touches, flourishes, and design aesthetics that feel antiquated and yet somehow futuristic. It’s nice to see someone else wielding the weird torch in an era that could use a few more Gilliams, David Lynches and John Waters.
“The Double” is a fantastic independent film and well worth seeking out. Eisenberg delivers a fantastically devilish dual performance and plays both characters brilliantly. The current cinematic landscape is splintered and quite manic these days, “The Double” delivers a crazy, inspired, and heartbreaking film.
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Wallace Shawn, and Mia Wasikowska
Directed by Richard Ayoade