An analysis and review of The Double and appreciation of Richard Ayoade’s movies

Watching Richard Ayoade’s Submarine in the prime of my adolescence sparked a transformative catalyst for me-- in many ways it helped start a love and appreciation for film early on. It was the first love story I’d watched in a long time where I actually felt with the characters on their individual emotional, disheartening journeys.

Submarine’s storytelling and cinematography drew me to Ayoade’s work as a fan of Wes Anderson, and while both directors are uniquely distinct, I think many adequate comparisons can be drawn, especially in placing emphasis on color as its own character and quick, blunt subtleties of humor.

So when I saw The Double on Netflix, I decided to watch right away-- admittedly, mostly because a Jesse Eisenberg was staring before me with piercing blue eyes in a dark and foreboding manner--and thought the premise to be intriguing what with doppelgangers and the dualities of nature. About ten minutes in, the film felt familiar after seeing characters from Submarine start to trickle into The Double as characters and short cameos (Craig Roberts and Sally Hawkins), causing me to wonder if this was directed by Mr. Richard, and alas! It was. Upon this discovery manifested high hopes that I would say this dark comedy mostly fulfilled. The Double was a thrilling, mind-boggling ride from beginning all the way to the twenty odd or so minutes after the actual ending-- it’s one of those films that makes it difficult not to want to mull around, contemplating about.

The storyline follows Simon James, as Netflix describes him, a timid and unassuming, “office drone.” Simon’s social anxiety is painfully severe enough to make the watcher cringe, but simultaneously feel empathy for such a character who is considered forgettable and pathetic by the co workers he sees everyday and his own mother. Simon has a crush on a girl at work whom he spies on from his apartment window more endearingly than creepily, called Hannah, who does not acknowledge his existence. A strange man by the name of James Simon appears inexplicably at his work one day who physically resembles Simon’s doppelganger. James is perhaps Simon of a parallel universe: he is charming, popular, bold, and fearless. He reaches out to Simon and offers some pointers on how to be more confident and attract the girl-- their interactions are initially cordial, like two just-discovered twin brothers switching places, amused by one another’s presence. However, the plot quickly darkens when evil James soon begins to take over Simon’s life and his girl just for the sociopathic, narcissistic hell of it.

James’s origins are not clearly conveyed in the film. For that reason, we do not know if he is a genetic twin, or really of another universe. One interesting theory when considering a Jekyll and Hyde complex is that maybe they are one person: James is Simon, Simon is James. James could perhaps very well be an extension of Simon, or a figment of his imagination. While he is shy and bland, he imagines a version of him that is everything he could and want to be, but is also afraid of his own self and the damage that could erupt if he were to appropriate James’s dangerous persona. If the film were to be psycho-analyzed, one might argue that Simon is bipolar or schizophrenic. But of course, also like the ending, that is left to our own interpretations. What is made clear in the film is that whatever James feels, Simon’s body reciprocates the same feeling in terms of physical pain.

It was truly maddening to watch Simon get screwed over repeatedly and have not one person on his side. Simon’s failed attempts to adequately articulate almost anything frustrated me on a fiery level. Perhaps it goes back to the constructed empathy factor, and desiring so badly that the protagonist fight back, let alone speak for himself. One specific scene in which James expresses to Simon his feelings, he says “I don't know how to be myself. It's like I'm permanently outside myself. Like, you could push your hands straight through me if you wanted to. And I can see the type of man I want to be versus the type of man I actually am and I know that I'm doing it but I'm incapable of what needs to be done. I'm like Pinocchio, a wooden boy. Not a real boy. And it kills me.”

The prevalent theme of loneliness is conveyed by not only Simon, but also Hannah. He believes that the two belong together: “I can tell she's a lonely person, even if other people can't. Cause I know what it feels like to be lost and lonely and invisible.” I think that for many Simon’s character is relatable and most of his fears resonate with us.

For a comedy, this film unveiled a rather fragrant emotional facet, kind of reminiscent once again with Submarine’s storytelling style.

Switching back and forth from character, Jesse Eisenberg effortlessly played Simon and James. His performance did not feel forced; he was able to showcase the contrast between the two characters by slightly altering his voice and mannerisms without overdoing it. A lot of the acting in the film was truly masterful: Mia Wasikowska playing Hannah as the brooding and blank manic pixie dream girl, Noah Taylor as the crude “friend.” It isn’t often that you get a film that doesn’t compromise acting for artful cinematography, or vice versa.

In both Ayoade films there really isn’t any obvious indication about the time and period. Is it dystopian? Is it of the past? In a way there is a sort of alluring charm about the mystery that allows it to focus on strengthening other aspects of the film-- one of which again here, is beautifully crafted cinematography. Thinking about creating signatures while creating film, another hint that The Double was Submarine’s sister is the entire vibe: a vibe created by dramatic color saturation, camera angles, and the 60s. But because I don’t know enough about cinematography, all I can shamefully say is that it was aesthetically pleasing, maintaining a very pretty color theme and brightness the whole way.

However, the lack of an obvious setting statement always inspires me use my imagination, and something about both films reminds me of the 1960s. Perhaps the 60s connotation is not as strong in Submarine. Many argue that the film more aptly takes place in a steam-punk era, but for me, Craig Robert’s physical appearance of hair and outfit choice was a giveaway for “guy influenced by the Beatles.”

While in The Double, similar costume choices also fuel the idea, but more specifically it was the music. The epic soundtrack consists of psychedelic 50s and 60s-esque Korean and Japanese songs which surprisingly fit the scene of which it is accompanying; Kyu-Sakamoto’s Sukiyaki and Kim Jung Mi’s The Sun quintessential 60s sounds and a couple best off the track. (I might also be biased because I love the 60s and I loved these films.)

The Double deserves a watch- there’s a lot to say regarding its complexity and all around great choices in style and plot. Analysis is hard to avoid with this one. And maybe when you’ve finished, take a look into Submarine as well. You might also soon become infatuated with Richard Ayoade’s underrated filmmaking.