It’s a great time to be a film buff, and it’s an even better time for those who love films with double roles. Earlier this year Denis Villeneuve made ‘Enemy’, which was a really messed up version of the scenario where a man discovers his duplicate out there. The film had spiders, bizarre imagery and a very dark tone both visually and story wise. Villeneuve wasn’t the only one to get there – Richard Ayoade, the comedian actor turned filmmaker made ‘The Double’ at the same time.
Ayoade shot to fame with the superb ‘Submarine’ a couple of years ago – the film was a dark comedy drama about a boy having to deal with his parents’ separation. The film had philosophical ramblings with a dash of social commentary, in ‘The Double’ he takes both those elements and takes it up a few notches further. Not only is this film a brilliant takedown of office space, the human condition and the choice of good vs evil, it’s an elegant rendering of existentialist angst in society. The film is an adaptation of the book of the same name by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and it takes the writer’s cynical outlook and embellishes it with his trademark dark humor. While ‘Enemy’ was a dead serious and often deadly film as a narrative, ‘The Double’ is a hilarious black comedy in the vein of Jean Pierre Jeunet’s earlier work.
The film stars Jesse Eisenberg in his best role as Simon James, an office employee without ambition, intellect or charm. Simon James has a torrid childhood and struggles to gain any respect from his boss or his crush (Mia Masikowska). Cleverly, the office itself is a non descript ambiguous ‘paper work’ sort of place made so that pretty much anyone who goes to work can relate to it by connecting the set with his own work place. Simon James’ house also is a very typical suburban one and all his problems are typical of a young professional with a dead end job. One day he sees someone jump off the balcony opposite to his, and much to his horror, a duplicate of his walks into office the next day. The difference, however, is that the duplicate is a confident, suave, charming ladies man who is also the apple of the boss’ eye. His name turns out to be James Simon, and his personality is a mirror of Simon James.
Once the duplicate is introduced Ayoade messes with the viewers’ expectations in a big way. Often times, we’re never sure whether the doppelganger actually exists or is a figment of the protagonist’s imagination. The film makes you flip between believing one and the other, and often even when the shot contains only Simon James the frames blur to show two of them. It’s maddening and great fun to say the least. But the film isn’t just about cheap thrills – in the second half ‘The Double’ actually goes pretty dark, and the finale will have you questioning the choice between being a nobody and being morally good, or being successful and having a few loose morals. The film does indeed make one particular choice, but still leaves it to the viewer to decide if that particular choice meant a happy ending or a devastating one.
Erik Wilson’s cinematography is quite stunning here – there are a ton of blue green hues to surround the black ones – the imagery really does take you inside the mind of Simon, and you tend to pause the film a lot of times just to admire the scene. Even simple shots have complicated framing to render just that extra layer of whether what is happening is real or not. Interestingly, both ‘Enemy’ and ‘The Double’ premiered at TIFF last year, it’s poetic justice to the theme of both the films. Safe to say, film buffs will be arguing over which is the better film over the years to come. One thing they’ll agree on, however, is that ‘The Double’ is superior on a filmmaking level because of its wonderful humor.
(First published in DNA)