Imagine arriving at work one day to find you have a new colleague who looks exactly like you. Then imagine you are the only one that seems able to see the likeness. You'd start to question your sanity, wouldn't you? Well, that's exactly what happens in The Double.
Coming next week to DVD and Blu-Ray, The Double is Richard Ayoade's second stint in the director's chair following his black comedy debut Submarine and its frightening premise is based on a Dostoyevsky novella of the same name. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Simon James, a low-grade government clerk who is just about as beige as it's possible for a human to be. His mundane work in a drab, colourless office is made even less bearable by a crushing social awkwardness and a desperate, unrequited love for his colleague Hannah (Mia Wasikowska).
Then a new colleague starts work in his department, one named James Simon (also played by Eisenberg) that looks, sounds and dresses exactly like Simon, only nobody else seems to notice. To make matters worse, James is everything he is not; outgoing, smooth, confident and witty. Simon is forced to watch as his new doppelganger ingratiates himself with his work colleagues with an effortlessness that he could only dream of, including attracting the romantic attention of Hannah.
Dostoyevsky's work can be a difficult thing to adapt for the big screen and this could so easily have been an exercise in chin-stroking, but Ayoade's sharp, witty writing takes the novella's idea and, with the help of some careful cinematography from Erik Wilson, turns it into a full-on existential nightmare that is, somehow, as funny as it is terrifying. Eisenberg is particularly impressive, creating two very different personalities that are at once fantastic and totally believable.
Playing two or more characters is always going to be a challenge for any actor and it happens more rarely than you might think, but we've picked out 10 of the best examples for you to enjoy...
The Double - Official Trailer
Chris Columbus' film stars Robin Williams as Andrew, an android who slowly begins to feel human emotions, but it’s Embeth Davidtz who takes on the dual role in this film, appearing as both Miss Amanda Martin and the woman Andrew eventually falls in love with, Portia Charney. Being based on an Isaac Asimov story, the film treads a familiar path to things like I,Robot and A.I., but it's an enjoyable watch with great performances from Williams and Davidtz.
9. Bubba Ho-tep
Don Coscarelli's quirky little film stars Bruce Campbell in the dual role of Sebastian Haff and Elvis Presley. Based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale, the film reports to tell the true story of what really happened to Elvis, who switched lives with an Elvis impersonator a couple of years before his death missing the opportunity to switch back before his doppelganger's untimely demise. Consequently, The King is living out the remainder of his days in an East Texas rest home where he is viewed as a crank by many of the other residents, except for his friend Jack (Ossie Davis), who believes he is actually John F. Kennedy. The pair team up to battle an ancient Egyptian deity who has, for some reason, decided on this particular rest home as a source of potential subjects to use as a means of bringing himself back from the afterlife. It's weird, that's for sure, but it's also very entertaining.
8. The Social Network
David Fincher's 2010 film is another to star Jesse Eisenberg, only this time in the singular role of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, but it's co-star Armie Hammer who does the double in this film, playing the parts of both of the Winklevoss twins (or as Zuckerberg himself calls them, the Winklevi), the pair who sued Zuckerberg for allegedly stealing their idea. Also featuring a brilliant cameo appearance by Justin Timberlake as Myspace founder Sean Parker, The Social Network paints a picture of Zuckerberg that is less than flattering, but the film was a huge success and it's well worth a look for any budding entrepreneurs that missed it at the cinema.
7. Austin Powers
All of the Austin Powers films are essentially a vehicle for Mike Myers madcap brand of comedy and each sees him taking on the roles of both the heroic 1960s secret agent and his arch nemesis Dr. Evil, but the films also see Myers taking on other roles, including an overweight Scottish assassin named Fat Bastard and the Dutch criminal mastermind Johan van der Smut, better known simply as Goldmember. Are the films juvenile? Yes. Are they funny? You bet they are.
Charlie Kaufmann's brilliantly imaginative story sees Nicholas Cage taking on two roles, one of which being Charlie Kaufman himself, the other his fictional twin brother Donald. Kaufman's film is wryly set during the making of one his earlier film projects, the Spike Jonze directed Being John Malkovich, and Cage plays both Charlie - who is struggling with a bout of writer's block as he attempts to adapt The Orchid Thief for the screen – as well as his happy-go-lucky brother Donald. It's a brilliant performance by Cage in both roles and we'd highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoyed Being John Malkovich.
5. Cloud Atlas
Most of the actors in this screen adaptation of David Mitchell's novel take on more than one part, with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw and Doona Bae all taking on multiple roles. This does have the effect of making an already complex narrative even more difficult to follow, but with the creators of the Matrix trilogy and Run Lola Run at the helm, the film is an engaging and visually stunning experience. The story follows a group of people whose lives are inextricably linked, with acquaintances recurring over and over again in different time periods. Mitchell's book contains concepts that were always going to be a challenge to bring to life in the cinema, but it's an admirable effort at doing so.
4. Dead Ringers
David Cronenberg's unsettling concept for this 1988 film sees Jeremy Irons starring as both Beverly and Elliot Mantle, two twin brothers who are both doctors – both gynaecologists, in fact – but Elliot is by far the more confident of the two brothers and is much more capable of seducing women. Whenever Elliot gets bored of his current partner, he is quietly replaced by his more sensitive brother Beverly, without the women ever knowing. It's a ruse that serves the both well until Beverly falls in love with one of his patients, and when he finds that Elliot is attracted to the same woman, things start to get a little tense. Cronenberg's imaginative concept is acted with poise and skill by Irons, who is excellent in both roles. We highly recommend this film to anyone who has yet to see it.
3. Lost Highway
It's Patricia Arquette who takes on a dual role in David Lynch's spooky psychological thriller, playing both Renee Madison and Alice Wakefield. As you might expect from a David Lynch film, the narrative is a surreal one about who woman who suffers amnesia following a car accident and tries to piece together clues to her identity. Lynch's films do polarise opinion but Lost Highway's twisting plotlines, while sometimes disorientating, are never boring and have helped make this film into a highly regarded cult classic.
2. Coming to America
Ever since The Nutty Professor, Eddie Murphy has become known for playing several characters in the same film, but he was doing it even before that and one of our favourite examples is Coming to America. John Landis' film stars Murphy in the role an African prince who heads to the U.S.A. to find a wife, but Murphy also plays several other parts, notably several of the characters in the barbershop scenes... including the old Jewish guy. Yes, that is actually Eddie Murphy hidden under all those prosthetics. He's not the only one either; co-star Arsenio Hall also plays several parts in the film.
1. The Prestige
This tale of two rival magicians sees Christian Bale taking on two roles as illusionist Alfred Borden and his faithful assistant and friend, the mysterious Bernard Fallon. Their rivalry with Hugh Jackman's character Robert Angier begins while they are both working as assistants for an established illusionist named Milton the Magician. When Angier's wife Julia (Scarlett Johansen) dies in a botched escape act, Angier blames Borden and the pair embark on separate careers, with each trying to better the other's act. When Borden invents a new trick called The Transported Man, Angier is at a loss to explain how the trick is done. Increasingly desperate to better his rival, he enlists the help of scientist Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) to recreate the trick, only his methods are much more sinister than it seems. The second collaboration between Bale and director Christopher Nolan following his successful reboot of the Batman franchise, this is highly recommended.