We know Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) all too well. In fact, some of us might recognize elements of Simon in ourselves. He is a meek office drone, a quiet head-down peon from an earlier, darker time, harkening back to the beginning of the Industrial Age, but he is also a familiar type in the Post Modern age as well. Worker Simon is just the type the Internet Age sprang forth to liberate. Faceless in the real world, Simon has the potential to live like never before in the virtual; he can become fully realized thanks to social media — if there’s social media where he’s from.
Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself here because Simon is a creation bound to the limitations of the world of The Double from writer-director Richard Ayoade, sharing writing credit with Avi Korine (Mister Lonely), who adapts Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella with a foreboding timelessness and an absence of modern social media. Simon instills in the audience a sense of longing. We want technology to set him free but instead, because Dostoevsky’s narrative and this translation embrace the strictly literary, Simon must be saved by a doppelganger named James, a reflection of Simon who embodies all of the traits Simon dreams of when he imagines his best self.
James, despite looking exactly like Simon (and naturally being played by Eisenberg), appears far more handsome, so pumped full of confidence and swagger. He always knows what to say in any given situation. He schmoozes people. Simon, and by extension we, find James fake, in the mode of a born salesman or politician, but no one else seems able to see through the façade. It is a classic dichotomy in effect. The either/or; the image and the negative, which allows Eisenberg to “play” two roles.
In the first case, as Simon, he gives us exactly what we would expect.
This is Eisenberg, the guy who is interchangeable with Michael Cera, the other nebbish character-type, big-head guys with slight bodies, fast talkers with hints of sensibility (really just the sense that they are in touch with their own angst). Cera beat Eisenberg to the punch in Youth in Revolt, offering up a version of the nebbish loser and then the “rudely charming” French version of himself.
As James, Eisenberg doesn’t have to go quite that far in his roleplaying, but James is a role within a role, to a certain extent. James is the extremely confident jerk that Simon calls forth from his reflection; able to get the girl and win the bosses over with ideas he can’t quite push on his own. There is layering in the performance, in the presentation and expression of desires rooted in character.
But for all of the nuances in both the writing and execution, The Double never breaks free of its two-dimensionality. And therein lies the trap for Post Modern, social-media savvy viewers. We no longer live in the either/or. Reflections and personalities split and form complex multiple iterations. Why limit yourself to the simplicity of what stares back in the mirror?
Speculative science fiction has us on the verge of a world of endless variations. To borrow a line from Prince (“The Future” from the Batman soundtrack), “I’ve seen the future, and it will be.” And the future is Orphan Black, or more specifically, it is Tatiana Maslany, the actress who plays the cloned characters driving this BBC series.
I would say it is difficult to keep track of different and divergent strands contained in the Maslany multitudes, but that would be a lie. Even when Maslany must pretend to be one clone impersonating another, there is always a root-awareness in the performance for the audience to latch onto. And thanks to the marvelous wonders of technology, we get to appreciate Maslany as she goes face-to-face; three to four levels deep with herself. And through it all, she and the team behind the series are testing the arguments of nature versus nurture in respect to the development of distinction in humanity.
This is so far beyond the two-sides of the same coin notion. It is how modern questioning alters conception — of character and performance. Computer generation, as a tool, has given rise to the idea that we might be able to animate and transform old performances into something new, and now asks us to wonder what, in motion capturing, is authentic. That’s just the beginning. On the horizon, we could have doubles of doubles of doubles. Talk about a population (and worker) explosion. (tt stern-enzi)