Review of Richard Ayoade’s The Double

Richard Ayoade’s The Double, a fable-like tale of a shy, socially-backwards man replaced by a confident double, is an uncomfortable yet mostly brilliant work. The impeccable cinematography, imaginative set design and jarring score all work in perfect harmony to unsettle, and Jesse Eisenberg puts in a great, exaggerated and unreal performance as both the shy Simon and the confident James. However, while ostensibly this is a dark comedy, the tone is overwhelmingly sour.

A certain amount of homage is paid to the likes of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and the Coens’ The Hudsucker Proxy: the world of The Double is an analogue dystopia of giant photocopiers and cathode-ray TV sets, an office life overwhelmed by overzealous low-level employees, stifling bureaucracy and petty point-scoring. Like these films, The Double is a pleasure to watch and absorb.

What The Double lacks, though, is a Sam Lowry, or a Norville Barnes: there’s nobody here to actually root for, no innocent, hopeless dreamer raging against the dark. I thought at first it would be Eisenberg’s Simon, but he’s actually kind of a dick.

The double, James, is an arsehole, it’s quickly shown; he’s confident and popular but he cheats, lies, seduces, and gets ahead in life without deserving any of it. He isn’t living Simon’s life better, as such: he’s actually dependent on Simon to carry him a lot of the way. But the original is as big an arsehole as the double: sure, Simon is shy and polite and well-scrubbed but he also spies on his colleague through a telescope at night, he roots through her rubbish, he convinces himself that he’s fallen in love with her without ever talking to her. He’s the typical, self-styled ‘nice guy’ who believes the world owes him a girlfriend; I could easily imagine him whining about being ‘friendzoned’. When he finally fights back against James, his solution is as neat and clever as the film itself, but it didn’t matter to me whether he succeeded or not. This gloomy world Ayoade has crafted is perfectly suited to both Simon and James.

It’s an excellent film, but it’s rotten at the core.