Dear readers and fellow bloggers, during this time I will be reviewing films from the New Zealand International Film Festival. Unlike the previous years in which I have reviewed a small handful of films, I have the opportunity this year to open up my horizons and review a rather large list of films. So stay tuned for the following days and weeks to see which films I have personally reviewed for this blog. I hope you enjoy them all!
For my first entry for the NZIFF, I have watched the dark and quirky modernization of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Double. “’There aren't too many like you. Are there Simon?’ ‘I'd like to think I'm pretty unique.’” Which is not exactly what you’d expect from this British black comedy film written and directed by Richard Ayoade and it is based on the novella The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It is about a clerk in a government agency who is driven nearly to breakdown after finding out his unenviable life has been usurped and took a turn for the horrific with the arrival by his doppelgänger - a exact physical double and his opposite - confident, charismatic and seductive with women.
The Double (Двойник, Dvoynik) is a novella written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It was first published on January 30, 1846 in the Fatherland Notes. It was subsequently revised and republished by Dostoevsky in 1866. Looking at the novel backwards, it can be viewed as Dostoevsky's innovation on Gogol. Looking at it forwards, it can be often read as a psychosocial version of his later ethical-psychological works. These two readings, together, position the novella at a critical juncture in Dostoevsky's writing at which he was still synthesizing what preceded him but also adding in elements of his own. One such element was that Dostoevsky switched the focus from Gogol's social perspective in which the main characters are viewed and interpreted socially to a psychological context that gives the characters more emotional depth and internal motivation. When interpreting the work itself, one can notice there are three major thematic ideas. First, is that Golyadkin simply goes insane, probably with schizophrenia. This view is supported by much of the text, particularly Golyadkin's innumerable hallucinations. Second, is that of Golyadkin's search for identity. One critic wrote that the novella's main idea is that "'the human will in its search for total freedom of expression becomes a self-destructive impulse.’" This individualistic focus is often contextualized by scholars who emphasize that Golyadkin's identity is crushed by the bureaucracy and stifling society he lives in. Joseph Frank, for instance, claimed that Golyadkin's personality was destroyed by the crushing society he lives in.
The film stars Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor and James Fox. The performances in this film were superbly performed, combining both humor and drama beautifully. Credits go off to the two main stars, especially to Jesse Eisenberg. In his best work since The Social Network (2010), Eisenberg portrays the polarized personalities of Simon and James with such ease. The story basically rests on his shoulders as we follow him on his descent into madness. In between the fast-paced dialogue and front-lit shots there is also a very complex story that leaves the ending open to interpretation.
Thanks to a strong performance from Jessie Eisenberg and smart, quirky direction from Richard Ayoade, The Double hits the mark as a smart, quirky and uncommonly brilliant adaption of Dostoyevsky's classic. And just as the great Vladimar Nabokov said of the novella, I too will simply call it "a work of art."
Simon says The Double receives: