Richard Ayoade impressed many with his directorial debut, Submarine, and now he’s back with something a little more ambitious – an unusual, highly stylised movie based on a story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Jesse Eisenberg is Simon, who lives in a David Lynch by way of Terry Gillian self-contained world. He works as clerk for a government agency, where no matter what great ideas he comes up with, nobody seems to notice him. That includes the woman of his dreams (Mia Wasikowska), who works in the copy room but barely seems to remember him, despite the fact he’s close to being her stalker.
Then James turns up, who is Simon’s exact physical double, although they have very different personalities, to the point of almost being exact opposites. Immediately James becomes the toast of the office, with the managers thinking everything he does is brilliant (even though he’s largely just stealing the more timid Simon’s ideas and work). Simon is perplexed, especially as nobody else seems to notice the resemblance between them.
The Double is certainly an idiosyncratic creation – it’s a movie that’s at once perplexing, beautiful, surreal, bleak, beautifully realised, often funny and sometimes utterly inspired. However even it can’t seem to decide what it’s for or why – or to be more accurate, it knows what it wants to be all about, but then keeps getting sidetracked and losing focus. For most films that would be disastrous, but The Double is so much in its own world and the sidetracks are often incredibly creative and clever – even if they do distract from the central spine of the movie – that it pulls through.
For instance, many people have commented on the absolutely brilliant sci-fi TV show, The Replicator (starring Paddy Considine), within The Double, which pops up every now and then. However the film often seems so enamoured with this show that it forgets why it’s there and it becomes a distraction to the overall film, no matter how brilliant it is as an idea in its own right. (That said, those who do want to see more of this wonderful slice of 70s-style sci-fi will be pleased to hear there are extended sequences from it in the special features).
There are moments in The Double where it feels like it may simply become a jumble of allusions to its inspirations, from Kafka and Kurowsawa to Brazil (the movie) and The Red Balloon, rather than something complete and fulfilling in its own right. As with Simon’s life, many things are clear thematically, but there are always things that don’t fit, or are left unexplained. It’s strange and sometimes a little frustrating, but it never stops being interesting and incredibly stimulating, even when it’s being annoying.
It’s certainly a singular vision (no matter how much in interviews Ayoade likes to suggest he merely stands there saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and then points a camera at the actors) and often a fascinating one – if nothing else the creation of its own miniature, self-contained universe (almost like a world in a bottle) is brilliant – but I couldn’t help feeling a little more focus could have turned this from a good film into a miniature masterpiece. If you’re like me you’ll come away from The Double feeling you’ve seen something special, but annoyed that even it seems unclear about what’s special about it.
Overall Verdict: As frustrating and peripatetic as it is beautiful and smart. The Double is an odd beast that’s certainly never dull and is often inspired, even if its tendency to get sidetracked detracts from its moment of brilliance.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac