by Catie Robbins
For some, The Double is probably the gateway drug into San Francisco International Film Festival attendance. It’s a dystopian film; a big genre of the moment, paired with Jesse Eisenberg; a goodly sized name of the moment. Resulting, it can be easily shared with friends who have just never found independent cinema sexy, and then go and make them downright curious. But don’t you know it, they’ll still complain about following throughout the entire experience:
while waiting in a line of 100+ people outside Japantown’s magical Sundance Kabuki Cinema : “I still think we should just go see Catching Fire…”
Rather than fitting neatly into the dystopian genre, this film is homaging like crazy all over dystopian fifties literature. Even while being based on Dostoevsky, this take on the Dostoevsky story is catering to an audience who read 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 back to back in their high school English class. The cinematography is overloaded in grunge and noir, and the set design is obviously repurposed from the worst 1950s sci-fi you’ve ever had the equal parts pleasure and ironic hilarity of viewing: two images you’re never without on any page of 1984. This film celebrates humanity’s deep, instinctual love of dystopian cult art, and the fact that we’ve been sharing this love for so long without falter, since the fifties and since Dostoevsky and since some other time.
10 minutes in : “Wait–why are they halfway in our world and halfway in a totally different world? What is the timeframe? Are we in the fifties? Or are we in a fantasy world? It never explains that.”
Some people may have genre related qualms. Leaping with both feet into suspension of disbelief can be difficult when some elements of mise-en-scene are recognizable while others are not. This is subconscious and viewers shouldn’t be judged, and filmmakers shouldn’t either. The Double loads us up visually with indefatigably detailed set design which melds defunct fifties technology with revamped versions (think futuristic low-fi) of those elements. What I’m saying is, computers so clunky they look like pianos and copy machines the size of the room. The vision is without holes and unifies the film brilliantly. Yet possibly, the mere fact that some objects are recognizable may make it tricky for the brain to accept that we are both not in the real world as we know it and also not wholly in a fantasy world where everything is different. Most people will delight over this and question the arbitrary recreation of everything that most sci-fi or fantastical takes on the dystopian society offer today. Others will have the dubious sensation that something if ‘off,’ that the continued presence of reality as we know it, however frail, subconsciously bars them from getting sucked into that world. That may be one weird little reason why it’s not in theaters everywhere.
30 minutes in : “Wait–how can some people tell that they look exactly the same and some people can’t?”
It’s true, indie films have plot holes, and indie film lovers love to pardon those plot holes. According to personal interpretation, the ending does somewhat clear up this discrepancy. It remains to be seen whether insisting on the necessity of personal interpretation will satisfy viewers who are newly embarking on their indie cinema adventure, but it seems like since it’s only one small plot-hole instead of the many that they will later learn to pardon, it may be forgiven.
5 minutes after the credits (walking to the car) : “I guess I like it but something was definitely missing.”
Yes. It was visually dark and there wasn’t any big action and the love story was wanting, these things creating a sort of smallness, a claustrophobia. These things make it less sellable. However, the cinematography was on point for a story evoking the depression and claustrophobia of 1984 and riffing off the bleakness of the canon of dystopian art. Claustrophobia isn’t at the top of the game in terms of sellability, but some oppressions are necessary oppressions [pardon my thought-speak].
one day later : “It was actually pretty funny.”
Without humor this still would have been a well constructed piece, but it wouldn’t have been watchable at feature length without Jesse Eisenberg’s choice comedic timing and creativity. It’s always astonishing how vital humor proves to be, and this film knits it into the texture. There is humor in the dialogue, in unspoken performance, and most interestingly, in the mise-en-scene. The music video he watches, the tiny TV set he watches it on, and even the way he suddenly turns it off are delightful details. The sight of the piano-like computers is delightful. His humiliating trials and tribulations against technology are fun and could also be analyzed fruitfully at length for further interest. Bleakness is continued by the humor, which usually showcases the protagonists weakest qualities, but it is also continually staved off by the humor.