Monday, September 16, 2013

TIFF 2013: The Double (Very Weird, but Compelling)

The Double, based loosely on Fyodor Dostoevsky's novella of the same name, stars Jesse Eisenberg as Simon James, a spineless man barely existing in a dreary, dreary distopia. The world around him is almost without colour,  the main exception being the object of his inexpressible affection, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who stands out from the rest of the environment as if she was painted in. The scenery reminds one of Brazil, with its over-sized machinery (form interfering with function at every opportunity) imposing on every space, but in a darker, less wacky manner. And nothing seems to work right for Simon, from the elevator doors to his security badge where he works, to the security guard who doesn't ever recognize him, even though he has worked at the same place for seven years.

An early scene shows Simon on the subway, where an approaching stranger tells him "You're in my place", despite every other seat in the car being empty. And it's the dreariest subway car you ever saw. Soon Simon's doppleganger, James Simon (Eisenberg again) shows up at work as a new hire. He is everything that Simon is not: confident, comfortable with women (and noticed by them), and able to get everything he wants, by asking for it. Initially the two get along and help each other, until it becomes clear that Simon is doing all the helping, and James taking away all that he has (which isn't much).

Along the way, Simon does manage to talk to Hannah, who works in the copy room, where she bends the rules for him by making just one copy for him. Or is one copy too many?

Director Richard Ayoade keeps us off balance not only with the dullness of the sets, but also with an extraordinary use of sound: mostly jarring sounds that aren't quite right. The world is designed so that no-one can every be comfortable in it. It's a very strange film, and while I don't agree with its characterization as a comedy, there is plenty of humour in Simon's plight. I wanted to smack him in the face and tell him to stand up for himself.

Overall, the Brazil-meets-Eraserhead approach worked for me. Not a cheery film by any measure, but one that drew me in and held onto me.

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