Review: The Double
Richard Aoyade, 93 minutes, 2013, United Kingdom.
In The Double, a young man finds his life thrown into turmoil by the sudden, unexplained appearance of his doppelganger. Adapted from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1846 novella of the same name, the sophomore film from English director Richard Aoyade, better known as Moss from The IT Crowd, blends the deadpan humour and lovelorn melancholy of his debut feature Submarine with a thick, unsettling atmosphere of paranoia and dread.
Set against the gloomy backdrop of a decaying urban landscape – the precise when and where is left intentionally ambiguous – The Double follows Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), a painfully unassertive office worker aptly described by one of his colleagues (Noah Taylor) as “a bit of a non-person.” Perpetually dressed in a suit two sizes too big, Simon spends his days writing reports for a condescending boss (Wallace Shawn) who can’t remember his name, and his night spying on his neighbour and co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), for whom her harbours a silent and unrequited crush.
Simon’s already fragile self-esteem suffers a further blow with the arrival of a new colleague, James, who no one seems to notice is Simon’s exact physical double. The similarities end there though. Charming and self-assured in all the ways our timid hero is not, James soon has the entire office – including Hannah – eating out of the palm of his hand. But beneath the winning smile lurks a ruthless, sneering menace, as Simon finds himself having to fight not just for his love-interest, but for the essence of his very identity.
Eisenberg’s duel performances are his best since The Social Network. As the lonely Simon he whimpers and stutters, struggling in vain to comprehend his hopeless situation. James, on the other hand, is the picture of casual confidence, and finds lying and manipulating as easy as saying hello. It’s a sensational piece of work made all the more impressive by the fact that, for much of the shoot, Eisenberg was conversing with thin air; the digital trickery used to put Simon and James in the same scene is seamless, but would be useless without such a capable actor.
Aoyade and co-screenwriter Avi Korine (brother of Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine) get plenty of laughs out of hapless Simon’s identity crisis, their weird, sometimes malicious sense of humour calling to mind the film’s of Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man, Inside Llewyn Davis). Terry Gilliam (Brazil) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children), meanwhile, seem to be amongst the biggest influences on the film’s shadowy, dystopian look; oppressive sound and esoteric production design creates a dreamlike feel that teeters increasingly into the stuff of nightmares, while anachronistic Japanese pop-songs on the soundtrack seem whimsical one moment and seriously creepy the next.
All in all, The Double is an intriguing piece of mirror-world social fantasy bolstered by a phenomenal lead performance. Or maybe it’s two lead performances. Either way, the film further establishes Eisenberg’s credentials, while also confirming Ayoade as a filmmaker of serious note. Viewers who like their cinema a little on the strange side would do well to seek this one out.
Written by: Tom Clift, May 2014