The Double, Richard Ayoade’s sophomore feature length, will hit screens nationwide on the 4th of April. The 36 year old director captured an audience with the success of Submarine and he has surpassed himself with this latest effort, shirking the criticisms of having made every mistake a film school graduate makes. Based on Dostoevsky’s novella of the same name, The Double features Jesse Eiseinberg as Simon James; a meek, insecure young man working in a nightmarishly bureaucratic company that churns human personality into data. James is entranced by co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) but he becomes flustered and speechless at the mere thought of an encounter with her. (Spoiler warning) Constantly belittled in his family life as well as his office life, his fragile world is shattered by the arrival of ambitious and confident doppelganger James Simon who climbs the corporate and social ladder with ease. The theme of mental illness defines the strange world Simon occupies and carries the film to its crashing crescendo.
Visually speaking, it appears as if Ayoade has overcome the Wes Anderson comparisons he was pinned down with after Submarine. The Double combines a plethora of visual styles that he wrangles into one aesthetic to varying degrees of success. The setting is a wonderful mix of post-war London doom and gloom with flourishes of German Expressionism. The world Ayoade has created through sombre cinematography and unnervingly off kilter soundtrack is a haunting rendition of Simon’s perspective, through his crippling anxiety and once the thriller elements creep in, the atmospheric decor becomes truly chilling.
Avi Korine’s script transposes the action from 19th century Russia to modern day Britain excellently and Ayoade’s humour is well paced and flows coherently with Dostoevsky’s critique of a bureaucratic world gone mad. Cameos from J Mascis and Chris Morris are woven into the bleak surrounding to act more than just mere comic relief. To clarify, this is not a comedy, the humour is more restrained than in Submarine and the story is preoccupied with darker issues. The schizophrenic rupture between Simon and his double is aggravated by the fact that the doppelganger is more than just a figment of Simon’s imagination but rather a sinister replacement sent to torment and corrupt him.
The only weak link of the film is the portrayal of Hannah. The introduction of Hannah as a one dimensional fantasy, blowing the dust off Simon’s miserable life is stilted as we have seen the manic pixie dream girl bounce around in her ornate, delicate fashion too often. She becomes the common goal once the double is introduced and she becomes even more peripheral once they’ve finished fighting over her. The pervasive themes of voyeurism do well to complicate the purity of Simon’s love as he is constantly spying on Hannah through a telescope and piecing together pictures she cuts up and throws out. The theme of obsessive love is limply pursued but Wasikowska’s (who was sublime in last year’s Stoker) character is never really explored for it to be fruitful and at times I couldn’t help but feel it was nothing more than a thinly veiled device used to push the story along.
The doppelganger then seems to replace her as Simon’s object of affection, as the manic pixie dream self, when Simon sees how ambitious and successful he could be if he could only overcome his fear. The double is crass and an opportunist and as the two lose themselves in their psychological battle, their facades unravel and their true, ugly natures are revealed. At times, Eisenberg’s performance lacks depth and is often too reminiscent of Michael Cera’s split personality in 2009s Youth in Revolt. The narrative flows with the same episodic approach that kept Submarine buoyant yet this time but does not get lost in digressions. The narrative stays focused on the protagonist and the conclusions seems to have been staring the audience in the face for the entire duration of the film. The Double is an impressive patchwork composition of a film, combining a striking psychological thriller with a poignant drama about unrequited love sewn together with glorious visual flare. Ayoade has learned a lot between both films and has clearly made the jump from ‘promising director’ to auteur in progress, as he has proved that he is more than capable of crafting a story in his own bizarre style.