Cinema Review: The Double

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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.

 Sarah Griffin

16 (See IFCO for details)
92 mins

The Double is released on 4th April 2014

The Double – Official Website

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BFI London Film Festival: ‘The Double’ & ‘Ida’

 

Matt Micucci continues his reports from the 56th BFI London Film Festival with a look at  Richard Ayoade‘s The Double and Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida.

 

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The Double – Richard Ayoade

Richard Ayoade’s follows up his widely acclaimed debut feature Submarine with another stylised film that deals with obsession, love rivalry and psychopathy. Based on Dostoevsky’s novella of the same name, this is the story of an irreparably shy and downtrodden young office clerk hopelessly in love with a colleague, Hannah, whom he is fixated upon but whose presence despairingly intimidates and mortifies him. His difficult life is made all the more difficult when a new worker who looks exactly like him but has a complete opposite and extrovert personality is hired and takes advantage of him in any way he can, by exploiting his office work to climb through the company ranks and even stealing the woman he loves.

The Double is remarkably overflowing with creativity and a visual style that recalls the classic film noir, or even the thriller dramas of the late mute period, but also flirts with the bizarreness of the science fiction works of Terry Gilliam, particularly in the creation of a mostly timeless American setting. The way it is composed and structured, whether it is in the mise en scene of each frame or in the narrative developments of the story itself, is fearlessly obvious yet its confidence and exciting pace makes it gripping and entertaining all throughout.

On top of that, it has a sweet and romantic inner core that ensures The Double’s irresistible charm, which completes the stylish nature of Ayoade’s direction. Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast in this film, and shows amazing versatility and skill in his portrayal of two characters who look and dress exactly the same but who are radically different in nature and purpose. In fact, it is obvious that without the strength of Eisenberg’s performance the film would have crumbled and lost credibility.

 

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Ida by Pawel Pawlikowski

Anna, a young girl brought up in a convent, is just about to take her vows and become a nun. Before she does, her Mother Superior insists that she try to reconnect with her last remaining relative, her aunt Wanda, who an intellectual and strong woman. After some initial hostility, the two set off on a road trip looking for the place where Anna’s parents were executed and buried during the Second World War.

Pawlikowski’s latest work feels like a journey of a character’s self-discovery but also a journey through Poland’s historical conscience. Shot in glorious black and white photography, each frame is carefully composed and adds a poetic depth to the narrative and conveys the careful structure of the character development.

All the while, Kulesza and Trzebuchowska share wonderful chemistry in their moments of soft spoken melancholia and pathos with their performances of their respective characters, who have radically opposed personalities, that conveys Ida’s lack of emotional obviousness in favour of a more honest and touching approach.

Matt Micucci

 

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