Friday, May 9, 2014

Brazil 2014: Richard Ayoade’s The Double Is Derivative, But Cool!

The Good: Well-acted, Well-directed, Great mood, Effects
The Bad: Plot/progression is entirely familiar
The Basics: Clearly influenced by Brazil as much as by the Dostoevsky novel upon which it is based, The Double is an engaging, creepy drama film worth seeing on the big screen.

The common adage in modern art is that every story has already been told; now we read new works and watch new movies to see how the already-said/already revealed truths and stories can be retold. There is artistry in the fine retelling of familiar works. This year in cinema, the truth that every story may already have been told but that there is artistry and merit in how the works may be retold or reworked through the film The Double. While The Double is based upon a novel by Dostoevsky (which, in truth, I have not read), it owes a huge debt to Brazil (reviewed here!) for its plot, style, and character arc.

Brazil is my favorite film of all time (though it is tied with another Terry Gilliam film now at the top of my lists), so when co-writer and director Richard Ayoade inserted many familiar elements in terms of plot development and character arcs into The Double, they were instantly recognizable to me. The Double is not the first Brazil-esque film to grace theaters in recent years, but it is the smartest and best-made. Unlike Sucker Punch (reviewed here!), which was a stylish, but stupid reimagining of the rebellious death dream that is Brazil, The Double is much more subtle, moody, and masterfully-reinterpreted version of the struggle of an individual to claim their identity. In fact, The Double is so good at what it does that my wife, who is not a fan of surreal movies, gave up on the film even before the appearance of the title character. While my wife loves complex literature and surreal visual art, it seems she has less patience for surreal film that actually makes a lot of sense. The Double is a thinking person’s film with the rational explanations for events one might appreciate as a fan of Brazil blended with the unsettling surrealism of a David Lynch film like Mulholland Drive (reviewed here!).

Simon James is a low-level functionary working for a mysterious company in a basement office in an undefined place and time (there are photocopiers, 1980s-style video games, and dial telephones and exposed ductwork). Simon has been working there for seven years and wants very much to wow his boss with a proposal, but Mr. Papadopoulos will not give him the time of day. Simon lives opposite Hannah, who also works at the same place as Simon (they are, by far, the two youngest workers at the oppressive company), but he is unable to get up the nerve to even talk to her. Instead, Simon collects Hannah’s discarded artwork and watches her through his telescope. The two are brought together briefly when a neighbor living above Hannah’s apartment leaps to his death.

Simon is alarmed when James, his exact physical duplicate, takes a job at the company, immediately earning the praise of Mr. Papadopoulos and the attention of his coworkers (and easy recognition by the same security officers who keep questioning Simon’s place in the building and revoking his credentials). When Simon and James meet one another directly, James offers to help Simon woo Hannah. When the attempt goes south, James replaces Simon and soon in addition to having success with Hannah (and the boss’s daughter, Melanie), James takes Simon’s report and leaps up the corporate ladder. But seeing his duplicate’s success makes Simon infuriated and he takes steps to take what should have been his all along.

The Double is a Jesse Eisenberg vehicle and while it might not have the press push behind it that Rio 2 did, it is the superior Jesse Eisenberg movie to watch this summer. The Double is substantive and deep; it is a layered film that requires a level of contemplation after the movie is over. Eisenberg plays longing exceptionally well as Simon pines after Mia Wasikowska’s Hannah and he does the unsettled thing nicely when Hannah has a monologue about how creepy the man who killed himself was. The thing is, Eisenberg manages to play the nervous, unconfident version of Simon without his trademark geeky loserishness that has made him famous. At the flip side, Eisenberg makes James confident and smart without the arrogance that defines so many of his characters, like his version of Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network (reviewed here!).

Mia Wasikowska is given little to do as Hannah, save act as the object of Simon and James’s affection, but she manages to be articulate and interesting in the role (limited as it is). The cast is fleshed out with Wallace Shawn (who plays a part virtually identical to that of Mr. Kurtzman, Ian Holm’s role in Brazil) and Shawn gets some great lines.

The look and feel of The Double is surreal, but in a familiar way to those of us who are fans of Terry Gilliam’s works. Even so, Richard Ayoade makes a film that is surreal like a dream which leaves the viewer with much to contemplate, but little to write about without spoiling or interpreting the film for potential viewers. The Double is smart, well-performed, and has characters that are interesting enough to watch, even if much of what they do in the movie has been done before.

For other works with Mia Wasikowska, please check out my reviews of:
Only Lovers Left Alive
Alice In Wonderland
The Kids Are All Right


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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