Surreal, eerie and unusual, The Double is the second full-length feature from Richard Ayoade, otherwise known as ‘Moss’ from IT Crowd, and is a curious film exploring what happens when your doppelganger decides to take over your life.
Based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name, this dark comedy follows Jesse Eisenberg’s character Simon, whose otherwise dull and normal life takes a twist when his double James comes to town.
Working as an underappreciated data-input manager for a mysterious company headed by the enigmatic “The Colonel”, and hopelessly in love with his neighbour Hannah (played by Mia Wasikowska), things start to go awry for Simon when his literal double joins his office. After getting on at first, the film takes a more sinister turn when the audience realises James is here to take over and essentially ruin Simon’s life. Outdoing him at his job, taking over his apartment and stealing the girl, Simon is left stuttering in the corner unable to stand up to a more impressive version of himself.
Much darker than 2010’s Submarine, the film has a similar vibe to the cult classic show Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, co-created by Ayoade, with its eccentric humour, bizarre atmosphere and 80’s throwbacks, it’s definitely one of the most unique films screening at the moment.
Inundated with quirky behaviour and odd jokes, the film causes quite a few uncomfortable laughs due to its macabre sense of humour. Examples of this include the ‘Suicide Detectives’ asking our hero whether he is going to commit suicide, for him to answer ‘No’, with the Senior Detective responding with ‘Put him down as a maybe’. Another humorous moment is when Simon wants to take off his jacket, only for his boss to scream ‘What do you think this is, a brothel?’
The film as whole is incredibly surreal in its mood, lighting and the interactions between characters, with numerous dreamlike qualities, particularly the way the film transitions between each scene. Ayoade does a great job at setting the scene; tricking the audience into thinking it can’t get any weirder before the main storyline takes it up a notch. With its dark unidentified urban space, The Double definitely feels like an ode to such surreal classics as David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. It even has quite a few touches reminiscent of Hitchcock, especially his classic film Rear Window.
The era in which the film this is set is never established, however it incorporates many 80’s aesthetics, with retro computers and office furniture, low-budget TV shows, neon signs and quirky fashion. I’m unsure whether this is to give the film a time and a place or to make it even more unsettling, but from the evidence of what the director is trying to do, it’s probably the latter.
The film’s 15 rating does seem a bit harsh, seeing as there is very little violence, hardly any strong language and whatever sex scenes there, are never explicit and only suggested. However, the story’s themes of existentialism, isolation and social mobility may be lost on a younger audience. The film’s dark undercurrent would equally justify such a rating.
There are some terrific cameos throughout the film, with Chris O’Dowd, Paddy Considine and even Chris Morris making brief but hilarious appearances. Regarding a suicide attempt, O’Dowd’s inquisitive nurse constantly asks Simon some very troublingly candid questions, backed up with numerous “Just take a guess’.
With the film’s overarching dark and peculiar nature, you tend to forget that it’s intended as a comedy and when you do laugh, you feel terribly uncomfortable about it. But that’s the point; Ayoade wants to thrust you into this unsettling world where nothing is exactly right and even the most basic of human reactions such as to laugh, make you feel incredibly awkward. An odd film that’ll definitely leave quite an impression, it’ll stay on your mind hours after it’s finished.