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The film’s deliberate, even enthusiastic embrace of ambiguity will probably play better with a certain class of viewer.
If you find yourself wanting to see a very particular kind of movie this weekend—an enigmatic literary adaptation exploring the theme of the double, in which a troubled young man crosses paths with an exact lookalike who seems to be a less inhibited, more successful version of himself—you have, appropriately enough, two recent releases to choose from: Richard Ayoade’s , was a nostalgic coming-of-age romance set in 1980s Wales, lit and art-directed with painstaking attention to detail—a wisp of a film but the kind that leaves you keen to see what the director will turn to next.
As it happens he’s decided to go with, of all things, a surreal black comedy set in a vaguely Kafkaesque bureaucratic dystopia.
(The screenplay, based loosely on Dostoyevsky’s story, is by Ayoade and Avi Korine.) Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a low-level clerk whose lonely but stable life is upended when an employee joins his firm who looks, sounds, and even dresses exactly like him—a resemblance no one but Simon seems to notice.
When a new hire suddenly shows up who looks exactly like Simon — minus the paralyzing insecurity and with a sexy swagger that catches Hannah’s eye — life for Simon slowly starts spinning out of control.
But Eisenberg’s Simon, even in this lighter and brighter context, comes across as fatally doomed at times.
In certain recurring scenes — as when subway and elevator doors seem to repeatedly slam in Simon’s face, metaphorically castrating him — the character’s impotence is palpable and painful to watch.
It’s a historically scrambled world of labyrinthine office corridors, Soviet-style apartment blocks, and impossible-to-date technology.
Much of Simon’s job consists of hand-delivering photocopies around the office, but the co-workers he visits are as likely as not to be playing video games.
Occasionally a character will turn on a television and watch, and what happens on that screen within a screen is fascinating.