The Double review

Review Ryan Lambie 2 Apr 2014 - 06:26

Richard Ayoade follows 2010's Submarine with the darkly imaginative The Double, starring Jesse Eisenberg. Here's Ryan's review...

If Richard Ayoade’s previous film, the wonderful Submarine, was a hand-woven fable about becoming a man and finding love, his follow-up, The Double, is a Bakelite dystopia about unrequited adulthood.

Jesse Eisenberg stars in this darkly fantastical drama, based on the story of the same name by Fyodor Dostoevsky yet shot through with an aesthetic that’s entirely its own. From the first shot to the last, The Double is visually and aurally oppressive, with benighted visuals akin to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink, and a sonic backwash that recalls David Lynch’s Eraserhead.

Eisenberg plays Simon, a shy, awkward young man who works for an astonishingly austere company that specialises in - well, it’s difficult to tell what it specialises in. Employees are packed neatly into cubicles, grainy VHS ads for the firm confidently state that “People are the ultimate resource”, while the whole operation is overseen by a Big Brother-like boss who’s glimpsed almost exclusively in pictures - the eminent Edward Fox providing his distinctive visage.

Simon diligently goes about his desk job, yet struggles to make an impression in this ominously retro environment, where everything seems to come from a science fiction vision of the future circa 1979. The jobsworth security guard refuses to recognise him, even though he’s worked there for seven years, and even mechanical things like lifts stubbornly refuse to operate when he’s within their locus. Simon admires a pretty colleague, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) literally from afar - he can see her apartment through a telescope, since she also happens to live in the building opposite his own - but he can barely pluck up the courage to say more than a couple of words to her.

Then, one day, a new employee arrives: James, who looks exactly like Simon, and is also played by Jesse Eisenberg. But where Simon is nervous and seems to be trying to shrink back inside his outsized grey suit whenever he’s in company, this newcomer is garrulous, confident and somehow able to make everyone like him within seconds. Worse still, his charisma immediately captures Hannah’s attention.

Full of humour yet oddly frightening at the same time, The Double is a kind of psychological nightmare. Simon’s workplace might be a hellhole, with its absurdly rigid rules, horrid lighting and carnival of cliquey workers, but Simon isn’t trapped by his job so much as his own psyche. There is literally no difference between Simon and his double - it’s only their response to the world that distinguishes them. Yet because his double is relaxed in company, cheerful and ready with a joke or a sly compliment, he immediately becomes a hit with bosses and co-workers alike - even though he hasn’t the first clue what his job entails. 

Ayoade’s film is a magnificent observation of what it means to feel out of step with the world, whether you’re a teenager or an adult. It captures the frustration of being trapped in a mind that simply won’t function as it should in polite company, that desperately wants to be liked and accepted, but simply doesn’t give out the right responses.

In his dual role, Eisenberg is superb. So much of his performance's strength comes from the subtle modulations of his body language; Simon is hunched and stiff, as though he’s constantly recoiling from something. James, meanwhile, is upright and almost aggressively proud, his grand statements and snappy responses the complete opposite to Simon’s reticent stammerings.

Mia Wasikowska’s similarly effective, bringing the same ethereal sense of calm and coiled intelligence that she displayed in Park Chan-wook’s Stoker. Then again, everyone in The Double is superb; look out for cameos from comedian Tim Key (his maudlin voice perfect for the comically funereal tone of the movie), Chris O’Dowd, and Submarine’s Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor and Paddy Considine - the latter appearing on a CRT television in a pricelessly kitsch pastiche of a typical 80s sci-fi adventure show.

“A person should amount to something and not float around the Earth like a ghost,” runs a vital, desperately poignant line from the film. As a surreal portrait of alienation, The Double is almost flawless. Superbly shot and powerfully acted, it’s a Fight Club for the socially awkward. Only two films into his career, Aoyade has established himself as a unique talent in British filmmaking.

The Double is out in UK cinemas on the 4th April.

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My nearest cinemas are an Odeon or a Cineworld; anybody want to lay any bets that this gets a screen at either of them?

It's on at my local Cineworld.

Unfortunately it's not on within 40 miles of where I live.

London Odeons and Cineworlds have it, but not anywhere outside of the M25 on my side..

I have a real issue with Cineworld which I tackled them about recently as I had to travel further afield to see The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Zero Theorum. They told me neither would be shown at my local so I travelled to the nearest cinema screening them only to find out that the Grand Budapest Hotel was listed at my local two weeks after. I can't attend my local cinema to support such films if there's no way I can find out if they plan to screen them, which is a real catch 22 because Cineworld won't screen them if there's no appetite. Ironically the Grand Budapest Hotel screening I attended at another cinema was rammed. I understand they need to make money but there must be a better way for them to let film lovers know whether they intend to show less 'mainstream' movies. God only knows their schedules are packed full of non-movie stuff like all the theatre performances and so on.

I had an issue and an argument with someone from VUE Cinemas. I was enquiring why they were not showing Metallica's Through the Never concert film but were showing One Directions documentary. Some idiot in charge of their Twitter told me that One Direction were a much bigger band than Metallica, and that Metallica was a niche band! I called the guy out on that claim and he got quite stroppy about it.

Didn't catch that in the cinema, I remember seeing Led Zep's Celebration Day on the big screen though, for once I was glad the volume was up to 11 :) Your comment confirms my worst fears about film bookers/buyers and that's that they don't understand there audiences...Imagine calling Metallica niche?!? Maybe DoG could do some interviews with film buyers, but ones outside of the M25 please...

there was another film a few years back (my memory is vague and I can't remember the title at the moment) where I politely asked why my local VUE was not showing it but all the other VUE's were, and the answer I got was because they (the management) did not want to see it.

DoG in good review shocker!

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