A few years ago, I had what I consider my cinematic awakening when I watched Orson Welles’ 1962 adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Ever since then, I’ve had a fascination with post-apocalyptic, paranoia-infused dystopian fiction – and along with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, there have been some tremendous works of fiction in this sub-genre. One such piece that predates both Kafka and Orwell is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Double, one of the more profoundly profane and profanely profound works of dystopian fiction – and while there have been attempts to adapt it in the past, it fell into the hands of one of the most unexpected individuals to actually do it – Richard Ayoade, the lovable sitcom star and writer. I can assure you that Ayoade handled this material perfectly, and crafted an absolutely amazing film.
The Double is set in an unknown time, in an unknown city. Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a paranoid and meek young man who has worked for an unknown corporation for years, and yet is almost completely non-existent to his co-workers, and to his love interest, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) – until he encounters James Simon (Eisenberg as well), who is identical to Simon in appearance, but the polar opposite of him in terms of personality – what starts out as a beneficial friendship soon turns into an antagonistic battle of the wits, and Simon soon discovers that there is far more to lose than to gain when it comes to encountering your perfect double.
The Double is far more than just Ayoade bringing his sitcom sensibilities to the screen – there is very little here that we can compare to his work on television comedy such as The IT Crowd, or his previous directorial effort (the excellent Submarine) – but it does bear remarkable resemblance to some of his more obscure or less-heralded work, such as the brilliant AD/BC: A Rock Opera and the cult television series, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. For anyone who has followed Ayoade, you’ll know he is primarily a cinephile, and his cinematic influences are reflected wonderfully here. There is nothing more wonderful than a director who loves watching films just as much as he or she loves making films. Ayoade doesn’t spare a single expense in creating this film, and proves himself to be as formidable behind the camera as he is in front of it, and with the double-punch of Submarine and The Double, Ayoade proves himself to be someone to watch out for in terms of filmmaking.
When it comes to playing insecure or utterly nasty, Jesse Eisenberg is the way to go. He is a wonderful actor, and while many have claimed that he is limited as an actor, he is certainly very good at what he does. He plays two roles here, and many have argued he lacks range, as it sometimes was seemingly confusing to differentiate between the two characters, trying to understand which was which. However, this isn’t a case of Eisenberg not having range – it is Ayoade’s way of showing the fact that the audience is never quite sure if James is actually real, or just a reflection of Simon’s other personality. It reminds me a lot of Fight Club in this regard. Eisenberg is a great actor, and The Double plays very well to his sensibilities, and he is able to play off the lighter moments, as well as handling the dark places this film goes towards the end – I have seen a lot of films, and The Double descends into some of the most frighteningly dark and disturbing social commentary towards the end.
Ayoade also peppered The Double with some familiar faces, many of whom he was worked with before. Cameos from Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Yasmin Page, Craig Roberts and Paddy Considine (all of which worked with Ayoade on Submarine) are delightful, but it was truly wonderful to see Chris O’Dowd and Chris Morris, both of which gave iconic performances in the incredible The IT Crowd – I just wish Ayoade could’ve found a place for Matt Berry in this film. Newcomers such as underrated character actor Wallace Shawn bring a wonderful element of class to this film. The cast is very strong, and even the smallest cameo contribute to the diverse and interesting cast of The Double.
In regards to the technical aspects of The Double, Ayoade went all-out. The cinematography and production design invoke the paranoid dystopian destruction of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and I can’t remember ever seeing a film that looks the way The Double does. This is important, because other than being an exceptionally well-written film, and one with tremendous performances, The Double is also a cinematic marvel in terms of how it uses light and shadows, and the technical aspects are just profoundly brilliant. Ayoade has a flair for style, and I think he has the potential to be a real visual stylist. If Submarine was influenced by Zazie dans le Métro (which it was, by Ayoade’s own admittance), then The Double is firmly rooted in the works of Michael Powell, particularly The Red Shoes and Peeping Tom. I really do believe, genuinely, that Richard Ayoade has a future as a film director, and I just hope he directs another film.
The Double is a fantastic film. I truly enjoyed it to no ends. It is right up my alley, as I’ve always had a fascination with this kind of dystopian, paranoid thrillers. It is a darkly comical film that becomes very bleak towards the end and packs an emotionally cerebral punch. I will follow Richard Ayoade wherever he chooses to go, and if he ever makes a film even half as interesting and captivating as The Double, I’ll be there on opening night. The Double is an extraordinary film, and I truly adored it. Seek it out – it is truly wonderful.