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 The Double

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: The Double   Fri Jul 11, 2014 12:46 am

Richard Ayoade started his career appearing in sketch shows such as The Armstrong and Miller Show, but his big break came in 2004 with the dark sitcom Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, which Ayoade had co-created with Matthew Holness, and Ayoade directed all 6 episodes of the show for Channel 4. Since then, Ayoade had appeared in The Mighty Boosh, Nathan Barley and most famously as Moss in The IT Crowd. But, Ayoade has been working as a director on the side, doing music videos for the Arctic Monkeys, Super Furry Animals and Kasabian. He got his big break in 2010 with his adaptation of Joe Dunthorne's novel, Submarine. A sweet but offbeat romance film, pitched somewhere between Wes Anderson and Bill Forsyth, which won Ayoade awards and acclaim. But, for his next film, Ayoade has gone one step further... He's chosen not to do something similar to Submarine, but he's gone to a darker place. For his new film, he's chosen to adapt Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1866 novella The Double, which is a dark psychological thriller about identity and doppelgängers. However, in Ayoade's hands, he's given it a very British flavour, although it's been marinated with very heavily influences of Eraserhead (1977) and Brazil (1985). The Double is a dark psychological drama with a heart pumping the blackest comedy you will ever see around it's veins. The final result is exhausting, haunting, draining and definitely not for everybody but utterly compelling and one of the most original and peculiar films of the year.

In an old-fashioned futuristic society, which inhabits both British and Americans, and overseen by a strange and mysterious leader known as The Colonel (James Fox). Meek and timid clerk Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is largely ignored in life. He has trouble getting into work because he lost his ID badge on the tube getting there. He has ideas for the company he works at, but his boss Mr. Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn) wants Simon to tutor his daughter Melanie (Yasmin Paige), and Simon's mother (Phyllis Somerville) is dying in a nursing home. He meets co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who he takes an immediate liking to, and he even meets her for dinner and plans to woo her with a gift, Hannah lives in the apartment block opposite Simon. However, things take a peculiar turn when Mr. Papadopoulos introduces new employee James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg again), who is ABSOLUTELY IDENTICAL physically to Simon. However James has a more impulsive, has an attitude and is very confident, everything Simon is not. Simon tries to get to know James more, and even helps James with paperwork at the company, and James gets all the credit for Simon's work, and then James tries to go out with Hannah. For Simon, that's the final straw, and desperate times call for desperate measures, and James is using Simon's apartment to sleep with women now...

You might laugh, albeit nervously, at some sequences, but despite the background of Ayoade in comedy, this isn't a comedy. Parts of it are genuinely funny, and it's visual mis-en-scene is amusing in parts, and even critics call it a comedy, but it's not really a comedy. It starts dark and stays like that throughout, and while Ayoade might try to play down the references to Eraserhead and Brazil throughout, it's what comes to mind when you watch it. The office where Simon works is straight out of Brazil, as are the bureaucracy and jobworths that ruin lives, the sound of the environment and the humming of machines is straight out of Eraserhead. The design of this horrible future seems to be partially inspired by North Korea and Soviet Russia, with the drab greys and browns everywhere and concrete towerblocks everywhere, but there are nice little touches to Hitchcock's Rear Window and Billy Wilder's The Apartment throughout. Plus, the whole film seems to be set at night, or within some confined concrete city where sunlight doesn't get a look in. Ayoade has created a thick stew using films set in dark places or set at night like Orson Welles' The Trial (1962) and Martin Scorsese's After Hours (1985), and made the ultimate dark film, quite literally, there's a lot of shadows and it is extremely noirish. You might thing Ayoade wants the film to be dark for the sake of it, but that's the point.

On a technical level, the film is a triumph. It's quite a formidable achievement to create an entire world, especially a futuristic world. The future depicted in The Double is a future lost in time, it's a vision of how the people thought the future would look from the late 1950's/early 1960's. This is a future where people have old fashioned kitchen dressers, ZX Spectrum style computers and old TV sets showing 1980's style sci-fi shows. This brave new world is brought to dark, vivid life by production designer David Crank, (production designer on The Master (2012), and art director on There Will Be Blood (2007), The Tree of Life (2011) and Lincoln (2012)). It was filmed mainly in abandoned factories around London, and Crank does a clever job of dressing them up as a dark utopia. This is not a future anyone in their right minds would inhabit, but in this world, they don't have any choice, plus it's filled with a lot of odd little old fashioned nick-nacks which people use in this futuristic society. Plus, it's filmed with a dark shine by Erik Wilson, who worked with Ayoade on Submarine (2010), and TV shows like Murderland, Doctor Who and Friday Night Dinner. It's got a very noirish look, very bright lights and foreboding shadows everywhere. It's a shame this wasn't in black and white, as that would have been the cherry on the cake.

Ayoade has got together a magnificent cast for this film, many from both sides of the Atlantic, mainly our side. He scored a real coup getting Jesse Eisenberg to play not one but two parts in this film. The nebbish and neurotic Simon James and the cool, scheming James Simon. The biggest achievement is not just the clever editing that has Eisenberg appear alongside himself in the same scene, but that Eisenberg gets two completely different performances at the same time, and makes it convincing rather than a gimmick. There hasn't been anything quite like this since Jeremy Irons played twin gynecologists in David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (1988). Mia Wasikowska makes a likeable impression as Simon's girlfriend Hannah, who seems to have an agenda all of her own, and she ends up being caught between Simon and James, and they're both vying for her affections. The rest of the cast is made up of brilliant American character actors, like the great Wallace Shawn as Mr. Papadopoulos, Cathy Moriarty as Hannah's cold co-worker Kiki and Phyllis Somerville as Simon's ailing mother, then there's the British actors, with cameos from the cast of Submarine, including Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine dotted around the film, and Ayoade's co-stars from The IT Crowd, with Chris O'Dowd as a rude nurse, and Chris Morris as an unhelpful bureaucrat. Oh, and James Fox, Ayoade's own father-in-law, makes a quick cameo as The Colonel.





Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novella should have been adapted before now, but no-one had been able to crack it it. Roman Polanski came close in 1996 with an adaptation set to star John Travolta, John Goodman and Jean Reno, but it collapsed at the last minute. However, Ayoade finds a way to adapt this deep, complex and philosophical novella. It's an exhausting and somewhat infuriating film, as it might not be what some people were expecting. But it's an almost steampunk future, which is very unsettling and breathtakingly black. But this is a major step forward for Ayoade as a director, it shows that he's fearless, and he's unafraid to take on daring projects. He has a brilliant visual style, and even though it has a quirky, oddball charm, he puts it to good use in this dark futuristic thriller. You won't see another film like this anytime soon, it's one of a rare breed of films that come along once in a blue moon, something intelligent, something that leaves more questions than answers at the end. It says a lot about our expectations of the future, is society evolving backwards rather than forwards? Maybe, but repeated viewings is what this film will require, as there's a lot to take in, and you might not be able to in a single viewing. But this is not a film you can watch willy-nilly, you have to be prepared for the questions that it leaves afterwards, and it'll keep you thinking for days with it's themes of identity. Franz Kafka and George Orwell would have loved this, and David Lynch and Terry Gilliam will be flattered by Ayoade's coy, sly homage of their works.
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