0445 | The Double

I really liked Richard Ayoade’s first film, the Welsh coming-of-age dramedy Submarine, and I also like doppelgänger stories, so it probably won’t come as a surprise that I was impressed by his second effort, The Double. Adapting Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name, Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine (Harmony’s brother) have crafted a film that’s as amusing as it is bleak, mining Kafka and Orwell for inspiration as well as the source material. Jesse Eisenberg plays the slightly charmless and downtrodden Simon, a largely forgettable office drone who has worked without thanks and without making much of an impression on colleagues for the past seven years. He is secretly in love with one of them, photocopier Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who happens to live in the apartment opposite his own. She seems to like him, too, until Simon’s physical double suddenly turns up at work; by contrast this new employee, James, is ambitious, confident, charming and a hit with the ladies, and he soon usurps Simon in a number of ways, not least with regard to the potential love of his life.

Their place of work is a dimly-lit retro-looking corporation that brings to mind Michael Radford’s adapation of Nineteen Eighty-Four as well as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and it’s filled with all these whirring, oversize computers and other unwieldy pieces of brass machinery that all look as if they need to be powered-up by crank handles. The CEO is simply referred to as ‘The Colonel’ (James Fox), and no-one seems to know what the company actually does, although it produces a nice line in 1980s-style instructional videos. Petty bureaucracy obstructs the employees at every available opportunity; you’ll either find the build-up of this amusing or you’ll sit there stony-faced, wondering what the fuss is about, but I think Ayoade has a great sense of humour and he sends up the trivialities of the workplace with repeated success. Simon has worked at the company for years but still the security guard (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who also plays two characters) won’t let him in without a pass, which has been lost. He attempts to get a new one from a grinning, nightmarish HR officer (played by the satirist Chris Morris) but is informed that there’s no record of his employment, which means he can’t have a new pass as technically he ‘doesn’t exist’.

Mia Wasikowska in Richard Ayoade's The Double

Mia Wasikowska in Richard Ayoade’s The Double

Spending time in this strange place never becomes boring. The same goes for the other starkly-lit locations that we visit or return to less frequently: a miserable cafe with poor service, a noisy restaurant, the dingy apartment blocks that Hannah and Simon call home. Each is populated with a wandering oddball or two: Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis pops up as a janitor, comedian Tim Key is an uncaring care worker, Chris O’Dowd plays a pushy nurse and Paddy Considine appears on numerous TV sets as the star of a cheapo sci-fi show that resembles Blake’s 7. Ayoade has clearly pulled in a few favours and his casting agents have also carried out their work successfully; on top of all those mentioned above there are appearances by Wallace Shawn and Cathy Moriarty, who played Vicki LaMotta in Raging Bull, while Considine is joined by the rest of the Submarine cast (Craig Roberts, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, Sally Hawkins). Most of these actors fit their quirky, minor roles very well indeed, and that applies all the way up to the two leads, who are tailor-made for this kind of angular, tragicomic material. In fact I haven’t seen Eisenberg in such a well-suited role since The Social Network, and he convinces while playing both sides of the same coin.

In the hands of a lesser talent the balance between creepy paranoia and lashings of dry humour may have been misjudged, but Ayoade gets it just right, rolling between the deadpan and the dystopian with consummate skill. I like the cinematography here, especially the use of a drab brown and green colour palette, and there’s an interesting reliance on front-lit scenes throughout, lending a theatrical air to proceedings. If any corners were cut I can’t imagine the budget being particularly high it’s not noticeable. You could argue that Ayoade lays the obvious motifs on a bit thick, even though mirrors,  reflections and shadows are the bread and butter of any film about identity and duality, but aside from that I can only think to praise this smart, funny film. Great soundtrack, too, ranging from baroque classical pieces to avant-garde adventures in noise to kitsch lounge bands.

