TVO Film Review: The Double

Richard Ayaode‘s second feature film, The Double, based on Dostoevsky’s 1846 novella of the same name, will be released in the UK at the end of this month. So what’s it like, and how does it compare to his directorial debut, Submarine? See what our reviewer, Mog, had to say: 

© Studio Canal

From its appearances at various Film Festivals during the past few months, reviews of Richard Ayoade‘s latest feature, The Double, aren’t hard to find. Across the board, they’re consistent in their high praise of Ayoade’s fastidious attention to detail, the richly claustrophobic set design, and the sharp filmic intellect that underpins it.

One point that all the reviewers seem to agree on is the extensive list of high-end cinematic influences discernible in the finished film. It’s this final point that would irk me if I was in Ayoade’s shoes. The Double has been variously described in terms of its stylistic closeness to Gilliam, Gondry, the Coen brothers, Welles, Godard, Lynch, Andersson and Kaurismaki. All fine directors, but it’s a shame to define a film as interesting as The Double by the other films it reminds the critic of.

In case the early murmurings about Ayoade’s latest project have passed you by, here’s what you need to know about the story:

The action revolves around a meek and downtrodden  office clerk whose life is turned upside down by the surprise appearance of his confident, aggressive doppelgänger (both parts are played, brilliantly, by Jesse Eisenberg in the film). It’s an odd premise which plays out peculiarly across its 93 minutes – particularly for audiences who are more used to neat narrative conclusions.

Ayoade’s film leaves as many questions unanswered as the book on which it’s based does: we’re never too sure what’s real and what’s not, a sensation underscored by the fantasy netherworld in which it’s set: part sci-fi/part retro, it establishes a version of (un)reality in which one doesn’t question the bizarre goings-on as much as you would if it inhabited a world you recognised.

© Studio Canal

Furthermore, the beautifully nuanced performances of the main cast, in the form of Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska, help to lend authenticity and humanity to a story at risk of caricature in less capable acting hands. In fact it’s the dynamic between these two (three?) characters that gives The Double its heart, something which seems to have been overlooked by many of the reviewers out there. This is a love story first and foremost; Simon’s actions towards his neighbour and co-worker, Hannah, are achingly and heart-breakingly romantic.

© Studio Canal

The Double is a very different beast to Ayoade’s debut feature Submarine, which was airily joyful from start to finish. If I’m honest, I probably didn’t enjoy The Double as much as I did Submarine, which is not to say that it’s a less good or less interesting film. It certainly tumbles around the brain for longer.

I’m not sure that The Double is a film to enjoy – it’s too uncomfortable. There are moments of genuine humour – this is Ayoade afterall (scenes with Chris Morris and Sally Hawkins are particularly funny), but for the most part we perceive what’s going on through Simon’s experiences, and we feel his pain acutely.

The Double is a fascinating and clever film. It’s also beautifully-shot and well-acted. But it’s not an easy film to watch; it’s awkward, dark and ultimately inconclusive. Well worth subjecting yourself to.

The Double is on general release in UK cinemas from 31st March, with selected preview screenings on 27th March. Here, for your perusal, is the latest trailer and a short clip from the film (below). And look out for our interview with director, Richard Ayoade, next week!

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