Starting the festival a day or two after everyone else (and missing the Opening Gala screening of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel) was always going to leave me feeling like I was playing catch-up, and so the pressure was even higher for my first film in Glasgow to impress me. Last year I started off with a highly anticipated film starring Mia Wasikowska that ultimately left me bored and slightly betrayed. Shame on you Stoker.
So it was that I took my seat in the lecture hall-style GFT1 for The Double, Richard Ayoade’s second feature starring Jessie Eisenberg and the aforementioned Wasikowska, as well as a host of alumni from Ayoade’s debut Submarine (a film that I shamefully still haven’t seen, but that I have bought with me to Glasgow for one of those mythical periods of ‘free time’).
The Double is loosely based on a novella written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but the immediately obvious influences are Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, as well as the dark humour and nightmare future envisioned in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The narrative also feels at times like the work of Czech absurdist playwright and former President Vaclav Havel, yet the film itself feels both personal and original.
Jessie Eisenberg stars initially as Simon James, a middle-ranking bureaucrat at an data entry organisation where despite seven years of hard work he is still not recognised by the security guard on the gate, or even by his boss. He dreams of one day meeting ‘The Colonel’ (James Fox), the company figurehead who claims in an TV commercial that “there are no special people, just people”, and he also has designs, bordering on a Rear Window-style obsession, on his co-worker Hannah (Wasikowska).
One day, Simon’s doppelganger appears at work, by the name of James Simon (obviously, also played by Eisenberg). James Simon is everything that Simon James is not; confident, carefree, and utterly irresistible to women. At first the two bond over a very funny night out drinking, and James Simon even offers advice on how Simon James can win Hannah round, including the excellent advice that when accompanying a date the man should “put your hand just above their ass. It shows that you’re interested, but that you can push them down the stairs at any time”.
Slowly the doppelganger starts to take over Simon’s life though, and paranoia quickly consumes his very existence. Even his work colleagues struggle to understand, with his colleague Harris only finally seeing the similarities after much prodding, commenting on their likeness that “you’re not even Chinese, that’s pretty fucked up”.
The plot very quickly starts spinning out of control, and if you’re not careful you’ll struggle to keep up as it reaches its denouement. That said, the performances and production design are so spot on that you’ll forgive a slightly muddled third act. The sound design is comparable to the excellent Berbarian Sound Studio, and the production design is a brilliant vision of steampunk bureaucracy that belies the director’s love of or obsession with the 1980s.
Ayoade fleshes out the cast with great performances in small roles, including the always brilliant Wallace Shawn as a company middle manager, Paddy Considine as a futuristic space cop in a James’ favourite television show, and the welcome return of Chris Morris to our screens as an unsympathetic personnel officer.
The Double is a film that not only cements its director’s status as a major challenge, but is also a brilliant and individual dystopian thriller in its own right.
The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.
We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.