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.
“The Tenant” (1976) – Roman Polanski
You could probably compile a pretty substantial Internet supercut of people watching people in rooms. You could make it from “Blue Velvet” to “Rear Window” to “A Short Film About Love,” or the tailor sequence in “Vertigo.” Just people watching other people in films. There’s something about that concept that works, and “The Tenant” has that. What’s interesting about the film, as opposed to “Rosemary’s Baby,” is just the metaphor of it, which I don’t think is as isn’t as evocative.
Even though it’s a really brilliantly made film and I really like it, there’s something about the idea of a room bearing this kind of guilt—Polanski’s character goes in, he hopes the former resident dies so he can have the room—but I don’t know if people care that much about that or the idea of a tenant. In “Rosemary’s Baby” it’s so much more than that—it’s your body, it’s you.
I remember Mike Nichols talking about “Wolf.” He said that if it were a vampire character he would’ve made a really great film, and that somehow the werewolf is not as effective. It’s true—something like “American Werewolf in London” is more of a coming of age, Americans abroad kind of tale, but there’s never been a worthy werewolf film on par with something like “Nosferatu.”
“Le Samourai” (1967) – Jean-Pierre Melville
I think about this film every time I do anything, and not even the film specifically—just the poster of it (see below). It’s my favorite poster, Alain Delon with a samurai-style suit. I think that’s Henri Decaë, the cinematographer of that film, who certainly did some of Francois Truffaut‘s early stuff. Maybe he even did “400 Blows,” I can’t remember, but he was one of those guys, not like Raoul Coutard, a bit more old school than that. He liked tones within rooms, and he made color films in a very B&W, muted way. He did the same in Melville’s “Army of Shadows”—walls that are a similar color to the protagonist’s clothes. He doesn’t separate people out by contrast and colors; he does it by tones.
“The Wrong Man” (1956) – Alfred Hitchcock
Again, I like when someone is accused of something or in a situation not of their direct making, and everyone is against them. One of the specific things that came to me from thinking about “The Wrong Man” was the part where Henry Fonda has to go to jail for the first time.
Aside from the brilliance of that scene, when he’s in the cell and the cutaways of what he’s looking at, there’s also the fact that he has to remove his tie and his belt. The removal of the tie makes him feel very vulnerable, and when Jacqueline Durran [costume designer on “The Double”] and I were talking about what everyone’s suits should look like, we decided that no one should have ties unless they’re high up in the organization. That way, it made everyone look like they were in a cell, subconsciously.