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Seeing double in Hockey's dystopia

  • 15 May 2014

The Double (M). Director: Richard Ayoade. Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska. 93 minutes

Satirical dystopian fantasies don't get much bleaker. Richard Ayoade's The Double, freely adapted from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novella of the same name, sees a man come face to face with another who is physically identical, but personally his opposite. The film interrogates notions of meaning and identity against the backdrop of a degraded, urban near-future that is frighteningly familiar. Its conclusions are not pretty.

It bears more than a little comparison to Terry Gilliam's 1985 masterpiece Brazil. Ayoade, like Gilliam, has a background in television comedy (Gilliam was an original Python and Ayoade cut his teeth on the likes of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and The Mighty Boosh). This pedigree sees both filmmakers marry a sublime sense of the absurd to their darker preoccupations.

Brazil posited a post-Orwellian nightmare in which bureaucracy, rather than autocracy, was the source of brutal oppression suffered by its hero, office drone Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce). The Double takes place against a similarly dehumanising white-collar backdrop, that seems more industrial than corporate; coldly monochromatic, and rackety with the click and wheeze of ubiquitous technology.

Here, humans, too, often seem like machines. At one point Ayoade's protagonist Simon (Eisenberg) is obstructed from exiting a train by the synchronised actions of two luggage handlers. In general the characters that populate this dystopian world seem sedated by the depressing and dependable fug of routine. This is especially true of Simon himself, whom this existence has all but drained of personal agency.

Simon is a consumer of cheesy television, and a voyeur of the woman of his fancy, beguiling co-worker Hannah (Wasikowska), who lives in an apartment opposite his own; in short, an observer, not a participant in life. He is not alone in this bleak existence: while watching Hannah through his telescope, he witnesses a suicide, and soon learns that the city is in fact in the grip of a suicide epidemic. Someone quips that Simon's time, too, will come.

In Brazil, Sam is taunted by dreams of himself as a mythical warrior in flight, and in combat against hideous but vincible monsters. These dreams of a more heroic and liberated version of himself are the only escape available to him from the oppression that surrounds him.

In The Double, Simon's vision of a more empowered version of himself takes tangible form. Simon is disquieted by the sudden appearance of his cocky doppelganger, whose confidence bordering on ruthlessness