Richard Ayoade’s second film and follow up to 2010’s critically acclaimed Submarine is The Double, a dark comedy based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s satirical novella of the same name. Set in a subterranean hinterland of unknowable time and location, the film follows the life of lonely, ignored and unseen data imputer Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg). Simon floats through life unnoticed by those around him, stating that he feels as though people could almost reach through him as though he wasn’t there. When a new co-worker is introduced, Simon is shocked to discover that he looks and sounds exactly like himself. His doppelgänger though is everything he is not; cocky, outgoing and highly visible.
The Double could easily have been a film that was known for its story. Based on the work of one of the literary greats of the nineteenth century, the film has the narrative already safely mapped out and it indeed delivers an interesting and complex story. In the hands of Ayoade though, this film will be remembered for more; chiefly its design and sound. Richard Ayoade has constructed a magnificent film that evokes so much but remains unique. It’s beautiful and funny, grim and depressing all in equal measure.
The film hits you like a Wes Anderson nightmare in muted colours. Distressed lime green sits alongside bright mustard which is sprinkled with futuristic electric blues and deep reds. The lighting is often backlit in orange and the colour palate as a whole gives an uneasy sense of timelessness, as though several eras have been blended together before being spit out. The palate is complimented with props and set design which seems influenced by Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. The underground office complex is dark, dingy and cruelly familiar. It looks like the future as imagined in the 1950s, accurate but simultaneously incorrect. Computers and machines are half recognisable but function unlike you’d expect while they’re joined by tokens of a bygone age such as wooden cubicles and rotary dial telephones. The entire film is an absolute joy to look at. There is always something to distract the eye, whether it be an unusual prop, some beautiful lighting or exquisitely designed backdrop.
As important as the visuals is the sound. Ayoade makes use of multiple microphones positioned in different locations to give the audience its audible entertainment from differing perspectives. It’s an interesting concept and works remarkably well. Sound is more noticeable in this picture than in most others and the general foley captured sound is added to with background noise which, like the film as a whole, feels unnatural and out of place. The entire movie seems as though it’s built atop a busy subway line or next to a generator on the verge of kicking in. It shakes and rattles at random intervals and this makes the movie feel alive. The score is made up of sharp, echoing orchestral strings and loud foreboding piano. It fits like your favourite glove and is interspersed with occasional outbursts of song which include antique Japanese avant-garde pop and blues tinted rockabilly.
The actual plot is very interesting and I was engaged throughout. There are themes of wanton acceptance as well as loneliness and of course schizophrenia is never far from the mind. The doppelgänger is the man that Simon wants to be, who he has the potential to be, both good and bad. He’s at both ends of the extreme whereas Simon sits quietly in the corner. He’s magnolia. In its latter stages the film takes a turn which isn’t the one I’d been expecting and dreading. It’s able to surprise and enthral even though the audience can plan out the narrative after only a few moments. Although set inside a strange parallel world, the themes are recognisable, as are both central characters.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon and his double perfectly. The characters are distinct despite their exact physical similarity and the actor successfully appears to be two different people. Simon seems like plain sailing for Eisenberg, not a million miles away from his geeky, unsteady characters of The Social Network or Zombieland. The cocksure James is Eisenberg more out of his depth and to play both characters simultaneously shows great talent. Mia Wasikowska is the female lead and love interest. She’s a little underwritten, despite possessing a fleshed out character and is never the focus of the film. The actress is excellent though, proving her moody turn in Stoker was no fluke. Here she’s lighter at times but displays a constant state of sadness suppressed just below the surface. Alongside the two leads are a host of actors and comedians who provide humour and strangeness. Wallace Shawn is particularly memorable as Simon and James’ boss While Paddy Considine, Chris Morris and Sally Hawkins have terrific cameos although theirs are just some of many.
What’s striking above all else is what an assured and well made film The Double is. It’s remarkable that it’s only the director’s second feature as it has all the tell tale signs of high competency that accompany a well versed veteran. The film is funny and sad, strange and beautiful and I highly recommend it.
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