The Influence of Anxiety


Fiona was WILDLY enthusiastic about Richard Ayoade’s THE DOUBLE. I wasn’t quite sure if I was or not. I really like his first feature, SUBMARINE. But, just as the overt HAROLD AND MAUDE stylistic references in that film, while appropriate, don’t really help it secure its own standalone identity, the complex filmography of influences that make up THE DOUBLE sometimes made it seem to me like it was Frankenstein’s quilt or something.

BRAZIL hangs heavy over the film, although Ayoade and his team haven’t really borrowed anything specific — office cubicles are now such a universal workplace phenomenon as to be inescapable. The dystopian vision of bureaucracy comes straight from Dostoevsky’s literary source, and the only point of connection is that Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine have chosen to set their film neither in 19th century Russia nor modern Britain, but in a non-geographic fantasy conurbation mingling British and American (and Australian) accents, with a muted colour palette and a lot of retro stylings. Once you accept this similarity of approach, you won’t find many particular points of connection.


The movie manages to fold both Wilder’s THE APARTMENT and Polanski’s THE TENANT into its narrative. The titles of those films suggest an affinity, but they are in fact pretty different. The latter choice is intriguing because Polanski tried to adapt THE DOUBLE himself, only for star John Travolta to pull out over qualms about nudity — Steve Martin quickly stepped in as a replacement, at which point leading lady Isabelle Adjani (who was also in THE TENANT) fled, and the whole house of cards collapsed. Ayoade definitely isn’t setting out to make the film Polanski would have aimed for, but a recurring death leap, viewed from an opposing window, seems to have been transplanted almost intact from Polanski.

There’s business with an apartment key used to facilitate sexual liaisons — this is the APARTMENT connection. Ironic given Billy Wilder’s crude put-down — asked if he was going to see ROSEMARY’S BABY, he replied, “I wouldn’t touch it with a five-foot Pole.”

In resolving the story, a bit of FIGHT CLUB seems to have crept in — not anything specific, just a sense of “How can we make this dark yet somehow upbeat?”


Fiona howled at this shot, though: “It’s his signature image — a woman staring balefully over food! It gets me every time!”

The casting is great, if possibly too on-the-nose? Jesse Eisenberg can embody a hapless nerd in his sleep, after all. It’s when he shows up as his nasty doppelganger that the film lifts off, with a new kind of energy powering it. The horror of the completely confident man. The trouble is, this is a Zuckerberg cut in two, so both the lovelorn nebbish and the blank-eyed sociopath are slightly familiar perfs.

Mia Wasiskowski can do no wrong. It’s lovely seeing Craig Roberts and Yasmin Page (and indeed Noah Taylor), the stars of SUBMARINE again. Wallace Shawn is a bit typecast, James Fox is a big tease, it’s interesting seeing comedy people Chris Morris and Tim Key, though there’s the risk of Guest Star Syndrome setting in. But both justify their appearances by being remarkable. And Cathy Moriarty!

The Japanese pop songs are the one rogue element — you can’t pin down any specific reference that’s being made — they just add to the alien atmosphere and provide something jaunty amid the bleakness. I liked them all and would like to own the soundtrack.


Also, the film is brilliantly cut. The images sizzle against one another. This isn’t just a technical compliment, as in, “The editor has a good sense of timing/drama/comedy.” The shots are designed beautifully so that they smack together in a way that feels striking and genuinely original. Based on this alone, I’m prepared to call Ayoade one of our best and most exciting filmmakers, even if I can’t quite decide what I think of this film, a hesitation that would surely disqualify me from broadsheet film reviewing (although I get the impression some of those guys didn’t know what to make of THE DOUBLE either).


Sidenote: I recently asked Richard Ayoade to be in a film I plan to make and he was nice, considered it, and then respectfully declined. Now his agency is helping us find an alternative. Am I resentful of Ayoade for spurning me? Am I grateful to him for considering me? Which version of Jesse Eisenberg am I behaving like? Who am I?


13 Responses to “The Influence of Anxiety”

  1. You’re my husband, Mr Davd (David once had business cards made where they spelled his name wrong) Crayons, and a thoroughly decent chap.

  2. Or are you?…..

  3. I forgot to mention my favourite moment — when another double shows up. Someone else’s double. That’s where the ETA Hoffmann sense of the uncanny really kicks in and it feels like reality is sliding out of control into nightmare. It’s a feeling I love in films, maybe because it’s so hard to experience in reality.

    It says up there that I’m D Cairns so I guess I must be.

  4. “Once you accept this similarity of approach…” except I’m not sure I ever did. In “Brazil” the story is about the society, in “the Double” it’s just background. I think I decided Ayoade only wanted to make this adaptation to try out a style and so I… basically I hated the film. I love him, but I’m much more entertained by him copying terrible movies than copying brilliant ones.

  5. DOUBLE VOODOO! THAT’S what the film suffers from. Have real people suffer the real consequences of a nightmare world – as in Brazil – or have them live nightmares in the real world – like the scripts of Charlie Kaufman. But there’s no reality in The Double to make the fantasy work.

  6. I trust you’re familiar with the previous adaptation of “The Double” — Bernardo Bertolucci’s Partner with Pierre Clementi channeling Jerry Lewis AND Max Schrek

  7. Directs a mean music vid that Ayoade.

  8. Here’s the one and only Danny (plus friend), the Finnish troubadour from The Double who enamoured me so.

  9. Double Voodoo might be it… The Tenant takes place in a recognizably grotty version of Paris that gradually shifts to nightmare. Brazil is all about the workings of society and the fantasy elements are just that.

    I can see why they felt Dostoevsky would translate more easily to a constructed world than to an everyday one, but maybe it undercuts the psychological horror.

    It’s also a genuinely oppressive film, with no daylight, and all that yellow light, it’s airless. It’s not quite a black comedy, because the emphasis is on the unpleasantness rather than using that as a vehicle for laughs.

    I keep forgetting to watch the Bertolucci. He’s always so negative when he talks about it, I’m perversely convinced it’s probably a masterpiece.

    Ayoade is great on so many levels, I really wanted to love this. He also has such a strong vision of himself as a comedy character, as evinced in his book Ayoade on Ayoade, that it’s a shame he isn’t starring in his own stuff. The jokes he makes about himself are *extremely* original (and savage!), more so than the gags in The Double.

  10. Definitely seek out Submarine if you haven’t caught up with it yet. I find it totally successful, sweet, funny and beautiful, though The Double is more ambitious, which is always commendable.

  11. I was reminded quite a bit of that Patrice Leconte film Monsieur Hire too – in which a lonely man in a drab apartment block pines for the beautiful girl opposite but finds that when another girl is murdered that all of his neighbours suspect him. Which leads them to concoct a horrible vigilante justice scheme involving his object of affection. Suffice to say the key image that begins and ends the film is a brief ambiguous shot of her from the point of view of the main character plunging from the roof of his building.

    In terms of The Double, I particularly loved the photocopier the size of an entire room, which really felt Gilliam-esque (though the best recent film in the style of Terry Gilliam has to be Snowpiercer). And I loved that cheesy 70s sci-fi show featuring a cameo from Paddy Considine that really seems to be channelling that Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace series!

  12. Cannot recommend highly enough Panique, Julien Duvivier’s earlier version of Monsieur Hire. Both are great.

    I couldn’t entirely get on with Snowpiercer, and I love Bong usually. I will admit it’s certainly Gilliamesque.

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