Directed by: Richard Ayoade.
Written by: Richard Ayoade, Avi Korine. Based on The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, James Fox, Cathy Moriarty, Tim Key, Sally Hawkins, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Chris Morris, J Mascis, Paddy Considine.
Cinematography: Erik Wilson.
Editing: Chris Dickens, Nick Fenton.
Music: Andrew Hewitt, Various.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Year: 2014.

Comments 14

  1. Mark Walker January 9, 2016

    I couldn’t connect with this one, man! I never read the book but I’m a hug fan of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. That said, I love Submarine and the little appeared from that films cast were very welcome. The look was spot on too but I just found it tedious. I more of an admirer of Villeneauve’s Enemy.

    • Stu January 9, 2016

      Fair enough! I’ve never actually read any Dostoyevsky – always seems a bit of a daunting prospect to me. I also liked Enemy, and on balance that’s the film I prefer of the two, but they’re so different in tone. I really liked Eisenberg in this; sometimes he’s a bit of an awkward fit but this seemed like the perfect kind of material for him.
      Few people saw Submarine, from what I can gather, which is a real shame – that’s a kind of lost gem already.

        • Mark Walker January 9, 2016

          I can’t say I have. I don’t watch much tv unless it’s a series but I have seen him on a few game shows and he seems quite witty.

  2. Tom January 13, 2016

    Respectfully I’ll part with you on this one. I absouletely hated The Double. I will give credit to Eisenberg, he was excellent but everything else was suuuuuuuuch a chore to get through. And I think this was the start of my very tumultuous ‘relationship’ with Mia Wasikowska. Have never been able to figure out if I like her or not. She’s definitely had some interesting roles.

    I will say this though, I’d take a Richard Ayoede-directed film than one starring him. I think the last thing I saw him in was The Watch. And, the less said about that thing, the better! Haha

    • Stu January 14, 2016

      Haha I’m getting the distinct impression I’m in the minority on this one! I never actually saw The Watch but I heard it was terrible. He’s actually a pretty good comic actor (The IT Crowd was a decent sitcom) but I think he’s concentrating on directing now anyway. I might be wrong.
      I’m a Wasikowska fan, she’s versatile! Which films of hers have you seen?

      • Tom January 14, 2016

        The Watch is pretty crap. Won’t be the worst thing you’ve put yourself through of course, but you could spend your time much more wisely. haha!

        Of Wasikowska’s filmography, I’ve seen (obviously this), The Kids are All Right; Lawless; and Only Lovers Left Alive. I think those are the only ones. I just looked her up on IMDb and I could have sworn she was in quite a lot more, but still. Definitely an interesting performer. Maybe an acquired taste?

        • Stu January 15, 2016

          Maybe! I forgot she was in The Kids Are Alright. I found her character a bit annoying in Only Lovers Left Alive. She was pretty good in Tracks, but I haven’t seen quite a few of her films.

        • Tom January 16, 2016

          She was quite the irritant in Lovers, definitely! Haha. Ah yes, Tracks! Forgot about that. I actually have it in my Netflix queue. Should get on that. As I say with a million other things as well 😛

  3. Jordan Dodd January 19, 2016

    Awesome review mate! This makes me want to watch it again with what you have said in mind… and I’ve already watched it at least 5 times, trying to piece together it all. The humour and work environment reminded me of Brazil too. Ah, this is such a good flick!

    • Stu January 19, 2016

      Thanks Jordan. I was beginning to think I was the only person who liked this (at least among a small community of bloggers anyway). Sounds like it has really struck a chord with you. I think it’s pretty good and I can imagine it stands up to repeat viewings.

      • Jordan Dodd January 20, 2016

        Nah mate you’re not alone ;P I loved the hell outta this movie, it made my top ten for last year. Its such a fun puzzle to work out, the cryptic beginning and ending. If ‘The Tenant’ and ‘Brazil’ had a love child, it would be The Double. It was the first movie where I really noticed Eisenberg and though, ‘shit, I really like this guy!’

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