Weird, wonderfully weird.
Richard Ayoade has garnered a cult following for his directorial career following 2010 hit Submarine. The Double, Ayoade’s latest offering is an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name, co-written by Ayoade and Avi Korine. It’s a profoundly bizarre and artistically surreal film that is funny, decidedly strange and very memorable. Ayoade gained national-treasure status following his role in The IT Crowd and is surely gaining considerable critical clout with his writing and direction following his foray into film.
Last year’s London Film Festival also featured a Dostoyevsky adaptation (Prasanna Vithanage’s With You, Without You), although that film was undoubtedly more serious. The Double reunites a number of the Submarine cast – Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins, Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige and Noah Taylor – and instances of deadpan humour are certainly reminiscent of the coming-of-age film. Ayoade newcomers Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Wallace Shawn round out a superb cast that carries off the dystopian, almost macabre tone of this movie to perfection.
Eisenberg takes the lead as Simon James, a disillusioned office worker whose life is soon troubled by the appearance of his doppelganger James Simon (weirdly, also played by Eisenberg). After watching the film I couldn’t imagine anyone but him in the dual role of Simon/James. The Social Network alum plays the two characters exquisitely – he’s so good that you can tell whether you’re watching James or Simon from just a quick glance at the tilt of Eisenberg’s head.
Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) plays Hannah, James/Simon’s love interest and manages to capture the utterly weird tone of the movie as well as portraying the vulnerability of being alone. The whole set design of the film is disorientating, and Ayoade’s use of doubles and mirrors only adds to the confusion. Shot almost entirely in dark colours and shadow, much has been made of the film’s artistic similarities to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and Ayoade alluded to connections between
his film and Orson Welles’s The Trial.
The Double hinges on dark comedy – suicide is a major theme here and also produces some of the funniest moments (Jon Korkes and Craig Roberts as Suicide Cops is disturbingly comical). You’d be hard-pressed to call the film a comedy, but it’s definitely amusing. The intricate production design and accomplished performances carry this film, but there’s just not quite enough in the plot to maintain interest for the entire 93 minutes. The major plot point – the emergence of the double – is sort of given away by the film’s title, and there’s only so much macabre humour to help the film along.
This film is all about clever appearances, sleight of hand and eye-catching performance art. If you’re an Ayoade fan you probably won’t need any encouragement to see this film; I would urge all fans of clever cinema and art design to check this out, as it’s a fantastically intriguing project in the bizarre that brings a classic tale to life. If you’re neither a devotee of art cinema nor Ayoade I can’t guarantee you’ll ‘get’ the appeal of this film, but it’s certainly worth a try.