The Double is one of this year’s films I just couldn’t miss. It’s directed by Richard Ayoade, who made my one of my favorite films of 2011, Submarine. It’s also incredibly moody, the film adopts a nightmarish atmosphere that persists all throughout its 90 minutes. Another reason is the use of the doppelganger motif (it’s an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevski’ The Double), a theme that always attracts me as a viewer. Mulholland Drive and Vertigo are among my favorite films of all time, so that should account for something.
The Double stars Jesse Eisenberg as the protagonist, Simon James, a shy, isolated young man working in a corporation whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of his extrovert and immoral lookalike, James Simon. Eisenberg is stellar in this film, the right actor to play both personalities, both the wooden boy and the real boy. The film also features Mia Wasikowska as Simon’s charming love interest, Hannah, who is unaware of Simon’s feelings but is as lonely as him. The entire principal cast of Submarine returns, all in small but very funny roles. Other small parts are played by Wallace Shawn who is Simon’s boss and Cathy Moriarty, who played Jake LaMotta’s wife in Raging Bull, returning as an aging waitress.
I must say I really loved this film. I feel like it was made for an audience like myself. It’s a mix of Wes Anderson’s quirkiness and David Lynch’s twisted fantasy world. A combination so rarely depicted on film and perfectly captured by the director.
The world presented is very unusual, claustrophobic. It doesn’t resemble a real world, it’s a pure nightmare. There is no daylight, probably used to show the pressure the main character is under. His apartment is like a cage or prison cell and almost void of any personality. Every situation he gets in turns in an unpleasant one because of his deeply timid personality which in turn is an uncomfortable watch for us to sit through.
I found the portrayal of this dreamlike world to be so refreshing and pleasant to watch from a cinematic point of view because of the beautiful visuals and oneiric qualities. It’s what gives The Double its noir characteristics.
As Submarine, The Double works also as a comedy. The humor isn’t very visible and if you get over Simon’s uncomfortable encounters you could enjoy what is mainly cringe humor which is not for everybody. Especially because Simon doesn’t deserve it, it’s like he has a bad day every day which isn’t that funny to witness. Anyway, the comedy’s transparency works as a small change of pace in a rather pessimistic universe and doesn’t go overboard. The film itself is a such a mix of genres, a greater focus on getting laughs would have alienated any audience. It’s in small but necessary doses.
The Double doesn’t reject its psychological thriller origins either. In the second half the tension rises and the stakes get higher as our paranoid protagonist has to face his deepest fears to get back his life. At one point I was confused about who was who as Simon got the hang of his connection with James. His character develops and breaks loose from his troubled persona. And, of course, the strangeness of the world didn’t help in shining light over the mystery because you never know how it’s gonna end. I mean, it could be a dream. I also liked that they don’t give any explanation about James’ appearance, it’s actually pretty funny when he gets in, everyone acting like nothing out of the ordinary happened. But that was because of how invisible Simon is to everybody. It’s both funny and sad.
The soundtrack deserves a mention as it has an important role in making The Double the spooky, dreamy tale it is. The use of Japanese songs is both funny and strange, but it works so well with the story in the lighter moments to release the tension. They’re also really nice pop songs with a retro vibe.
Also worth mentioning is the TV show that Simon watches featuring Paddy Considine as an intergalactic hero fighting his double. The show looks so cheesy and strange. I would watch it just for the fun of it.
I would describe The Double as a psychological noir comedy, a combination of genres beautifully arranged thanks to Richard Ayoade’s vision. His second feature film is just as strong as his debut Submarine. The two films are similar in terms of their main theme, loneliness and overcoming its burdens. While Submarine is a coming-of-age film at heart and The Double is a psychological thriller, they both share a quirky and almost dark and deadpan humor that remind of Wes Anderson’s films. We may have an auteur on our hands.
I highly recommend this film, it’s funny and dark, thrilling and twisted, and nothing like you’ve never seen before.