Richard Ayaode’s first feature film Submarine was an indie coming-of-age film where the two teenage protagonists are forced to rely on each other as their parents’ lives become perilously unstable.
The Double sees him take on the troubles of twenty-something Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) whose existence is barely acknowledged by his boss, his colleagues, and the woman he’s in love with (Mia Wasikowska).
Based on a Russian novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Double sees Simon’s life change when a new colleague of his starts working there. He’s confident, charming, easy-going, and looks exactly like Simon. As Simon starts to get to know James, their lives become destructively intertwined.
There’s a strange other-worldliness to Submarine that makes it a strange, surreal watch. Set in what seems like the 1980s, we never get to see the sunlight, everything is bleak and claustrophobic. It’s reminiscent of David Lynch where the world we inhabit is apparently the same at ours yet undeniably different.
The Double deals with our own sense of identity and mental state. James is a man trying to figure out who he is, and who he wants to be. When he meets Simon he sees the man he has the potential to be, yet he cannot quite bring himself to pretend to be something he is not.
There’s that sense when watching it of the choices we make everyday about who we are and the person we decide to show other people. “Be yourself” is probably the most clichéd piece of advice to give someone before a first date. What does it mean to “be yourself”? What if you’re someone who naturally likes to please other people and so to “be yourself” is to be what you consider the best version of yourself for the other person?
“Be yourself” sounds like a simple piece of advice, but of course it’s not. We often try and figure out who we are, especially as we move from our teenage years into our twenties. We try to figure out the job that best suits us, the partner that brings out the best in us, the place we feel most comfortable in.
As we get older we often get edgy when we meet people who seem like better versions of ourselves. Perhaps it is a new colleague who seems to get on better with our co-workers and have lots of new ideas; perhaps it is a new friend who makes your partner laugh in a way we wish we could. The Double is about all these things, and yet it might not be.
A less confident film would give us a clearer explanation of what’s going on; a twist in the final scene which explains all the ambiguity of the previous three acts. Ayaode wisely avoids this kind of simple conclusion, instead trusting his audience to try and work out for themselves what they think is going on.
So perhaps the film is about finding our true selves and being comfortable with who we are, or perhaps it’s not. Perhaps it’s a film that holds a mirror up to our own psyche and I’ve just chosen to interpret it that way because of who I am. The great thing about films like The Double is like with Simon and James we can see the same thing and yet come away with entirely different experiences.