[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00JE8UF72][/pullquote] Angst, alienation, isolation… They’re the cheery themes in Richard Ayoade’s second feature, The Double, a follow-up to his charming debut, coming-of-age tale Submarine. But although it may sound bleak, The Double is infused with black humour which is what stops it merely being an exercise in existential doom and gloom.
Jesse Eisenberg is the downtrodden Simon James, a lowly office clerk in a strangely retro-futuristic bureaucracy who’s intense, insular and almost completely ignored by his co-workers.
Simon’s ordered but unhappy life is turned on its head when his double, the confident, gregarious James Simon (also played by Eisenberg), arrives at the office, who looks identical to Simon.
Within a few days he’s ingratiated himself to everyone, got the ear of the boss and won over Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), a long-term (but unrequited) object of James’s affection.
Already anxious and paranoid, Simon is convinced that James has not only invaded his life but taken it over. With his co-workers duped by his doppelgÃ¤nger, Simon finally decides to stand up for himself.
In only his second feature, Ayoade is proving himself to be a skilled director with an eye for striking visuals. There are shades of David Lynch, Terry Gilliam (especially Brazil) and perhaps even Wes Anderson in The Double but the film is distinctive in its own right, from the perpetual night-time setting to the Soviet style design. The film doesn’t seem to be set in any particular place or time, but in some dated idea of the future that seems like the 50s, the 70s and the 80s all at once.
The Double is a heavily stylised film which may irk some but it does help set the tone of the world we’re drawn into. It’s a heightened world which evokes Kafka (little man pitted against the system) as much as Dostoyevsky’s source novella.
Eisenberg portrays oppressed loner and swaggering interloper with equal aplomb… Though you do feel the urge to shake James out of his cowering indecision on more than one occasion. Indeed, one of the problems with the film is that you struggle to find sympathy with either of them. Simon is too strange and spiky to warm to, James is too arrogant and conniving.
Elsewhere, there are fun cameos from Ayoade’s IT Crowd chum Chris O’Dowd, erstwhile Alan Partridge side kick Tim Key, Brasseye’s Chris Morris, Dinosaur Jr. main man J. Mascis and Paddy Considine in a spoof sci-fi TV show within the film.
These all help to lighten the tone in this dark tale that is enjoyable but never quite delivers on the intriguing premise it sets up.