Article By: Dan Clark
In only two films Richard Ayoade has proven to be one of the most talented young minds in the world of cinema today. With his first film Submarine he provided new life to the world of coming of age tales by crafting a film that was unique and heartfelt. His latest film The Double is rather a hard one to quantify. It is this roaming amalgamation of different cinematic features that should not go together, yet strangely do. There is a distinct Orwellian tone spliced with David Lynch sense of weirdness. Ayoade avoids creating too overbearing of a mood by adding in a dry comedic wit reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s fast paced humor. Within these familiar qualities is an inimitable style that makes it much more than a sum of other people’s parts.
The film takes place in a world somewhere outside our scope of time. Much of this world resembles some form of dystopian future circa 1984–a future envisioned by the past. Computers are big and bulky and a dominating facet of the culture. Brightness and cheer are a forgotten memory in this bleak monotone climate.
Jesse Eisenberg plays James Simon an unassuming office worker who goes unnoticed by nearly everyone around him. His drab existence includes taking care of his mother of questionable sanity, working a dead-end job that sucks his life away on a consistent basis, and staring longingly as his coworker/neighbor Hannah (Mia Wasikowska).
Eisenberg is an actor that people unfairly categorize as someone who always plays the same role. James Simon has the nervous quirk people often associate with Eisenberg, but one wonders if that was purposely done to ironically juxtapose him with his doppelgänger.
James Simon learns his office has hired a promising up and comer that has potential to bring his company to new heights. That new hire, Simon James, bares an exact resemblance to him—that no one else notices but him. All they can notice is his charismatic charm makes him feel like everyone’s best friend.
Some of the humor of the doppelgänger trope is broad and obvious. One can make females swoon with some delicately spoken whispers, while the other struggles with basic introductions. One is kind and forgiving, while the other is always looking for ways to take advantage. Slowly those drastic differences taper off in order to get into the minutia of what differentiates these two characters. Eisenberg gives a performance that rivals his Oscar nominated role in The Social Network. He makes you believe these are two separate characters with slight adjustments in his mannerisms and speech patterns, instead resorting to over the top qualities that would make the differences too obvious.
These two characters form a partnership that is equal parts friendship and rivalry. As their goals and aspirations become one and the same the tension between them begins to grow. They soon find themselves battling for a singular identity in order to claim their superiority over the other. The crux of their contention is their shared desire for Hannah. This yearning ignites a continuing escalation of backstabbing that leads to some truly troubling territory.
Some of the thematic sharpness does become dulled by the domineering oddness of the films structure. Identity is certainly a key component that resonates with today’s virtual culture. Ayoade absolutely has something to add to the discussion, but at times becomes distracted by all the distinguishable quirks that surround much of the film. It’s like watching someone is garish robes and extravagant headwear give a speech on essential perks of free trade. What they are saying has merit. You just cannot stop wondering if what you are watching is in fact a reality.
Designing that warped reality did require a great deal of craftsmanship, starting with Erik Wilson’s immersive cinematography. Wilson covers the landscape with absorbing shadows and muted colors making it feel like the world is static version of purgatory. Andrew Hewitt’s score is a mixture of orchestral and electronic sounds that sounds naturally produced within the film. A constant insertion of repetitive notes gives the sense that reality is rapidly slipping away. Giving you a firsthand seat at the crumbling of James’s fractured psyche.
As we enter the world of summer blockbusters we get prepared for a season full of hyperbolic marketing, bloated budgets, and limited creativity. Occasionally certain films will rise above the otherwise cookie cutter crop of blandness. Films like The Double remind us that original ideas tend to naturally flourish when resources are limited. Richard Ayoade’s films are a prime examples of the innovation in today’s movie climate that go far too unnoticed. At this point his name may not have the popular cache’ of today’s biggest franchise. The Double is proof that is not a fault of his own doing.