Rob Edelman: Isolation

Apr 28, 2014

On the surface, two newly-released films are completely different, starting with the personalities and issues of their central characters. Beneath the surface, however, both films are linked in that they effectively deal with the theme of isolation in an impersonal world.

The first is titled THE DOUBLE. It is the story of a young man by the name of Simon James, who is played by Jesse Eisenberg.

For a number of years, the introverted Simon has been toiling as a drone in an office. His workplace is cold and lifeless, and his presence is barely noticed. In fact, the office security guard does not even recognize Simon even after all this time. Plus, Simon is constantly berated by his mother, and is shunned by the woman he adores. But then a new employee appears. His name is James Simon. Unlike Simon James, James Simon does not unobtrusively fade into the wallpaper. He is more assertive than Simon, and more sociable. Everyone knows him, and everyone likes him. But there is a catch here. James is an exact double for Simon-- he also is played by Jesse Eisenberg-- and Simon becomes little more than a shadow of James. All the increasingly flustered Simon can do is assert that James stole his face. At one point, he shouts for all the world to hear: "I am a person. I exist."

THE DOUBLE is a pensive tale of alienation, and of an individual's growing frustration as he finds himself drowning in anonymity. There also is an allegorical aspect to the story. A person may work hard on a job, or for that matter put forth dedication and perseverance in any aspect of life. But then someone else comes onto the scene and callously grabs all the credit, and all the limelight. The person who is pushed aside will be angry and alone and, if that person has the gumption to point out the unfairness of the situation, no one will believe him-- even though he speaks the truth.

Even though THE DOUBLE is based on a Dostoyevsky novella that was written back in 1846, its story is loaded with themes that are starkly contemporary. Plus, director Richard Ayoade, who also scripted, crams the film with tributes to a host of other films, other filmmakers, and other writers.

The second film is French, its director is François Ozon, and it is titled YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL. While the central character in THE DOUBLE is invisible to the world around him, the main character, the title character, in YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL is exactly that: Young, beautiful, and desired.  Her name is Isabelle and Marine Vacth, the actress who plays her, has the potential to become a major international star.

Isabelle is an unemotional 17-year-old with upper-class roots whose first sexual encounter proves less than satisfactory. But it sparks her curiosity and she quickly resorts to prostitution, passing her days mixing with her classmates and teachers in school and her evenings in the company of men who will pay for her company.

YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL is a probing, multifaceted psychological portrait of a gorgeous young woman, her disconnect from the world and the people around her, and the power she wields over men. But despite that power, Isabelle is much like Simon James in that she ultimately is adrift in a world that separates her from everyone and everything around her-- and isolates her.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.


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