The Double, dir. Richard Ayoade, wr. Richard Ayoade, Avi Korine, based on The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, st. Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, James Fox
Adapted from the Dostoyevsky novella and set in a distinctly dystopian world reminiscent of Michael Radford’s 1984, The Double combines tenebrous allegory with Amelie-esque romance and moments of bleak surrealism. Eisenberg plays the morose, shy and hopeless romantic Simon James who watches lonely, beautiful Hanna (Wasikowska) in the opposite apartment through a telescope in his bedroom window. Out of nowhere, his doppelgänger appears at his place of work and begins to undermine his entire existence. Even the office elevator and photocopier become unresponsive to his desperate attempts to re-assert himself.
While retaining many of the stylistic similarities and nuances of Ayoade’s directorial debut Submarine, (the quirky, coming-of-age story of awkward teen Oliver Tate) The Double looks towards darker, more sinister subject matter, dealing with issues of identity, isolation, and urban solitude. By limiting the setting of the film to only a handful of dingy, innocuous locations, Ayoade creates a claustrophobic, suffocating atmosphere in the stuffy office booths and one room-apartments by completely omitting any natural light. However that’s not to say it isn’t beautifully lit: yellow fluorescents and strip-lights give everything a grubby, run-down, Eastern European feel, perfectly complementing the drained, wistful performances by Eisenberg and Wasikowska. The locations are familiar, yet eerily distant since nothing can truly be placed in any specific time or place: the oversized, Gilliamy computers, big square buttons and muted colours are undoubtedly based on how the future was imagined by the people of the 1960s, some of it reminiscent of old Dr Who episodes and of course Kubrick’s 2001.
Perhaps the best thing about the film though is Ayoade’s precise direction and its keen satirical edge. He deals with some of the most sobering themes imaginable, presents them in a visually dark, doleful way, and yet delightfully nutty humour is never far away. The last act loses some of the momentum and clarity of its predecessors, but the combination of Simon’s endearing, pathetic awkwardness and the piercing, sawing score by Andrew Hewitt - an aural stand-in for the descent into madness - make The Double a rather melancholic but compelling watch.
Review by Bryony Dawson