"I have no idea what just happened?" was my immediate reaction after enduring director and co-writer Richard Ayoade's The Double, a surreal exercise in cinematic narrative alienation, peppered with comedic interruption.
Based off of the novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky of the same name, the story tussles between generic and cerebral. Jesse Eisenberg is Simon James, an outsider blending into invisibility only tethered to existence by his infatuation with Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). Wrestling with a paralyzing inability to act, his suffocating corporate world is shaken up by James Simon (also Eisenberg), the Tyler Durden to his Jack, who lives the life he's been imagining in his wildest fantasies.
The performances are almost inconsequential. Eisenberg definitely demonstrates that he's more than simply a neurotic 'type' hopping between Simon and James but it felt that the entire ensemble (Wasikowska included) had been told by Ayoade to act as if they were a member of the Team America puppet ensemble.
Aesthetically Ayoade builds an almost Lars Von Trier Dogville-esque Spartan space for his performers to occupy. The sets are strikingly lit, splattered with those paint jobs you see in public places that are commissioned to occur on a yearly basis. It's an out of time corporate existence; ancient machines with nobs and dials of a bygone word processing era and the corporate video tutorials to match. That’s complemented by the depressing tenements, adding to the enveloping sense that nothing you can do in your life has any meaning. On occasions what seem to be incidental sounds meld into waves of sound taunting you in this indefinable way. This goes hand in hand with a traditional rousing score directing the audience how they should be feeling. The influences of Hitchcock are many, especially in the visual lexicon. There's a cocktail of loneliness and voyeurism a la Rear Window for Eisenberg's Simon. He dotes on Hannah in cute 'I'll go to the photocopiers just to see her,' kind of way and the 'I'll stare at your apartment from my apartment opposite and collect the scraps you throw away' more creepy elements. It's neurosis magnified and Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine sense that his excruciating life is ripe for laughs. Moments of awkwardness, inaction and Simon allowing people to walk over him, gives sympathy and temper to the more outlandish elements of this closeted little world. However, it's in the (revealing) turns that lead to the appearance of James Simon (Eisenberg) that steer this into the incomprehensible.
There are some films that will have you leaning into uncertainty and confusion. To this day (after multiple viewings) I am not completely convinced that I know what Upstream Color is about; but there's intoxication to the uncertainty that filmmaker Shane Carruth conjures that feels like slipping into a warm bath - you are comforted by the uncertainty. The only warm bath you’d be taking thanks to The Double, would be one that accompanied razor blades.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Richard Ayoade Written by: Richard Ayoade and Avi Korine based on the novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Noah Taylor, Chris O'Dowd, Sally Hawkins, Wallace Shawn, James Fox