Friday, 22 January 2016

The Double (4 Stars)

"The Double", a 2014 film directed by Richard Ayoade, was marketed as a comedy. Imagine there's a physically disabled teenager in your school. He walks into a shop and accidentally knocks everything off the shelf. Someone films it and posts the video on YouTube. Is that a comedy? The other children in the class will laugh when they see it, but that doesn't make it a comedy. It's an act of bullying. Now apply that example to this film. Simon James is a shy, awkward young man. Everything he does turns out wrong. Do we laugh at him? I'm sure that many people who watch him take the part of the majority and think the film is hilarious. I take Simon's side, and I feel the people laughing at me. For me the film isn't a comedy, I consider it cruelty to laugh at it.

Is that funny? Ask the classroom bullies. They'll say it's hilarious. I'm not saying that to criticise the film. It's a wonderfully deep and introspective film. Maybe my rating isn't high enough. I'm criticising the cold-hearted people who laugh at the film and call it a comedy.

A lot of fuss has been made recently over Tom Hardy playing two roles in "Legend". Film fans seem to have forgotten that Jesse Eisenberg did the same a year earlier. In "Legend" it was two people who looked physically different. In "The Double" it's two people who look and dress identically, but they talk and act differently.

Simon James is an intelligent young man, but socially inept. He does brilliant work in his office, but nobody notices because he doesn't know how to market himself. He's worked in the same company for seven years, but nobody remembers his face. He's a nobody. He could have continued with his life of anonymity for another 40 or 50 years, but fate has other plans for him. A doppelganger called James Simon enters his life with the intention to replace him. He gets a job at the same company, and he becomes everybody's friend. James sits around being lazy, but he knows how present himself and wins a promotion within a few weeks. The two men look identical, but the colleagues don't see a resemblance. James is a somebody, Simon is a nobody.

This where I can relate to Simon James. I feel like I'm a nobody. I'm intelligent and polite, but I don't stand out. If I were stupid and rude people would remember me. This was never more apparent than in my first job at Informatik-Systemtechnik GmbH in Stuttgart (now called Informatik Consulting Systems). When I began my job, fresh from university, I put my head down and worked as hard as I could. I thought that would get me noticed by my bosses. It didn't. The ones who were noticed were the ones who sang their own praises. I watched what was going on around me in amazement. I realised within a few months that my capabilities far exceeded everyone else in the company. Despite this, I saw my colleagues being promoted. I bit my tongue and carried on. Finally, after about six years, I asked my department leader, Hans Rebel, about promotion. He was surprised. He told me that he thought I was happy doing what I did. After nine years in the company I received the promotion I deserved, but on the same day a less gifted colleague, Hans Riekert, received a double promotion. I became group leader, he became a department leader. This was a slap in the face. I loved my job and wanted to stay, but on the day of my promotion I decided to look for another job.

There's a lot more I could say about the inter-personal relationships in my first company. It was the best company I ever worked at, as far as the job itself was concerned, even though I earned almost three times as much in my next company. I knew what Hans Rebel earned and when my salary exceeded his I felt like I had achieved my goal, but the pleasure was short lived. Money isn't everything. I would have been happy earning less, as long as I knew my work was being appreciated.

I wonder if any of my colleagues that I used to work with remember me. It's doubtful. I was a shadow in the dark that crossed their paths, someone they only saw out of the corner of their eye. How could I have been different? I could have worked less and talked more. I could have been rude. I could even have been crazy. I often wish I were brave enough to do crazy things. Maybe I've done a few in my life. When I was 25 I once bought a bottle of good champagne and some plastic cups and sat on the ground in Stuttgart's main pedestrian zone drinking it with my wife-to-be Brigitte Hengel and her best friend Anke Mohnhaupt. We weren't sitting on the side, leaning against a building, we were sitting in the middle with people walking around us. That was crazy. I'd guess that more strangers remember me from that one day than colleagues remember my many years at work.

With the encouragement of a good woman I might have done many more crazy things, at least in my spare time. Brigitte wasn't suitable. She enforced respectability on me. She changed drastically on the day of our marriage. Not a few years or even a few months later. It was the very first day. She had fixed ideas about how a married couple should behave, in particular how I should behave, and she enforced conformity on me. I did whatever she wanted because I loved her, but as the years went by I realised she didn't love me in return and I became more and more miserable. Eventually, after 15 years together, it was a choice between suicide and leaving her. I still don't know if I made the right decision.

Getting back to the film, there's a love interest in Simon's life, Hannah from the photocopying department, played by Mia Wasikowska. He makes excuses to see her by pretending the other photocopiers are broken. She hardly notices him. He's known in her department as the creepy guy. Awkwardness can easily be mistaken for being creepy. Of course, when James arrives everything changes. Hannah has a crush on James and goes on a date with him. James doesn't deserve her, he's seeing other women at the same time, but he's brash and self-confident, not creepy at all.

It's worth talking about the film's cinematography. It's brilliant. Every picture, every image, is framed perfectly. It's a dark world, and the background is often swallowed up by shadows. Many of the scenes are shown in a way that tell the story without words. In fact, I even felt tempted to just publish a dozen screenshots without writing anything. Maybe I'll do that next time I watch  "The Double". I'm sure there will be a next time.

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