SFIFF57 Report: Richard Ayoade’s “The Double”

TheDouble_01five-starsIf ever there was a calling card announcing to the world that a new highly skilled and proficient in the ways of cinematic magicianship has arrived, this is it. Richard Ayoade‘s The Double is that rare shining example of what a perfect film looks like. Period.

Now, before I oversell the film with more enthusiastic hyperbole, hence deter you from altogether seeing this, let me get into some of the nuts and bolts of why this film is as extraordinary as I say it is. Fear not, my spoiler conscience friends, what follows is spoiler free.

So as not to waste too much time on the actual plot, I thought it best to just cut and paste the description on IMDB. “A clerk in a government agency finds his unenviable life takes a turn for the horrific with the arrival of a new co-worker who is both his exact physical double and his opposite – confident, charismatic and seductive with women.

Now that that’s out of the way, I feel there’s something else I need to address. Yes, this is an adapted script from a Fyodor Dostoevsky story, and no, I have not read the novella, so if you want to know whether or not I think it’s as good as the book, you’re asking the wrong guy. Besides, I’m of the camp that the medium of film is better to be seen as a standalone entity and completely separate of whatever literary source material it has derived from. But that’s neither here nor there.

ffffIn my opening paragraph of this post I used the word, “magicianship” as a way of referring to Ayoade’s execution. I use this word, not for the purpose of accentuating any high fluent flattery, but rather to try to convey the type of special filmmaking I was witnessing. Ayoade is, like any good masterful magician, performing a kind of magic so hard to pull off, that when attempted by the lesser skilled will no doubt end disastrously, i.e., the audience will see him/her as a cheat. Ayoade is no cheat though. Here he has managed to create something 100% original while at the same time proudly wear the elements from cinema’s past on his sleeve. I’m referring to elements that would cause even the most casual of movie-goers to say, “Hey, I’ve seen that before.” But, like the first time one saw Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction, or Wes Anderson‘s Rushmore, even though there are elements of cinemas past being shown, trust me, it still plays like something new.

Now, one can argue that both Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson are ahead of the pack when it comes to performing their illusions. They’re not copy-catting, yet at the same time they are copying others’ work in order to create something entirely their own. They have been doing this magic trick of theirs successfully for decades now, and like both of them, Ayoade, with his tale of dopplegangers run amok, has now made his own one-of-a-kind copy, if you believe in terms such as “one-of-a-kind copies” that is.

This film offers a blend of anime pop music. It has set designs like that of Michael Anderson‘s 1984, Terry Gilliam‘s Brazil, and Alex ProyasDark City. It gives us camera zooms, angles, and even scenarios reminiscent of Roman Polanski‘s The Tenant. Heck, it even has the deadpan comedic sensibilities found in Jim Jarmusch‘s Dead Man. I’m sure I’ll catch even more references upon repeat viewings, of which I’m sure there will be many. But, not to beat a dead horse, I must reiterate that even with all these sleeve-wearing references the film is still 100% original. the effective stronghold and staying power of The Double‘s narrative language is now engrained within the annals of my filmwatching memories, and not hopefully isn’t going to leave anytime soon.

Oh, and as for the performances, the chemistry between all three leads, as well as the rest of the cast, were good enough to keep a stupid Kool-aid grin on my face throughout, even during the darker portions of the film.
Give Eisenberg his Oscar right now!
Wasikowska continues to do no wrong. Girl is on fire!
And as for Wallace “Princess Bride” Shawn… Well, have you ever known the man not to be on his mark?


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Categories: Reviews, San Francisco International Film Festival

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