The duality of human nature has long been subject to film’s wandering eye. One has to look no further than the work of two of the perhaps the world’s most famous directors, Kubrick and Hitchcock, to see the fascination we have with our own dualism. Be it manifested through twins, doppelgangers or visual irony, we just can’t help ourselves from having a stab at our own hypocritical two-facedness.
Richard Ayoade’s latest edition to his infant (but nonetheless intriguing) filmography, The Double, proudly confronts our obsession head on, both through presenting outface our dualism in the two doppelgangers, Simon James and James Simon, and through burying metaphor and irony deep into the heart of every shot. To say the least, The Double is a self-contained field day for film analysts, its level of intricacy being so fine that repeated viewings are needed just to make sense of the motives behind its ending.
But it is wrong to assume that this is a pretentious film. Ayoade manages to keep it well away from the brink of hollowed pretentiousness by making the film meaty with black, sometimes even slapstick humour, and slick, futurism-inspired Brazil-cum-Lives of Others visuals complete with G-Plan furniture. The characters are all polished with a scary resemblance to either ourselves or those ‘stock people’ whom we all know, whilst the desolate city and physical and metaphorical angularity of the workplace bring a refreshingly dry twist to our often-mocked way of living.
Ayoade’s obstinately dark approach is welcomingly self-assured, his long takes drawing on enough emotion and humour that there is no need for them to be sweetened with a quick montage—as goes the usual editing cliché. Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as both Simon Jack and Jack Simon is so relaxed that the violent swings between one character to the other appear to come naturally to him. Simon Jack’s quivering, trying-to-please wreck is supplemented by Jack Simon’s brash, obnoxious self-titled “ladies’ man”. Eisenberg’s ‘famous’ perfectly honed awkward side glances and trademark mumblings make him the ideal Simon Jack, but it’s his turn as the explosive Jack Simon that proves the most humourous and captivating performance. Or maybe that’s just because I tend to prefer the bad guys.
And, despite this rarely being a touch point in my reviews, the soundtrack is phenomenal. It is a point of unity for all of the messages running behind The Double, the theme’s insidious piano playing upon human duplicity and its contrasting strings on our complaisance and falseness. I suppose another reason for my neglecting of a films’ soundtrack is that I find they usually recede into the background of the film. Yet here, if tension is not marked by a dramatically crescendoing piece, it is complimented by the ever-present and unnerving sound of a train and by monolithic machines bleep-blooping in the background. I also have a very odd obsession with the uniqueness of both Eisenberg’s and Wallace Shawn’s voices, which I suppose probably adds to my love of the film’s audio.
The film, in all its elements, is a dark masterpiece. Haunting, puzzling, humouring--whatever emotion it dwells upon it somehow literalises and fleshes out richly. It’s a film that lingers and ferments in your head, just waiting for you to re-watch it and come to a different conclusion about the characters, and yourself. Its darkness is just so divinely crafted and weighed by dry wit that it manages to escape categorisation and becomes a visually and aurally realised statement. After directing the simply brilliant comedy series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, before directing a spectacularly strong film debut with Submarine and directing this even stronger second film, Ayoade’s already individualistic and compelling style is confidently cementing its place as a powerhouse in modern cinema.