Pics by Dean Rogers
Scenes from Richard Ayoade’s new film, THE DOUBLE. Pics by Dean Rogers

The gorgeously visual opening scenes of Richard Ayoade’s THE DOUBLE shout cult movie, one complete with plentiful Orwellian and Kafkaesque references and a pained central character, Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg).

THE DOUBLE is set in a dystopian past where 1950s austerity Britain meets Gulag chic, and our hero’s offices are all chunky Bakelite and eerily green-glowing clunky office equipment, the interiors and work cubicles drenched in dirty greens and greys and browns. Outside, fog drifts between equally soulless apartment blocks. No wonder then that the police have a dedicated unit to investigate the many resultant suicides and which is the source of some much-needed humour, wry though it is.

Simon James is a person so inconsequential that he willingly gives up his seat in an empty train carriage to another, and has to surrender what few shreds of dignity he possesses to be allowed into THE workplace of his employer, a data-gathering company that does creative things with people’s personal information

The one highlight in Simon’s life is the mysterious and illuminating Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who he pines for from afar.

Simon is jolted into an unpleasant alternate reality when a new employee called James Simon joins the firm. James Simon looks just like Simon James and is everything that Simon is not: self-assured, smooth, popular at parties and able to bend everyone to his desires. Simon initially looks up to James and willingly helps him with his work; in return, James helps Simon (unsuccessfully) woo Hannah. But then the dark side of James reveals itself, leaving Simon increasingly isolated and ostracised as James relentlessly takes over his life.

The 93-minute film sags towards the end but perks up when the worm in Simon finally turns and he unleashes a violently cunning plan. Inspired by the 1846 Dostoyevsky novella of the same name in which a government clerk goes mad, THE DOUBLE deals with intriguing questions of identity and sanity and is an addictively visual feast.

Eisenberg is thoroughly believable as both Simon and James, relying purely upon his acting chops rather than changes of appearance to make it clear which character he is playing, while Wasikowska enchants as Hannah.

Film buffs will enjoy the way in which Ayoade, director of the well-regarded Submarine, scatters references to many films throughout THE DOUBLE, including David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’, Jean-Luc Goddard’s ‘Alphaville’, Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ and Orson Welles’s ‘The Trial’.

THE DOUBLE opens at the Dendy Newtown (its only NSW screening) on May 8 and a handful of other cinemas nationwide in the same month.