Ben Sayer, student ambassador at City Screen in York, attended last week’s live satellite Q&A with Richard Ayoade and gives us his thoughts on THE DOUBLE
Richard Ayoade, as his Q&A for Picturehouse Cinemas showed, is the humblest person working in film: he doesn’t cast himself in his projects, and is always willing to shift praise onto others. THE DOUBLE, however, shows that he is a force to be reckoned with, a director who can create worlds and challenge his audience intellectually and emotionally.
Based on Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name, THE DOUBLE follows the life of the woebegone Simon. No one loves him, and no one even notices or cares when his doppelgänger turns up and starts wreaking havoc with his life. James takes the credit for Simon’s work, makes the women of Simon’s dreams fall in love with him, and generally causes a malevolent nuisance: it is a very funny yet terribly sad situation. Simon is a man so unremarkable that his physical appearance is completely lost in a world of beige decor and shadowy rooms, and no matter how loud, he shouts there is always a machine or some other inanimate object that is louder than him. Such loneliness is a universal fear, one the audience can fully empathise with.
The performances are exquisite. Jesse Eisenberg – who seems increasingly like an heir to Cary Grant – excels in the two lead roles, effortlessly offering subtle variations. The same goes for Mia Wasikowska, who brilliantly captures her character’s hopelessness, which only Simon understands.
The sound and look of the film (shot brilliantly by Erik Wilson) are a big part of what makes it such a success: it is simultaneously intensely oppressive and wickedly funny. The endless corridors and faulty lifts are out to get our hero, and while we desperately want him to break free, we are also, as Ayoade constantly reminds us, strangely and sadistically happy to see him suffer for our amusement.
As in Gilliam’s 12 MONKEYS, however, we are never alienated by the director’s dystopian vision, and as the film reaches its climax we are left only with the human repercussions of loneliness and stolen identity.
After only one viewing it is hard to tell if this movie will rank among the all-time greats. But THE DOUBLE is a commanding and wonderful film, and surely cements Ayoade’s reputation as an exciting director.