Release Date: 4th April 2014
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Chris O’Dowd, Sally Hawkins, James Fox
Technology is out to get Simon James in The Double. The automated doors on his daily commute stole his briefcase, the lift at work downright refuses to elevate him and the security gate denies his very existence. All this might prove bearable were the people in Simon (Jesse Eisenberg)’s life not equally remiss in acknowledging his general state of being. Like a ghost, Simon moves through writers Richard Ayoade and Ari Korine’s dystopic world, until one day a familiar figure appears. As if from nowhere, and with more swagger and confidence than Simon could have ever imagined, doppelganger James Simon (also played by Jesse Einsenberg) strides into his workplace and proceeds to methodically delete Simon from the programme. After all, if no one recognises you exist, who’s going to notice your replacement?
The Double is only director Ayoade’s second feature film (following on from 2010’s critically-acclaimed Submarine) and yet already displays such skill and awareness of the form as to belie belief. A darkly comic, psychological film, it has echoes of Gilliam’s Brazil throughout but with muted tones and a far subtler approach. There are no lurid or grandiose colour palettes at work here, with Submarine cinematographer, Erik Wilson, beautifully situating Eisenberg between the respective spotlights and shadows of the two leading characters’ lives. Filmed entirely at night, this small fragment of a world is an isolated and oppressive place; where ‘suicide cops’ are at work 365 days a year and do so with a smile and air of nonchalance that is, quite frankly, unnerving.
Simon’s relationship with co-worker, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) shows the submissive office boy at both his best and worst; there is gentle humour to be found in Eisenberg’s performance as he stutters and stammers through attempted conversations with her, whilst otherwise stalking her from the removed distance of a telescopic lens. In contrast, the suave and arrogant James takes no time at all to sleep with the girl – provoking a desperate and dangerous jealousy in Simon that threatens to put all three members of the unconventional love-triangle in jeopardy.
While the film’s soundtrack itself is joyfully eccentric, it is the crushing sound design that truly lifts The Double to a higher level. Submarine composer Andrew Hewitt is once again brought back into the fold and creates a deliriously mechanical cacophony to accompany this Orwellian-inspired dystopia. If Simon James is merely a cog in the machine, the emotional rollercoaster his double’s arrival sends him on is perfectly represented in the increasing clicking, whirring and ringing of the machines all around him. Like a subconscious metronome on the verge of a colossal meltdown, the film’s sound design is tension-building in a way few other productions have managed before. If Simon’s voyeuristic tendency towards Hannah doesn’t put you in mind of Hitchcock, the carefully constructed score most certainly should.
Eisenberg excels in both roles, while Wasikowska’s performance is solid and there is a notably hysterical cameo by Paddy Considine in this nightmarish noir-comedy. A complex and riveting tale of the troubling psychology of self-identity, The Double is a clever retelling of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella. Even if you’ve never heard of the original, you’ll find it impossible to ignore its replicant.
The Double screened in the Glasgow Film Theatre on Saturday 22nd February 2014 as part of the Glasgow Film Festival