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Review: The Double

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I haven’t really dabbled all that much in Russian literature but if Richard Ayoade’s moderately loose adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella ‘The Double’ is anything to go by, fill my Kindle with the stuff.

Jesse Eisenberg is James Simon, the all-too-familiar non-person at a leading company that does… something (cue Reynholm Industries flashbacks). He’s the everyman whose life could not be any more dreary and unfulfilling, and it really is depressing how much many of us can relate to the poor guy.

Just when we think things can’t get any more painful for Simon James, a Twilight Zone-y doppelgänger – aptly named James Simon – comes into his life. Physically similar but psychologically contrasting, James invades every aspect of Simon’s life, living it better than Simon ever could, from success at the workplace to activity in the bedroom. Needless to say, Simon slowly but surely begins to crack under his existentialist troubles.

Inadequacy and validation are two of the larger struggles in life and Eisenberg has always been exceptional at owning those nuances which make his various typecast characters the agonizingly inadequate and invalidated beings they are. Here, his ability to switch those subtleties so easily is what makes his Simon/James/James/Simon a magnificent screen ‘duo’. Playing off of himself and the Olive Oyle-fashioned colleague-next-door, Hannah (played by an enigmatic Mia Wasikoswska), Eisenberg’s performance is certainly worthy of the film’s masterful style and script.

Set in a world Ayoade has said is “the fifties’ idea of the future,” a “non-descript place that never existed,”The Double’s visual approach is seriously ingenious. The grimy and derelict world is very much a budget David Fincher, washed over with the surrealist hand of Terry Gilliam and then brought to life with the acutely charged humour and meticulous plotting of an Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg script, peppered with bits of Roman Polanski. It’s ambitious to say the least.

Sound plays a hugely important role in the film, too, with Andrew Hewitt (Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace,Submarine, some Pot Noodle adverts) creating one of the most bizarre-yet-affecting compositions around. To accompany the ever-changing tones, the score is soul crushing, mechanical, dramatic, cheesy and antiquated all at once and if you have any taste at all you will also add it to your Amazon pre-order list minutes after the credits roll.

Richard Ayoade proved that he could do more than just comedy with his stellar Submarine. Here, he makes that return to awkward dramatic comedy, this time bringing with him an ambitious imagination and tragic existentialist pretension without the pretension, and he somehow pulls it all off.

Crowds aren’t going to flock to The Double but I implore that you at least give it a chance. I know it’s got two Jesse Eisenbegs in it but for the sake of Moss and British film-makers just give it a whirl. It’s hard; it’s weird; it’s ruddy fantastic.

@sjbowron

The Double is in select UK cinemas now.

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