Born from a world of vibrant comedy, it made sense that Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut Submarine emerged in a wash of warm sepia. For his follow-up, however, The Double arrives to drain the colour, and crushes it into a dank, compressed office block.
Adopted from the novella by Russian writer Dostoyevsky, Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, the star of his own bureaucratic nightmare. Trapped in a dead-end job, Simon suffers from chronic invisibility, being ignored by everyone in his life, ranging from his colleagues, to Hannah, the girl he infatuates (portrayed by a lively Mia Wasikowska) When his own levels of obscurity reach such an extreme that he spawns a second version of himself in the shape of the enigmatic (and a bit of a dick, really) James Simon does the film, rather literally, take on a life of its own.
Once invited inside the industrial, dream-like world of The Double, do the sunny flecks of Submarine’s Wes Anderson-styled sentimentality feel like a distant memory. On this occasion, The Double’s cinematic sister is more in the style of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil – both films exchanging a satirical gaze on totalitarian regimes. However, as much as the film could be seen as a patchwork quilt of influences, Ayoade’s dark tone and bone-dry humour seep into every shot, with many old friends (an overtly chirpy Chris O’ Dowd and an unforgiving Chris Morris) helping raise a clan of cartoon characters amongst the shadows.
With the dark tone perfectly orchestrated, the film is not without its problems; Ayoade’s love of surrealism means The Double also contains the narrative consistency of a dream; as such, our final act watches the plot descend down a nonsensical sinkhole.
But where the film lacks in story, it thrives in Ayoade’s study of character, with Eisenberg perfectly poised to play both the introvert and the extrovert; perhaps the movie’s core theme. Unlike the cinema nice guys of the past, Simon perfectly captures the reality of what it really is to be the pushover character. Under the rule of any other director, Wasikowska’s Hannah would most likely be wrapped in Simon’s arms without rhyme or reason by the third act. But we are not here to root for the nice guy, we’re here to watch him sink; it is just a pity that the plot does too.
With Submarine, Richard Ayoade directed a film with the feel of an old seaside postcard, but with the release of The Double, the holiday is well and truly over. Funny how a film so dark can make Richard Ayoade’s future so very bright.
The Double is in UK cinemas from April 4