DIR: Richard Ayoade • WRI: Richard Ayoade , Avi Korine • PRO: Amina Dasmal, Robin C. Fox • DOP: Erik Wilson • ED: Nick Fenton • MUS: Andrew Hewitt • DES: David Crank • CAST: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Chris O’ Dowd, Sally Hawkins
Judged purely by the trailers, you would be forgiven for thinking Richard Ayoade’s latest movie was a simple comedy about mistaken identities. However, there is a real depth to The Double that goes beyond laughs, and connects much more firmly with the grotesquery of its base material – the seminal, and surreal, Dostoyevsky novella. By combining the ridiculous with the existential, Ayoade has managed to create a coherent dystopian future that seems to derive directly from the present – which means the humour can sometimes appear more like hysterical terror.
The film focuses on Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), a spineless lackey in an oversized suit who struggles through the daily grind of cubicle life in a soulless office, where his work is underappreciated and he is ignored by all and sundry. Into his grey life comes Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), a fresh and vibrant woman who defies the darkness of their colourless world. However, she is at pains to make it clear from the outset that she is nobody’s saviour – Hannah cannot function as the only bright light in a dismal existence, and it is up to Simon to find his own path to self-identity. Simon’s journey is vastly complicated by the intrusion of a brash and successful James into his life – everyone loves James, and at first even Simon is in thrall to him too. He is everything Simon is not – confident, likeable and assured…with the added complication that he is also the exact double of Simon, something only he seems to see. Simon’s journey of self-discovery is thus derailed by James’ appropriation of his dreams and hopes, with vastly better results than Simon has ever managed. As James brings Simon from crisis to crisis, leaving devastation in his path, Simon must question whether any attention is better than the life of anonymity he had previously been experiencing. Is James a better ‘him’, or is he an unredeemable doppelganger, sent to torment his life and usurp his world?
Jesse Eisenberg is faced with the unenviable task of playing two diametrically opposed characters, who happen to star in almost every scene together – and it is a feat he manages with considerable aplomb. His downcast features perfectly encapsulate Simon’s crushed hopes and spiritless mentality, while at the same time the smug smirk and cocky manner he has previously used to such great effect just as equally embodies the charismatic and self-satisfied character of James. Ably abetted by a deep and emotional performance from Wasikowska as Hannah, Eisenberg’s Simon and James are immediately recognisable as separate people – no easy feat when someone has ‘stolen your face’. Ayoade has also coaxed subtle performances from the supporting cast; the always-gratifying Wallace Shawn as Simon’s kinetic boss Mr. Papadopoulos and the beautiful Yasmin Paige, making a welcome return to Ayoade’s template as the bored Melanie Papadopoulos, shine in particular. As is generally the case in British film, Ayoade’s comedy friends make brief appearances – popping up in odd places for the occasional giggle, though thankfully never stealing scenes as superfluous cameos…there is no silly Anchorman-style redundant humour to be found in Ayoade’s world.
Those expecting the romantic warmth of Submarine, Ayoade’s previous movie, are likely to be disappointed, as The Double focuses more heavily on the absence of meaning than the restorative powers of love. That’s not to say that this is a movie without hope, though, and Ayoade is at pains to differentiate his interpretation from Dostoyevsky’s gloomy outlook on the possibility of humanity in crushing systems of bureaucracy. In this, Ayoade proves himself to be taking the surrealist mantle from Terry Gilliam in terms of escape from dystopia: in the end, no matter how soulless humanity may appear, it only takes one real connection to make the difference. A solid exploration of the path to identity from an exciting and innovative director, The Double manages the very great task of making terrifying dystopian futures feel very present, whilst ensuring we can still occasionally laugh about our impending doom.
16 (See IFCO for details)
The Double is released on 4th April 2014