TIFF 2013: Richard Ayoade's 'The Double' is a Fun Dostoevsky Mindtrip
by Alex Billington
September 8, 2013
What happens when you mix Fyodor Dostoevsky with the mad genius mind of comedian and filmmaker Richard Ayoade, co-writer Avi Korine, and the suave of Jesse Eisenberg? We get The Double, this funky mindfuck, Terry Gilliam-esque, trippy, fun, dark comedy that may not have all the pieces there, but is certainly unique. I'm a very big fan of Ayoade's feature directorial debut Submarine (watch it on Netflix), and happily dived headfirst into his second feature, The Double, based on an 1846 Dostoevsky novella with a dystopian plot involving a worker whose entire life is thrown into disarray when his doppleganger shows up.
The Double stars Jesse Eisenberg as a timid man named Simon who is "scratching out an isolated existence in an indifferent world." Set in an odd sort of dystopian future (that instantly reminded me of the dark funkiness of Terry Gilliam's Brazil but not in any bad way), his attempt at impressing his boss (played by Wallace Shawn) and making a connection with his beautiful co-worker (played by Mia Wasikowska) is thwarted when they hire another new employee. It just so happens that this employee looks exactly like him (also played by Eisenberg) but is better than him in every way, more outgoing, stealing his work and passing it off as his own, and going for the girl like it's easy. While that seems like a simple story, it's anything but.
This is one of those weird, philosophical, trippy kind of films that will be discussed, debated and analyzed endlessly. It requires repeat viewings in order to look back at what occured in the first half and determine what all of that means in the bigger picture, once we learn where it all ends up in the second half. My own interpretation of The Double is that it's about identity, and the idea that you lose everything about yourself when there's someone who is just like you but better than you in every way. So what happens to you when someone like that enters your life? That's the question that the film tries to address. Unfortunately things get a bit muddled around the second half, and it lacks any coherent conclusion, but maybe that is the point.
As expected, Richard Ayoade's filmmaking is what makes this such a stand out film. His use of music and a moody score is perfect, his production design is awesome to see even though it is a bit reminiscent of Terry Gilliam or Jean-Pierre Jeunet. He has some fantastic shots in the film and he keeps a brisk pace, letting the storytelling be driven by the moments of awkwardness rather than exposition. Ayoade's humor elevates the film the most, adding subtle bits of levity that actually make this more of a comedy than a tragedy. Without it, this film wouldn't be as endearing as it is, despite a wacky plot and messy story distilled from Dostoevsky.
The good news is that The Double will be an instant cult classic because of how unique it is and because it explores such heady metaphysical ideas. I still remain a very big fan of Ayoade's filmmaking and his ability to inject some fun quirks into the otherwise heavy story. Even though this is completely different from Submarine in every way, it's still a bold and entertaining film that deserves acclaim for being as interesting, thought-provoking and wacky as anything by Gilliam or Jeunet. If Dostoevsky is your jam, don't miss this.
Alex's TIFF 2013 Rating: 8 out of 10
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