On Richard Ayoade’s The Double (2013)

TheDouble_posterby Giselle Defares 

Richard Ayoade came into the spotlight with his affable, neurotic and witty character Moss in the British show The IT Crowd . Contrary to his nerdy alter ego, Ayoade is a multi-talent. He writes, acts, directs video clips for the Artic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend and consorts; and TV-episodes, most notable the episode Critical Film Studies on NBC’s Community. His first feature film Submarine was an adaptation of the novel by Joe Dunthorne. It was a beautiful indie film and solidified his debut as director of feature films. With The Double Ayoade turned to Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella The Double (1846).

The crux with doppelgänger stories, is that everything in the plot, revolves around the encounter with the other, who is ultimately the same. Often the doppelgänger is used as a metaphor for the troubled mind. But meeting with his reflection is in this case, crazy good for our ordinary protagonist. In The Double, Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) meets his shadow James. Simon is a geeky programmer stuck at his job with daily unsuccessful attempts to impress his boss. One day, he is suddenly confronted with a new employee. The new guy, James, is successful and gets everything done. That these characters should clash is only a matter of time.



In interviews , Ayoade mentions the artificial nature of film. The fact that Eisenberg’s Simon and James his doppelgänger meet when his identity is lost is not only a form of subtle irony when you consider Eisenberg’s previous role as Facebook (privacy absorber) Mark Zuckerberg, but it also gives a hint to the direction in which we can interpret the film.

Very often the doppelgänger motif is associated with the genre of romance – e.g. Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from Robert Louis Stevenson. Throughout time, it actually became a bit of a generic term under which everything that deals with mirror images, alter egos, dualities and even images where the twin motif, with its accompanying rivalry for convenience, also briefly hung – think of soap operas and telenovelas where the seemingly dead twin resurges or in horror its often a troubled mind that out of sheer desperation creates a new image – see Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Dopperugengâ. There is always a shadow of doom and death over it, when the doppelgänger also reflects a mirror, your soul, he rarely has anything good in store. In his film Double Take (2009) director Johan Grimonprez explains the doppelgänger motif through Hitchcock, throughout the film there is the repetition of the opening line : “They say that if you meet your double, you should kill him… Or that he will kill you.. I can’t remember which bit the gist of it is that two of you is one too many. By the end of the script one of you must die.”


The Double is mainly focused on the psychology of the protagonists, but at the same time express itself on the anonymous cities and bureaucratic societies in which the protagonist live. Similar to how Simon/ James evolve, as a result of the way society treats them as a number and people become more and more exchangeable, Ayoade almost paints it as pathological excesses of egalitarianism. While the doppelgänger motif might not be that much of a novelty for us – Ayoade does play with the suggestion of time travel and parallelism – he uses it to give the theme a twist. The Double raises questions about authenticity and identity in a modern context. Who sees Ayoade’s film feels that the contemporary man is more torn and fragmented than ever. The Double is a mental trip and exposes our fear for the self.

Well, go forth and take a good look in the mirror.



Giselle enjoys googling random things like it’s academic research but her grandma Hilda had a premonition of a great future. So, there’s that.

You can see more of her work over at The Style Icon: http://www.thestylecon.com/author/giselledefares/


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