Film Review: The Double
Go and see this film.
Okay, so that’s not the most helpful review, but as I sat down to write this it was all I wanted to say. This film is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful and well made films that I have ever seen. I saw it in the company of my good friend Mr Ed Spence (go check out his things. He’s far too talented to be allowed), and we have seen a few films together of late. Usually we meet up, make idle chit chat, see the film and then make very ambiguous and pretentious statements about what we didn’t like about the film – plot, characters, acting, cinematography – nothing is safe from our rapier-like wit and burning critical analysis. That’s what usually happens.
After The Double, we both sat in stunned silence for what felt like an age, but was actually only around thirty seconds, and though we weren’t silent after that, we could find nothing wrong with this film. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. It’s that good.
The Double is an adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name (Russian: Dvoynik) by British director Richard Ayoade, perhaps best known for his appearance as Moss on Graham Linehan’s The IT Crowd, but better suited in remembrance for his first film Submarine (itself an adaptation of the novel by Joe Dunthorne), which was released in 2010 to (undeservedly muted) critical acclaim.
The basic plot, for those who don’t know, is that Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), unnoticed, unloved, and under-appreciated, meets a new employee called James Simon, who is his exact double in looks and his polar opposite in temperament. Simon is shy, retiring, and obsessively in love with the girl from the photocopier room, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), whereas James is confident, extroverted, sometimes aggressive and desired by all women he meets. At the first, the two doubles are friends, using their likenesses and differences to one another’s advantages, but things begin to unravel when Simon believes that James is taking over his life and getting all the things he wants and deserves. I won’t go too far into the plot – if you’ve read the novella then you’ll know more or less where it’s headed, though the ending is different – but go and see it and you won’t regret it.
I hardly know where to begin in describing why I liked The Double so much, but I think that a lot of it comes from how well shot it is. There are some tremendous uses of light and the word hovering somewhat pretentiously at the back of my consciousness during the film was “chiaroscuro”. There are great uses of dark and light in this film, almost to the point that the whole thing looks like it came straight from a painter’s brush. The whole thing is visually impressive, but the stand out moments are at the climax of the film, a repeat – almost – of an earlier shot, but with some elements added to make it perfect, a beautiful and yet powerful moment where Simon punches James and there is a visceral spray of red on smoke mist centred around Simon’s fist, and Hannah’s first reveal also stood out for me. There are interesting uses of reflection in the first half of the film and playing about with our expectations of how films look…
..and sound. The use of sound is asynchronous to the visuals. Often the sounds of audio representations of Simon or James’ feelings and the whole of the soundscape is take from one person’s perspective. Noises aren’t necessarily timed with the thing that is happening on screen, all of which adds to the sense of weighty oppression. Stand out scenes for the sound are when Simon and James are walking along together – its their footsteps you should listen out for here, and a wonderful shared moment between Simon and Mia as we cross fade between each of them and the sounds associated with each one.
The soundtrack is excellent and there are no words to describe just how well it goes with the film. The score is by Andrew Hewitt, who also provided the score for Submarine. The score is so well woven into the fabric of the film that it’s almost impossible to spot where it ends and the film begins. What I mean by that rather wanky phrasing is that the score plays with and alongside the narrative, telling the story of its own accord. You can’t help but be as moved by it as by the characters.
It is a moving film. Ostensibly billed as a comedy, there are some hilarious moments, but as Ayoade admits in the Q&A that followed there are no reaction shots for the jokes. The audience is left to find the humour or otherwise themselves. It is very funny, hilarious at points, but there are also moments that leave you at the brink of tears, forcing them back only so that you don’t miss the second of screen time that wiping them away would require.
The acting is wonderful. Jesse Eisenberg turns out two stunning performances as Simon and James, his characterisation the strongest part of his performance, but his vocal work to separate the two characters equally excellent. Mia Wasikowska is amazing, conveying the self-assuredness and intense loneliness of her character effortlessly. Shout outs also to Yasmin Paige – but then I’ve adored her ever since I saw her in Pramface, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith – a small role, but wonderful nonetheless, and Wallace Shawn – I only felt the urge to say “Inconceivable!” at his first appearance, and was never bothered by that nerdy knee jerk again. There are also excellent cameo parts by Chris Morris (wonderful in almost everything), Paddy Considine (I defy you not to want to watch the sci-fi tv show he plays a part in) and Chris O’Dowd (same – he’s possibly perfect). I’ve said before that I don’t like to waffle on about who was good, because you could go see it and find out for yourself, but there isn’t a performance that lets the film down. Not one.
If it wasn’t obvious from the start of this review, I loved this film. It’s the best film I’ve seen for a long time, possibly ever. I wanted to watch it again as soon as it had finished. I love it all the more because Richard Ayoade is such a humble and inspiring person. The Q&A that followed, beamed live from Hackney Picturehouse and hosted by Jonathon Ross, reinforces Ayoade as frighteningly witty, but also capable of such great humility, waving aside praise as if embarrassed by it. He probably is. He joked, though I suspect he meant it, that anyone could be a director, that everyone else who is on the set has had years of training to become experts in their respective fields and the director is just someone having opinions. He also states that seven minutes of credits isn’t enough to encapsulate or reward the amount of effort these people put in and that much of the spotlight is pointed at the director instead. I’m glad I saw the film before the Q&A or I’d feel biased in being so effusive in my praise.
As it is, I don’t. This film deserves every bit of the praise I’ve given it, and doubtless others will too. So, yeah. Go and see this film.
There was also a promotional event where all the audience were given masks of Jesse Eisenberg to wear. They are terrifying, but here’s a picture of Ed and myself wearing them shortly before the film began.
My name is Legion, for we are many.