MIRROR IMAGE Jesse Eisenberg plays two shades of a character in 'The Double.'
Keep repeating the phrase "Characters in existentialist fiction are not supposed to be realistic," but perhaps you'll still lose rapport with the attenuated Double, Richard Ayoade's often-inspired paraphrase of the Dostoyevsky novelette in which a man encounters the more perfect version of himself. But Ayoade can't wrap it up as succinctly; maybe the tale has been ripped off so many times that there's no good original way to finish it.
Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) encounters a new kid on his block, socially adept, able to climb the rungs of his job and better at charming the pants off Hannah (Mia Wasikowska ), the girl Simon can only peer at from his window via telescope, as if she were a heavenly body. As Hannah, Wasikowska has the advantage of being the glowing spot of beauty in a realm of ruin and constant aggressiveness—viciousness from the top (the smiling overlord played by James Fox) all the way down to a harsh waitress (Cathy Moriarity) and a useless male nurse (Chris O'Dowd)
If Ayoade's main aim was to create a visually fascinating realm, consider it done. Visually, the movie honors the memory of Welles' Trial, with David Crank's production design being especially impressive. The two Eisenbergs work in an office laden with obsolete, dysfunctional equipment, including malicious elevator doors that bite and squawk a red alert if you kick them back.
The lighting makes everyone look jaundiced or cancerous, and transportation is provided by a rattle-trap subway. The quaking, quacking Simon is under constant assault, falsely promised happiness from fulsome Japanese pop hits, even as his ass is thoroughly kicked by all around him. As he's told at one point, "You're pretty unnoticeable, even for a nonperson."
The Double comes off as being more admirable than likable. Maybe part of the problem is that Eisenberg has two personalities when the rest of the cast barely have one each.
'The Double' is now screening at the Rialto Cinemas, 6868 McKinley Ave., Sebastopol. 707.525.4840.