Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Review of The Double (2014)

Eraserhead and Three Colours Blue are not two films I would tend to link, yet somehow director Richard Ayoade, in a Dr Frankenstein-esque move, manages it in his follow up to his debut Submarine, The Double. It’s an odd, perversely beautiful experience, and it shows Ayoade to be a director with not just a vision, but a talent in bringing that vision to us in a full-bodied, uncompromised way.

We begin with the first of many sequences set on a dark, dingy underground; our hero, Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), is sat alone in an empty carriage. A faceless man walks up to him- “you’re in my seat”. Simon looks confused. The man reiterates. Simon looks around the carriage, and it is empty. But Simon is not a man who asks questions, and soon he moves out of the way.

Pay close attention to how this scene is shot, because it provides clues which underline the rest of the film. Note how Ayoade makes it look as though there is no light on the outside of the train, and what little light there is in the train is dim, and casts long shadows; this lighting pervades the rest of the film, and even in the very few moments where the setting is outside, Ayoade shoots it in such a way (heavy on the fog and the black hues) where we still feel as though as we are inside. This is an obvious tactic, but Ayoade uses it so unrelentingly and so constantly that it works perfectly; the whole film contains a sense of unrelenting dread, and a palpable, nightmarish quality.

For a story about a man whose doppelganger appears from nowhere, is better than him at everything, and makes his life hell, this approach is fitting.  We need to feel uncomfortable to be involved in the story, and Ayoade is very good at doing this. I have mentioned the lighting, and his use of down lighting which means that eyes are often in shadows, but Ayoade also uses spare, industrial sets which are pokey, damp, and dingy. His colour scheme is dark, with the exception of blue in a number of sequences, and whilst the way in which it is used is obviously part-homage to Three Colours Blue, such as the use of that light fitting, it also becomes a valid motif for freedom and hope on its own terms. Finally, Ayoade uses beautiful camerawork which underlines completely what the film is about; using an array of techniques, such as the whip-pan and the tracking shot, as well as a very neat use of symmetry. It’s a beautifully made film, and the beauty informs the dark heart lying at the centre.

And dark, as you have probably gathered by now, is the word. The plot is a terrifying one at its centre, and Eisenberg’s brilliant, twitchy, neurotic performance (as well as his brash, bold and wordy one when he’s the double) is marvellously appropriate. Ayoade sparingly uses his reliable supporting cast, but the standout is definitely Mia Wasikowska as Hannah, Simon’s love interest.  She’s a very talented actress, and in Ayoade’s blank, impersonal world, she comes across as the only character who is really, truly alive. Everyone else is confined (the use of Simon’s apartment is where the parallels with Eraserhead come in), but she is the only one who feels really trapped. Even Simon, for all his earnest puppy-dog yearning, accepts his fate.

Finally, the whole thing is undercut with a sly, black humour which could derail the film, but simply exacerbates the moments where Ayoade delivers the chills. This is ultimately a fascinating film and a superb visual exercise that marks Ayoade out as an auteur of great talent. I highly anticipate his next work.

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