Seeped in drab grays and browns Richard Ayoade’s The Double is, aesthetically speaking, far removed from his debut film Submarine. And yet, two films into his directing career he has established a style and tone that is quintessentially his own but that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve.
The Double, based on Dostoevsky’s novel of the same name, sees Jesse Eisenberg as Simon James, a man so quiet, timid and forgettable that he has to remind the security guard at his place of work who he is each morning. Infatuated with his colleague and neighbour, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), Simon is distraught when a new employee at his office manages to catch her eye, he’s even more concerned that James Simon (also Eisenberg) is his exact double, despite it being only him seemingly spotting this phenomenon.
Set in an Orwellian-come-Terry Gilliam world where industrial progression is placed above the happiness and needs of the people, The Double basks in a noir-ish depressive world. There is a wonderfully retro feel to Ayoade’s execution that while bleak is gilded with a wry and subtle sense of humour. At its darkest moments there are always visual cues and throwaway lines that refuse to allow the film to sink into a pit of despair, despite the dark themes throughout.
At first Simon becomes friends with the more confident and outgoing James before witnessing him gradually usurp his life. Less a mystery and more a psychological analysis of the Ego and the Id, The Double rattles along, like one of the rickety trains that Simon travels on, with a delightfully stylish sense of ironic glee.
Utilising Hitchcockian visuals allows Ayoade to build tension while simultaneously paying homage to The Master Of Suspense without ever poking fun. Simon’s predilection towards spying on Hannah and James as their romance unfolds is an obvious hat-tip to James Stewart in Rear Window. Meanwhile between Wasikowska’s Hitchcock blonde and themes of identity rearing their head it’s hard not to be blissfully reminded of Vertigo.
Fans of Ayoade’s past work, including his IT Crowd days, will revel in every character who crops up as being nothing short of a delightful cameo. But it is the central performances that are mesmeric. Wasikowska glows under Ayoade’s chiaroscuro lighting, her Hannah is cute as a button, an angelic presence in this otherwise doom and gloom existence. Eisenberg is stunning in the two opposing lead roles. His Simon is subdued and bordering on pathetic while his James is brash and arrogant, more than a hint of his Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network being applied and surly evidence that he will make a formidable Lex Luthor in the upcoming Man Of Steel 2.
The bleak tone and ambiguous nature may be something of an acquired taste, akin to a David Lynch or Wes Anderson venture, but there is no denying that Ayoade has a voice and, unlike the self-deprecating man himself, it speaks volumes and demands attention. The Double is a darkly comedic and painfully relatable venture into the human psyche that demonstrates Ayoade is a hugely intelligent and fascinating filmmaker.