Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, James Fox, Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Cathy Moriarty
Director Wes Anderson released his break- out hit Rushmore in 1998, a bright and breezy coming of age story that announced Anderson’s talent and propelled him into cinema legend. Three years later he followed on with The Royal Tenenbaums which continued his auteur style but covered darker subjects such as incest, suicide and broken family ties. Similarly British- director Richard Ayoade (of IT Crowd fame, which we shall not mention again) released his break- out hit Submarine in 2011 which was, like Rushmore, an at times uplifting story of a young man finding his way in the world. Ayoade’s follow up The Double follows the Anderson trend and rather than shooting for optimism attempts to paint a picture on a much darker canvas.
Since Tenenbaums Anderson has been producing movies on a regular basis with a strong repertoire of films; The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom and most recently The Grand Budapest Hotel which have all been monumental successes. It is strange then that only now has another film- maker begun to emulate and adapt the style and form of such a famed director. Richard Ayoade uses Andersonian traits like camera- work, dialogue, cinematography and dark humuour to great effect but he adds his own little twists and innovations along the way. These are enough to show that although the comparisons to his predecessor are there he is ploughing his own path into the cinematic ethos as well.
The Double is a dark and foreboding tale adapted from the Dostoevsky short story of the same name. Set in a near dystopian future we meet Simon (Eisenberg) a faceless office drone with zero confidence and a remarkable lack of charisma who whiles away his working life in a cubicle inputting statistical data into an out dated machine. He is in love with the girl in the photo copy department Hannah (Wasikowska) but can not even muster the words to speak to her, his Mother loathes him and his boss Mr. Papadopoulos (Shawn) can scarcely remember his name. This is all thrown into chaos with the arrival of James (Eisenberg) who is Simon’s exact physical double. However, this is where the comparison ends. James is a self assuming genius, womaniser and backstabber. His introduction into Simon’s life causes Simon to question the way in which he lives and how he interacts with those around him. And only when he is forced to challenge James do we see that the real conflict for Simon is within himself.
The film is an impressive follow up to the Joe Dunthorne adapted novel Submarine and really shows Ayoade finding his directorial legs. The comparisons to Anderson can stop here as we can see Ayoade using the latter’s approach but in new and interesting ways. Where Anderson tends to rely upon comedy and a whimsy Ayoade relies upon metaphor and surrealism to tell his stories. He is willing to go into even darker realms with his characters and his narratives. In Submarine the film’s protagonist Oliver (Craig Roberts) contemplates killing his girlfriend’s dog so that he can emotionally prepare her for when he decides to break up with her. Simon’s life in The Double is balanced perfectly on a knife edge and we aware of a constant state of dread throughout which envelopes the entire film. It is at times an uncomfortable viewing experience. We see the way in which James seduces and degrades all the women in Simon’s life and how this is the catalyst for Simon’s own personal revolution.
There are many more comparisons to be made here, at times Ayoade slips into the more surreal ideals of David Lynch and Terry Gilliam. You’ll notice shots of chickens flying into glass windows and exploding on impact as some bizarre mirroring of Simon’s mental state. You can also note the obvious allusion to George Orwell and 1984. Simon’s world is presided over by The Colonel (Fox) the film’s “big- brother”. Yet, it is never made clear what the characters in this world are working for or why society has degraded into a personal hell of zero- interaction and intolerance to individuality. Hannah draws sketches in her apartment each night and then proceeds to tear them up and throw them away in case anyone should discover she has an attainable soul. I found it to be a beautifully dark film that perfectly mirrors our own society’s issues with interaction as it is being torn down by social media and technological advancement.
Eisenberg in the lead role is serially impressive as both James and Simon. Not many actors get the chance to play opposite themselves on screen and Eisenberg takes his opportunity with both hands. Playing two identical characters and making them aesthetically different is a real task but you can instantly tell Simon/ James apart from a simple look or facial expression. Ayoade also employs a strong returning cast in Noah Taylor, Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige and Paddy Considine (another Andersonian trait) to great effect. Mia Wasikowska also shows another level to her acting talents as the dry and seemingly emotionless Hannah who is only coaxed out her shell by the devious James.
The film is also impressive for it’s lack of CGI and special effects, the only ones of note being the ones at play that allow two Jesse Eisenberg’s to be on screen at the same time. Ayoade constructs hand made sets that hold you in a continual feel of claustrophobia. Even long corridors are lit with large swathes of shadow so that characters meld in and out of the oppressive gloom. This being said it sometimes feels like you’re watching well funded theatre than cinema as such and breaks the fourth wall a little. You can see the rough edges and bits of cardboard set pieces that move slightly as someone paces by with their head in a report. Ayoade’s TV directorial work on Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place feels reanimated in this film. In fact Simon’s department could very well be the admin department in Dark Place hospital. Characters like Dean Lerner and Dr. Lucien Sanchez wouldn’t feel out of place here at all. My only fault would be that the film steps off the Chuck Palahniuk board and we can feel Tyler Durden reincarnated in James towards the films climactic ending.
Wes Anderson and Richard Ayoade do feel linked in a stylistic way these days. However, it may be unfair to suggest that Ayoade is riffing on the famous American director. It’s apt though to note that all directors have their idols and people who inspire them. Messers Kubrick, Spielberg and Allen have all spawned imitators who have gone on to become great masters of the art in their own right.Without Sergio Leone there would be no Quentin Tarantino, without Stanley Kubrick there would be no George Lucas and without Wes Anderson there would be no Richard Ayoade. It is not an insult to point towards your influences but it’s a hard task to improve upon them and be an individual in your own right. In this matter we can consider Richard Ayoade as independent, confident and a rising star in the world of cinema.