Submarine director Richard Ayoade ’s second film lays Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella out in a nowhereland of office bureaucracy. Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a skivvying worker bee who’s belittled by his colleagues and shunned by Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the elfin girl who works the office’s giant, clanking photocopier. Eisenberg also plays James Simon, Simon James’ doppelgänger, who arrives unannounced, wins over the boss and immediately starts dating Hannah. No one reacts to the duplication, because Simon’s such a nobody.
Ayoade builds farce and tragedy out of the simplest devices. Everything, inside and out of the fiction, is against Simon. A blender roars to life as he tries to listen in on a conversation. A draft whips up and drowns him out when he thinks of something clever to say. Ayoade’s killer script takes evil pleasure in having Simon swallow his words and stutter through life.
The Double isn’t an original idea. It wasn’t even in Dostoyevsky’s time. But it’s a great story. And Ayoade has produced a brilliant copy.