The Double, 2014
dir. Richard Ayoade
How do you follow up a quirky, French-New-Wave-y film like Submarine? Well, you dust off Dostoyevsky, get some 50s microphones for sound, sign up Jesse Eisenberg to play a double part, and create a masterpiece.
Richard Ayoade returns to the director’s chair for the second time with this black-comedy-drama-psychological-thriller based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel of the same name. The film tells the story of Simon James, who finds himself working alongside his doppelganger, James Simon, who is everything he is not (charming, alluring, brave, outspoken, a bit evil). No-one seems to notice the similarities between them, and even begin to prefer James over Simon, even though Simon does all the work. At times, the film can be very funny, relying mostly on the fantastic comedic timing of lead Jesse Eisenberg (as both Simon and James), but it also can take a turn left to the grim extremely fast. It is oddly satisfying to watch this, because it isn’t trying to take itself too seriously, so there is a earnestness to it that lacks in films these days. Then again, what else would you expect from ever-self-deprecating Ayoade, who claims he has really no talent at all, just a good team of people who work with him.
As usual, Eisenberg plays a mumbling awkward young man who is just a bit confused by the world around him. But with these characters, there is such meticulousness and carefulness in creating their personalities and their little idiosyncrasies that it feels brand new. He manages to make both his characters completely different and entirely the same all at once, all the while providing beautiful study of the characters’ inner psyches all through eye movements, hand gestures, speech patterns, and posture. Of course, everyone around him is just as excellent. It’s feels like another world, these people are not entirely human, sort of suspended from our reality, and all the actors play their parts in fine tune with everything around them. Especially Mia Wasikowska, who is Hannah, Simon’s love interest/fixation. They are all endearing in their own way, like the security guard played by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who is a real source of hilarity and amusement throughout.
Perhaps the most interesting cameo though is from Paddy Constantine, who isn’t in the film per se, but rather in Simon’s favourite telly show. It’s a science fiction-y thing, filled with laser and glitter, and it is the only source of bright colours in the film, as everything else is very dark and grey.
This greyness feels very bureaucratic. To me it was a bit like the Vogsphere from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s dull and dry and slow and malfunctioning. Everyday feels like the same, and that is made obvious when we follow Simon’s routine and he seems to function on auto-pilot until something unexpected happens, then he panics. It’s not a world of surprises.
It also seems to be detached from reality in that sense. There is never an explicit time period or location described, and there are no landmarks at all, only building and a dark forest, all of which could be anywhere in the US or Russia or the UK or Australia. And the actors are, as Ayoade himself described in the Q&A, “international”. They kept their accents, so there isn’t a feeling of belonging anywhere. Even the music sounds detached, coming from everywhere, so it seems like the film could take place anywhere.
All that creates a dream-like quasi-nightmarish atmosphere. Because this is a different reality, we don’t know what to expect and what the outcome will be. Especially if the whole story is a mystery to you (like me, because I haven’t read the book upon which this is based).
All in all, this is a fantastic film. Such an odd experience, like watching a very dark Wes Anderson film. Really interesting themes, and a completely unique look. Unmissable.
review by Mariana Duarte