25 April 2014, Varsity Online Culture Section
Dostoyevsky’s psychohorror The Double has never been far from our cinemas. Its world of contrasts – white and black, good and evil, innocence and guilt – most notably influenced Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Finally, in this film directed by Richard Ayoade, the seemingly unadaptable source material is brought to the screen in stylish form, but is sometimes lost in translation.
The Double seems an unpromising subject: Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), a pathetic push-over, lives in a depressing Soviet era style tower block and works in a depressing Soviet era style office full of Kafka-esque rules, broken lifts and tedious tasks to perform for his boss (Wallace Shawn). His life is even worse back at home: he’s a disappointing son, he can only gaze at the object of his desire, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) through a Rear Window style telescope, and the suicide rate in his area is ridiculously high.
All-in-all, this makes him the least remarkable man in existence – until doppelganger James Simon appears, that is. James enters the stage in swashbuckling style, convinces him to do his work for him, takes his girlfriend and gradually takes over his unremarkable little life.
The film is certainly a sensory experience; Ayoade excels at cramming the screen full of contrasting colours, shadow and light, word play and jarring notes to set the stage for the show-down between the two foils, played with great skill by Eisenberg, who seamlessly creates two reverse yet entwined characters.
An expertly-crafted melancholic humour is injected into the piece, which prevents it from becoming too sincere a work about the state of man and instead creates a sharp, witty and macabre piece.
At times it is too odd a world that Ayoade has created, and one which you feel you are constantly reaching out to grab but can’t quite get a hold of. The world of this film at times feels so abstract and remote that you feel unconnected from the action: perhaps the film’s trick is to make us feel as disconnected as the characters in their own story.