The Double, at London Film Festival
Published at 12:01AM, October 14 2013
Richard Ayoade directs Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska in a delightful modern reboot of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella
This is a delightfully noir comedy from the British director Richard Ayoade, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska in a modern reboot of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s original doppelgänger novella The Double. Shot in the shadows of a nameless American city, The Double looks like a tribute to Hitchcock, and sometimes sounds like a scene from The Office television series.
Eisenberg, still displaying the geeky discomfort and otherworldliness he showed in The Social Network, plays the tongue-tied, put-upon office clerk Simon James in a creepily Fascist bureaucracy. The French would describe Simon’s life succinctly as “metro-boulot-dodo” (train-work-sleep) – and he lives in a “dirty green, smoke-begrimed, dusty” little room, just as Dostoevsky described. Simon’s days repeat on a loop of tedium, which is suddenly broken by the presence of his co-worker, Hannah, who works in the blue half-light of the photocopier room.
Every time Simon attempts to talk to Hannah, the world seems to conspire against him, a slapstick of supposedly inanimate objects. Lift doors slam between the two would-be lovers, machines fail, and Simon’s identity is questioned by the security guard as he enters the office. We are in a liminal world that looks like the fifties, with Bakelite telephones, but has vast green-screened computers from the eighties, and a severe case of nostalgia for old office equipment.
A new worker appears in the glass cubicles of the office, one James Simon, an identical copy of Simon in the same ill-fitting suit, but with a more aggressive and affable personality. Only Simon notices the likeness, as James begins to take over his work, his home and the woman of his desires. It’s fascinating to suddenly see Eisenberg transformed into an attractive leading man as James, in contrast with his usually goofy roles.
Hannah, with her reversible name, also seems to have a double life, making strange, tiny paintings in her own blood of two matching selves, which she tears up nightly and throws in the trash slide. Simon watches Hannah obsessively using a telescope in his bedsit which faces hers across a block of concrete flats, allowing Ayoade a full-on tribute to Rear Window.
Ayoade is both cine-literate and a staple of British TV comedy, having acted in The IT Crowd and Gareth Marenghi’s Darkplace. He has a sharp understanding of the eternal Geek v Dude battle, which Simon James and James Simon represent in The Double. Ayoade’s first, much-acclaimed coming-of-age film Submarine starred Yasmin Paige and Craig Roberts, who also appear in The Double. His second film shows maturity, and is jam-packed with witty references, from cheesy sci-fi soap operas to the long-suffering men that always populate the Coen Brothers’ films.
The Double is peppered with great character roles: Wallace Shawn and the kindly-but-testy office manager, Sally Hawkins as an obfuscatory receptionist, and Chris O’Dowd as a peculiarly unhelpful nurse.
This update of Dostoyevsky’s tale is timely, in these days when one way or another, we are all microserfs with identities easily lost on the web. Ayoade’s surreal comedy has surprising weight.
The UK release date is still to be confirmed.
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