Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Film Review: The Double (2014)

The Double

The ‘dystopia’ plot as we know it today is a little over a century old.  From its origins in the books of Jack London and E.M. Forster, through to luminaries such as Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury, the narrative goes something like this: 
Many years into the future a society has evolved in which a government/corporation has ultimate control over an aspect of human life.  In this world, a man (usually) begins to question the validity of this control and slowly begins to rebel against it – normally due to the desire for a woman that he cannot obtain.  After learning the ‘truth’ about the nature of the control, the protagonist must sacrifice everything that he loves (including the woman) in order to break free of the tyranny.  The final act never ends well.

These stories use an idea of the future to teach us a crucial lesson about the present – the horrors of totalitarianism, eugenics or biblioclasm etc.  The second feature film from Richard Ayoade is a dystopian vision of banal bureaucracy and pandemic loneliness.

Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is an introvert stuck working at a nameless bureaucracy as a ‘regression analyst’.  He doesn’t have any friends; his colleagues systematically humiliate him by not recognising him; and even his mother tires of his visits to see her in her nursing home.  He lives alone in a cold tower block, spending most of his free time using a telescope to spy on his neighbour, a woman that he is in love with from work Hannah (Mia Wasikowska).  Every aspect of the company Simon works for is regulated and formalised, but he routinely breaks a single rule over printing his meaningless documents so that he can visit Hannah in the copying room and attempt to flirt with her.

One day a new recruit is hired that is Simon’s exact doppelganger and is called James Simon (also played by Eisenberg), only James is confident, seductive and everything Simon wants to be.  Everyone around him immediately prefers James to Simon and he begins to lose control of his structured and humble life to the new version of himself (!).

The narrative, based on a novella by Dostoevsky, combines different aspects of Fight Club, Rear Window and Mulholland Drive, whilst the production design borrows heavily from Brazil and possibly Videodrome.  Instead of the slick immersive technology you find in Spielberg’s future worlds, Adoaye puts his characters in an unsympathetically analogue world with wooden cubicles with typewriter-computers and imposing iron instead of utopian glass and plastic.

The corporation that Simon works in reflects some of the darker truths of corporate Britain.  Miserable elderly men shuffle around the office in cheap suits with no discernible importance, a vision of full employment but an unobtainable retirement age.  The newcomer James manages to charm his way to an executive role, without any real understanding of what the company does – a sobering reflection of cultural capital over ability.  The company also has an Orwellian leader called ‘The Colonel’ whose picture hangs on every wall whom Simon desperately wants to impress.

Although the film at times starts to drift, the central performances (and a great cameo from Chris Morris) keep everything together.  Eisenberg is great at playing both characters, and even channels the superb opening scene of The Social Network to great effect when frantically talking over Hannah in the diner.
I only wish that Hannah had more screen time, there are some great clues to the narrative provided by her (she works as a photocopier, she keeps a diary with pictures drawn in blood).

At one point I was admiring the colouring of the film, a dismal palette of browns and yellow, when suddenly the old mobile phone slogan ‘The future’s bright, the future’s Orange” got stuck in my head.  Let’s hope for all of our sakes that this isn’t true…

1 comment:

  1. Interesting film with brilliant central performance but it is just so soul achingly depressing.