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April 4, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

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I was lucky enough to see The Double whilst at the BFI London Film Festival in October. A few months later, the film is still fresh in my mind for its unique style, deadpan humour and subtle performances. This is definitely one of the best films of 2014 so far. Its strengths are down to two people: director Richard Ayoade, returning after his critically acclaimed debut Submarine (2010) and his leading man on double duty Jesse Eisenberg. Ayoade has a great sense for colour palette and framing that rivals Wes Anderson’s bright colour scheme with his own drab blacks and greys. Eisenberg confirms he’s one of the most talented actors of his generation as he outstandingly plays both the terribly shy Simon James and his confident doppelganger James Simon.

The Double is based on Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name (considered by many to be his best one). There are nods to the Russian setting although the movie seems set in socialist Russia and not late 19th Century Russia as the book. The story follows Simon James on a typical day for him that includes being ignored at work, losing his briefcase and spying on his neighbour Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). Things change unexpectedly when whilst spying on Hannah he notices her upstairs neighbour is about to jump from the building, setting the bleak tone of the film. The detectives who arrive to investigate the suicide immediately put Simon down as a suicide risk since they worry over his single life and obvious social anxieties.

On a night out Simon sees a man who looks exactly like himself before disappearing into the night. The next morning he bumps into his doppelganger again but at work. The guy introduces himself as James Simon and the two immediately begin an unlikely friendship. Simon is impressed by James’ confidence and even takes up ‘lessons’ in being more assertive from him. The dynamic between the two is brilliant and Jesse Eisenberg deserves great credit for being able to play against himself. As I watched the film my first impression of the contrasting duo was of Clark Kent and Superman which is fortunate considering the casting of Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman film. There are definitely similar character traits between Luthor and James which you can see as James manipulates Simon by taking over his life, friends, his job and even Hannah. This proves too much for Simon and the two become bitter enemies.

Despite the bleak setting and themes of loneliness, there is a lot of comedy throughout the film expertly delivered by Jesse Eisenberg. The script is so quick-witted and sharp that the humour takes you off-guard and its self-deprecating deadpan deliveries are refreshingly subversive, differently from other comedies that are built around a single punch line. Supported by actors like Wallace Shawn and Noah Taylor, the comedy abounds with the other characters’ ignorance of Simon; “How long have you been here son? Just started eh?”, “Yes sir, seven years ago”.

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You engage with the film because of the conscience and unsure character of Simon who you feel sympathy for but you also become attached to James for his confidence and skill, yet fear him because of his megalomania when he seduces everyone into falling for him. The dark colours and deadpan humour will attract those fans of dark comedies, though it is by far not the darkest comedy out there. There have been some who argue that Ayoade is imitating Wes Anderson, especially the use of colour (or lack of it) and symmetry, but with a film called ‘The Double’ symmetry will inevitably be involved; the fact that ‘Hannah’ is a palindrome is not lost on the viewer. In any event I enjoyed this film, I’ll enjoy it again and I look forward to Ayoade’s next directorial effort.

The Double is out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 4th.

Sunny Ramgolam