British actor turned director Richard Ayoade follows up his sublime debut Submarine with the altogether different – but equally as excellent – The Double. His adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1846 novella, co-written with Avi Korine, swaps the bleak suburbs of Swansea for the anonymous streets of small town USA and, while protagonist Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) may suffer from the same lack of confidence as Submarine’s Oliver (Craig Roberts, who appears here in cameo), this literal identity crisis is less coming of age social comedy and more dystopian neo-noir.
A desperately unassuming man, Simon lives a bland existence split between his depressing studio apartment and his gloomy workplace, which is almost entirely populated by elderly co-workers. The only breath of fresh air is Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), whom Simon is content to admire from afar. Everything changes, however, with the arrival of new co-worker James (also Eisenberg); while he may be Simon’s physical doppelgänger, his confident and outgoing personality is entirely the opposite. As James starts to take over Simon’s life, Simon feels increasingly powerless in his own skin.
Part psychological thriller, part science fiction, the power of The Double comes not just from its performances – Eisenberg demonstrates two entirely different personalities in his dual roles, while Wasikowska is endearing as the feisty love interest – but also its stark visuals. Borrowing greatly from the likes of Gilliam’s Brazil, Orwell’s 1984 and even Lang’s Metropolis, this is a beige and indifferent world, where distinctiveness is frowned upon and optimism forever crushed. The Hitchcockian influence is also in abundance; cinematographer Erik Wilson playing with shadows and light to ramp up the tension of Simon’s situation, his frustration growing increasingly palpable as no-one realises just what James is doing.
Effectively updating an idea that’s over 150 years old, The Double both honours Dostoevsky’ original vision and brings it bang up to date for a modern audience. We are all guilty of projecting an ideal version of our personalities on social media, and following trends like sheep; are we not, in essence, losing touch with our real selves? The Double may take that idea to an extreme but, as a clarion call for the celebration of individuality, it’s both stylish and memorable.
UK Release Date: April 4, 2014