Review: The Double/Q+A

The Double, Dir. Richard Ayoade

 The Double, first and foremost, features Jesse Eisenberg in an impressive dual role; he is Simon James, a soft-spoken office doormat - and he is also James Simon, a snarlingly nonchalant doppelganger who appears seemingly from nowhere to wreak havoc in his lookalike's life. He wins women and accolades at work with limited effort, causing an eventual schism between the two - or between two halves of the same fractured whole - that leads to disastrous consequences. Directed by Richard Ayoade and based on the Fyodor Dostoevsky novella, The Double has a strange internal sensibility all its own. The two primary settings in Simon's life are his apartment block and his labyrinthine office building; both are utterly dislocated from any genuine time or place. They give off a strangely cloistered, outdated feel, and the oddness is only further highlighted by Ayoade's lighting, with its yellowish-green tinge. It's a queasy effect that constantly hoods faces in deep, impenetrable shadow.

This is appropriate, of course, for a young man so thoroughly invisible to the people around him. He lives a sheltered, lonely existence, working the same job for seven years and hardly noticed by a soul. Infatuated with a sprightly coworker played by Mia Wasikowska, he gazes into her apartment through a telescope in his bedroom.  He is a feeble automaton living in a vaguely Soviet existential hell, as his double usurps what little identity he has in the world. As such, Ayoade often frames him with his face partially obscured, whether it be by shadow, cubicle walls, doors, lifts, mirrors - he is always physically divided, a visual motif which is startlingly reflected by the manifestation of his aggressive, charismatic twin.

This is not to say that The Double takes itself wholly seriously; it is written with precisely-timed physical gags and wry black humour, trading in delicious irony and awkward pauses to great effect. The use of sound, too, is unusual; magnified in some places and muffled in others. At one point, Ayoade abruptly cuts the sweeping Japanese pop soundtrack dead with a jarring jump-cut to match; the effect is unnerving. As Ayoade himself says in the post-screening Q+A, the sound was designed to be highly subjective. The man himself often mentions the collaborative nature of his film-making; when asked about the looks of his film, he mentions his cinematographer Erik Wilson and his production designer, Jack Fisk, who worked on PT Anderson's There Will be Blood. 'The director is the least competent person on a film set,' he points out. 'All I have to do is give my opinion.'

Self-deprecating as he is, when Ayoade is asked (more than once) about his directorial influences, he shies away from saying too much. He openly admits his admiration for Lynch, Scorsese, Malle, and Bergman, but refuses to see a real connection between their work and his own. The strangest glimmer I saw in The Double were odd plot-oriented parallels to Billy Wilder's The Apartment, another dark tale of second-fiddle office romance. It too, hinges on misdirected affections, suicide, and the stunningly dead-eyed conformity of the workplace. Ultimately, though, the film stands as a fiercely unique take on Dostoevsky, peppered liberally with touches of Kafka. Eisenberg provides two multifaceted performances, the very arch of his shoulders and lift of his chin delineating the difference between Simon James and his double. Ayoade, with a setting and a screenplay of singular vision, has turned a case of identity crisis into a bizarre, sinister, and often hilarious mystery tale.

   Showing now at The Broadway Cinema Nottingham


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