Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

Feb 10, 2015

The Double (2013)

by Will Ross

In many ways The Double feels like a more logical continuation of Richard Ayoade’s TV cult classic Darkplace than his freshman feature Submarine. Like Darkplace, his new film locates itself in a world of 80s tropes, and whose story is told more through its formal mechanics than the ostensive plot. Like Darkplace, it is a farce, where people are unable to understand or overcome the mechanisms of their world, fail, and fall.

Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) seems to have been born without a spine. His fear of antagonizing others by interruption or assertion makes him anonymous, especially in a workplace where expedient charisma is valued above else (“Do you even know what we do here?” he asks, and we realize that we don’t). This means that when Simon loses his work identification and signs in as a guest under “Simon Ames”, his only proof of existence at his workplace is lost. Soon, his doppelgänger (also Simon, but casually called “James”) is hired, and no one except the two of them seem to realize that they look and sound identical.

James takes square aim at everything that Simon wants, including the eye of the company’s mysterious figurehead The Colonel, and the object of his desire (and stalking), Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). The plot details are familiar — this is, after all, based on the Dostoyevsky novel of the same name — but it functions first and foremost as a formal whirlwind, one that quickly calls to mind Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, but takes on a life all its own. The film hardens its edges at every level of its craft, most obviously in the lighting: there is not a single soft or natural-looking light in the film; instead, lights throw sharp lines and vivid colours along actors’ faces with little logical connection to their environment.

Granted, for all their dilapidation, those environments hardly feel lived in; they’re more like a dream’s interpretation of aging 80s prefab than any actual attempt towards period set design. Machine functions seem to be built less towards the aim of functioning and more towards existing, and so poor Simon constantly finds himself on the losing end, soon watching James take the credit for his work, his ideas, and even his feelings.

Nonetheless, as Simon slowly realizes his plight and tries, too late and too feebly, to save his existence, every single thing he does is rendered a part of his world’s machinations, both by the incredible pitter patter of the script’s dialogue (any actual full-sentence by Simon is invariably talked over or taken with offense) and the editing, which cuts before and after any given movement or action, but not during, giving each and every movement a stilted, calculating feel. The soundtrack, too, is an absolute marvel, and blasts machinery over most everything (think of the buzzing and blasting of machines in a Jacques Tati film) and features musical score alternately comprised of crunchy, atonal electronics and sharp, doom-laden strings.

All of this praise for its mechanics, and I haven’t gotten to what they mean: The Double, as dark and deeply sad as it is, is fucking hilarious. Despite the integral use of sound in the film, Ayoade is channeling no form of comedy more than silents, where directors like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin would build up a complex systems of logic that torments the hero until he learns to use that same system to triumph. In the end, Simon grasps the system perfectly well — but triumph might be bound up in self-annihilation.


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