Similar to his excellent 2011 debut feature, “Submarine," quick comparisons to past classics have flown frequently with Richard Ayoade’s sophomore effort “The Double." This time Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” has been elected the overriding influence; however, don’t ask Ayoade to verify such a claim. As the actor/director said when he sat down with us recently in Los Angeles, “I don't remember ‘Brazil’ well enough to even know whether that's true.”
Based on the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novella, “The Double” indeed riffs on a recognizable dystopian sci-fi tone, but it swiftly and effortlessly forges its own path of dark humor, existential themes, and wonderful performances. The film stars Jesse Eisenberg as Simon James, an invisible office drone in a nameless office, whose only source of happiness comes from his interactions with co-worker Hannah (played by Mia Wasikowska). However, his sense of identity and self worth takes a hit when James Simon, an exact doppelganger, shows up for his first day and promptly unravels everything that Simon holds dear.
We called Ayoade’s pitch-black comedy “special and singular filmmaking at its best” when we caught it at TIFF last year, and you can watch our festival interviews with both Ayoade and Wasikowska to gain insight into the origins and production of the project. But as “The Double” hits theatres this week, we thought we’d ask the director to graciously run down a few of his actual influences for the unique project.
“After Hours” (1985) - Martin Scorsese
Richard Ayoade: It's Stephen Merchant's favorite film and he gave it to me to watch, so I ended up seeing it rather recently. I love it partially because it's all done at night, and that kind of mounting subjective paranoia was really interesting—my favorite of Scorsese's films are the more subjective ones. And [Griffin Dunne’s] linen suit in that may have subconsciously factored into Jesse’s wardrobe, where we wanted him to feel slightly overwhelmed by his clothes.
“The Trial” (1962) - Orson Welles
There’s actually a scene in “After Hours” that directly quotes Franz Kafka’s “The Trial”—the one when Dunne’s character can't get into the club where Scorsese is operating a spotlight. But I mostly took note of the opening of Welles’ film, in the small apartment with a very low roof. We never did anything in “The Double” as long as that in terms of a take, because it's a very long take and the dialogue's very fast. But the great verbal misunderstandings, said as mistakes and taken as facts—it's just very funny. All of Welles’ films are funny, I think.