The Invisible Man and the Dickhead – ★★★★
Richard Ayoade surprised everyone with his feature debut Submarine. A cult Channel 4 TV star as Britain’s Wes Anderson? Considering the strength of that film it seemed a very apt comparison at the time. He’s taken a few years to come back with another feature but rather than continue on the Wes-lite trail, he’s produced something altogether different in The Double. It’s a dark, hilarious fantasy. Alright then.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James who works in a nondescript old-fashioned clerical office, slowly trying to work up the courage to ask for some sort of promotion or credit, and all the while pining for the attention of Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). She works in a printing room, operating the world’s largest photocopier. Simon’s been working there years but is practically invisible to everyone. His double (or doppelgänger) James Simon arrives and instantly makes the office his own – dating Hannah, getting pr0motions and favourable treatment from the boss – and all while being an absolute dickhead.
So first things first, a ridiculous amount of thought has gone into its direction. Ayoade has outdone himself behind the camera with dozens of beautiful, subtle touches which reveal a growing master of his craft. It feels like the most perfect student film with just the right amount of clever ideas, influence and imagination in place. The film is dripping in nods to the likes of Michel Gondry and most obviously Terry Gilliam, and in particular his classic film from 1985, Brazil. Ayoade has been open about this influence in interviews and it seems like a deliberate attempt to pay homage to Gillam – in a time where the tired The Zero Theorem is the best old Terry can do, it’s no harm to see his style brought on-screen to this high standard by someone else.
The film is a loose adaptation of the 1846 Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel of the same name. Those of you who have read his books or know the work of Franz Kafka will find plenty to keep you interested in the film’s story and themes which jump between black comedy and manic, psychological adventure. It’s this layering of influences which may trouble some viewers with some critics saying Ayoade can’t find an original voice because of all the literary and cinematic influences swimming around his head.
Putting influences aside, a big amount of credit should go to the production designer David Crank and the film’s cinematographer Erik Wilson who have created a wonderful world in which to set this film. Every prop and every room feels really well thought out with no elements needlessly placed in frame.
Eisenberg is brilliant at playing the two roles. We’ve come to know him in recent years as a cocky pain in the ass (Now You See Me, The Social Network) and in James he has a natural successor to those roles. However its in the over-sized suit and timid gait of Simon that he seems most at home, bringing plenty of empathy and humour to what could have been a very one-dimensional part.
They say that “Third time’s the charm”, and if Ayoade can manage to use his influences with a little more subtlety then the potential for his next film is truly baffling. If he’s looking for inspiration dare I be so direct and mention another famous black British director and the directing nomination and Best Picture he got at this year’s Oscars?
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