Director: Richard Ayoade
Screenplay: Richard Ayoade & Avi Korine
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Noah Taylor, Cathy Moriarty, Wallace Shawn
It’s a question of identity, the most basic, fundamental notion of who we are and the way we are perceived by those around us.
Are we unique as individuals, as personalized and singular as a fingerprint—and if that is the case, doesn’t that almost automatically lead to a sense of isolation, existential loneliness, a separateness that reduces each of us to a tide-battered, remote “I-land”?
Thus the continuing appeal and fascination of the doppelganger, a dark twin existing somewhere else in the world, possessing a face similar to mine/yours, a life that might be better or worse or eerily paralleling our own. Tradition has it that our shadow usually contains some malign or repressed aspect of our personality and contact should be avoided at all costs. An encounter with our lookalike almost certainly means the destruction of one of us (and I don’t like my chances against an evil version of myself, do you?).
Director Richard Ayoade’s second film, “The Double”, cites, as its source material, a novella of the same name by Russian literary giant Fyodor Dostoevsky. Which, if nothing else, proves that he and his writing partner, Avi Korine, certainly aren’t lacking in the ambition department. But while they may have adhered to the spirit of the original story, their screenplay has other influences and touchstones. The ghost of Franz Kafka is in evidence throughout, flitting about the periphery of almost every scene. There are also affectionate homages and nods to Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”, Orwell’s 1984, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant”.
The script is intriguing and occasionally baffling. Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) is a non-entity, toiling in a data collection center for seven years and making almost no impact on those around him. Then one day a new man, James, joins the firm and immediately distinguishes himself with his charm and winning personality. The added complication: James is a dead ringer for Simon. Inevitably, the two doubles meet and Simon’s world begins to fall apart.
Ayoade’s direction is accomplished and his aesthetic sound. He knows how to employ a camera to maximum effect without detracting from the footage that’s created. But while the cinematography and acting on “The Double” are excellent and the script solid, it’s the film’s sound design that really distinguishes it. The ambient backing track is something else, loops of apartment noises, muffles moans and thumps that add an extra dimension to what’s happening on-screen. Let’s have a round of applause for “The Double”‘s sound & foley artists (Adam Armitage, Stuart Bagshaw & Martin Beresford, among others) who all too often toil without recognition or reward. Without them, “The Double” wouldn’t have been nearly as haunting or effective.
A few quibbles: the film should’ve been shot in black & white, which would have emphasized the grimness of Simon’s world, deepened the mystery and enhanced that sense of impending disaster surrounding him. I also wish people would stop employing the lamentable Wallace Shawn in their movies—he plays the same recurring and annoying role and it’s time to put him out to pasture with the other old war horses.
“The Double” is not faultless but it is original and that erases a lot of sins, at least as far as this reviewer is concerned. It’s a spooky and maddening treat, a dark lullaby to Prague’s most famous literary denizen, a Kafkaesque reminder that we aren’t who we think we are and that mirrors often lie.
*Click here to read my review of Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut, “Submarine”