Welcome to the world of Simon James. It is a little unusual, but you’ll get used to it. The decor carries a retro vibe to make you feel at ease; we’re working on fixing the lights. The neighbourhood boasts its very own suicide division down at the local police station, and they’re having trouble keeping up with the workload. The local offices requires security clearance to enter and no one is quite sure what they do, but it is monotonous and repetitive, little thinking required.
The people are like puppets going about their predetermined lives. Simon spends his evenings watching the pretty blond who lives in the apartment across the way, but is too scared to make any kind of move. This is how things here work, see. Everyone keeps to themselves, focusing only on what is in their immediate vicinity. Simon in particular can’t seem to hold people’s attention. He is a non-entity. Working at the same job for seven years, he had managed to stay under the radar, completely unnoticed. That is until The Double appears. James Simon looks exactly like Simon, but he is everything that Simon is not. Charismatic and magnetic, he is an instant sensation both in the office and with Hannah, the object of Simon’s affections.
The Double is the second feature for British filmmaker Richard Ayoade, and it is a wonderfully twisted affair. It is a film not just about the physical doubles on screen, but also the duality of philosophies and ideas that are two sides of the same coin. Adapted from a novel by Fyodor Dostoyvsky, The Double is true to its intellectual roots as it explores deep philosophical questions regarding the nature of existence and whether one really exists if no one notices.
The film also carries a populist air, because in spite of the lofty ambitions, Ayoade is appealing to the masses as well as the intellectuals. Instead of creating a rift between these two opposing camps, Ayoade creates a world where the two are on even footing. Profound ideas are spoon fed to the masses, but in such a way that they don’t feel diminished or lesser. What has been created is a film that is an enjoyable (not quite popcorn) thriller that also asks for a closer, deeper look, but the superficial surface is enough to make The Double worth watching.
It is a film of dark whimsy that walks the fine line between humour and horror, hinting at both, but never fully swinging into either. There is a relentless, underlying unease. Being invisible like Simon means disappearing into the background, an existence that is meaningless, but the opposite doesn’t provide a better alternative. The flashy existence of James is devoid of anything substantial and in its own way just as empty.
In the end, it is about balance—between flash and the substance, horror and humour, the real and the imaginary. All are merely two ends of the same spectrum, with each defining the other, neither existing without its opposite. This is the wire that Ayoade walks so expertly, the delicate balancing act between extremes, always in danger of plummeting into nothingness, which is what makes it so exciting.