Richard Ayoade is evolving as a filmmaker faster than any in recent memory. His role on ”The IT Crowd” (an acquired taste no matter how much of a hit it was) was his springboard into Hollywood for the forgettable ”The Watch”, but all the while he was crafting the Wes Anderson-esque coming of age love story Submarine, finding his feet and seeking out his cinematic language.
From there he’s made a quantum leap to ”The Double”. It’s a visually and tonally arresting movie set in a parallel universe proto-future of corporate bureaucracy gone mad, a sickly yellowed, rain-streaked, eternally night-lit world and archaic technology as a metaphor for the loss of human connection.
While the narrative reminds you a little of that semi-interesting Michael Cera movie ”Youth In Revolt”, ”The Double” moves, looks and feels every bit like a worthy successor to the film it most seems to emulate – Brazil.
Jesse Eisenberg is Simon James, a cog in the machine with absolutely no presence or force of personality. He’s in love with co-worker and neighbour Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) but when even the security guard where he’s worked for seven years doesn’t recognise him, he has little chance of making an impression on her.
Early on, Simon starts a process of de-evolving from existence itself that’s also reminiscent of Gilliam’s themes in ”Brazil”. Because he loses his pass to get past the security barrier at work, he has to sign in as a guest every time.
It starts a downward spiral of loss of privilege and authority that culminates in a hilariously depressing conversation with an official. He’s not in the system, Simon is told. When asked how he can get back into the system, he’s then told he can’t – because he’s not in the system.
But while this is going on, new co-worker James Simon joins the company, a virtual doppelganger in appearance to Simon who’s nothing like him in temperament (both roles are played by Eisenberg using digital effects).
James convinces Simon to take a course at work for him, seduces Hannah (along with every other woman around), makes everybody like him and gets everything he wants without having to go to any effort. In one of the film’s biggest nods to the establishment-gone-mad sci-fi traditions, Simon also seems to be the only character who cares or even notices how identical the two are.
But where he’s thrilled to have someone so dynamic in his life at first, Simon soon sees that James is taking over, realising he’s going to have to stop him before he breaks Hannah’s heart – or worse.
Eisenberg is perfect in the young Woody Allen role he can now do blindfolded – a man so terminally polite, wary of offending and apologising for his existence he blends into his drab, nicotine-fingers stained surroundings. What’s interesting is to see him play a guy who still looks like he’d fall over if you blew on him but exudes such an unassailable confidence and self-respect. Might we be seeing an introduction to what he’ll bring to the role of Lex Luthor in the ”Man Of Steel” sequel?
Wasikowska is less successful as Hannah. While she’s an inspiring romantic figure, her accent can’t decide if it’s American or her native Aussie and it breaks your suspension of disbelief every time she talks.
But the real star is Ayoade. With cinematographer Erik Wilson and production designer David Crank, he’s built a world with a style that’s both all its own and starkly familiar from a long, proud history of movies about rigid official procedure threatening to crush the individual.
Submarine was sweet and it was certainly a good movie, but we’ve seen the ‘kids falling in love and finding themselves in a distinctive time and place in history’ thing a million times. The story in ”The Double” is interesting but not revolutionary, but to have gone straight from that to something as distinctive as ”The Double” is a bit like Steven Spielberg going straight from ”Gaslight” to ”Raiders of the Lost Ark”. With a creative rise this steep, Ayoade’s equivalent of ”ET”, ”Jurassic Park” or ”Schindler’s List” might put him among the greats quicker than anyone imagines.