Students in Greta Matzner-Gore’s course Literature and Philosophy: Dostoevsky at the University of Southern California reviewed Richard Ayoade’s 2013 adaptation of The Double. Here are some excerpts of their work.
“Eisenberg plays Simon, a timid, isolated man who’s overlooked at work, scorned by his mother, and ignored by the woman of his dreams (Wasikowska). The arrival of a new co-worker, James (also played by Eisenberg), serves to upset the balance. James is both Simon’s exact physical double and his opposite—confident, charismatic and good with women. To Simon’s horror, James slowly starts taking over his life” (https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_double_2013).
——–Critic Reviews for The Double———
This Movie Makes Me Feel Like Golyadkin
By Leo Houts
“The Double by Dostoyevsky is funny, self-aware, and centered around Golyadkin, an idiosyncratic civil servant who is gradually driven insane by issues both in his psyche and his environment. It is called The Double because Golyadkin meets a person with the same facial features, name, and even clothes as himself. This double (Golyadkin Jr.) begins working at the same place Golyadkin does, and is more successful both socially and in work.
The Double by Richard Ayoade, on the other hand, is neither funny nor self-aware. It sacrifices the humor of Golyadkin’s pathetic character for an awkward antihero with a love interest (Simon) played by Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg plays Simon with the same confidence that Golyadkin Jr. has, maybe because like Golyadkin Jr., Eisenberg’s character is the exact double of a pre-existing person, in this case every past role Eisenberg has ever had. […]
If you are the kind of person who enjoys indie films about shy antiheroes, maybe you will like this film. If you are the kind of person who likes good writing and acting, you probably will not. If you are a fan of the original work by Dostoyevsky, I am sorry.”
“Richard Ayoade’s The Double is Great But It’s Not the Book, Literally”
By Lauren Foley
“The uncanny riddles Richard Ayoade’s film adaptation of The Double, transforming the classic Fyodor Dostoevsky novel into an otherworldly mix of science-fiction, horror, and dark comedy. Although foundationally similar, tonally, Ayoade creates a new beast from Dostoevsky’s original work, fracturing what Dostoevsky fans have come to know and love from the original work. With new character names, settings, and plot points (amongst other changes), The Double has been through quite a transformation on its way to the screen. […]
Ultimately, if you are a fan of the novella you might be able to gain something from the film– you just might not like it all that much. But, on its own, it’s worth a watch for its impeccable set design, world building, plotting, and performance by Jesse Eisenberg. You might just not be as fond of the editing, and Mia Wasikowska’s performance. Nonetheless, I recommend you give it a try– at least just to have some fun.”
The Double’s Double
By Connor Valore-Kemmerer
“They say if your doppelganger ever appears that you’re doomed to die; Dostoevsky’s novella The Double finds itself in this situation with the release of a film called The Double, directed by Richard Ayoade. You might say a book can’t die, though try googling “The Double” and look at the results—I’ll bet most of them are related to Ayoade’s adaption, not the novella. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as either the movie captures the themes and ideas of the novella, or you don’t value what the novella has to offer. Given that we’re fans of Dostoevsky, however, we’ll assume the ideas of the novella are worth passing down, meaning it can only be replaced if those ideas are preserved. Does Ayoade’s adaption do this? The short answer is yes and no. […]
If it was only inspired by Dostoevsky’s The Double, I would praise it for inspiring viewers to seek out the original ideas that motivated its creation. Like in the novella, however, Dostoevsky’s The Double finds itself being replaced by Ayoade’s The Double, and while this would be fine if the cores were the same, the similarities are mostly skin deep. The “personality” of the film is preferred by society over the “personality” of the novella, which is at risk of being discarded. As someone who values this original “personality,” I have to give Ayoade’s The Double a rating of 3 stars, not because it fails as a film, but because it fails as a proper adaption. An excerpt of a poem by Marie Laurencin feels appropriate: More than exiled, dead; more than dead, forgotten.”
The Double”: An Adaptation Lost in Translation?
By Ashwin Bhumbla
“Fans of the original will be delighted by the sense of place Ayoade gives to the film, an effort that lives up to the gloriously laid out setting of the novella. The sickly greens and dull yellows of the office building, the dim, grey apartments, the unrelenting darkness of the movie’s unnamed city are all definitely not St. Petersburg, but the similarities are there. We see the “messy green walls of [Golyadkin’s] little room” reflected in the hallways of the data company. The “murky, grey autumnal day” of the novella’s beginning is instead replaced by near constant darkness. While the minimalist design almost certainly is owed in part to budget constraints, it proves to be the appropriate artistic choice. A standout scene of the film is when we see Simon’s room for the first time. As he walks in we hear the door creak. We can hear and feel the constant shaking of the walls of his cramped, under-furnished apartment. The faucet shudders and moans as he pours out water into a dusty glass and that cup is the only thing we see him partake in as he watches a television show on the tiniest TV screen known to man, perhaps a modern replacement for Golyadkin’s own “small round mirror” […] The ending, like that of the original, will leave viewers scratching heads and discussing for some time. Ayoade is to be commended, taking a story one might think is unadaptable and not just adapting the plot, but adapting the feel and presence of the novella into an entirely different medium and work of art all his own.”
#NotMyGolyadkin: A Review of The Double (2013)
By Maria Camasmie
“A fan of the novella would notice quite quickly, from the first scene even, that Simon James is by no means comparable to our beloved Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin. As a fan myself, I was most delighted by The Double’s profoundly perplexing main character, Mr. Golyadkin—his paranoia, his delusions of grandeur, his obsession with status, and of course, his bizarre propensity to hide in corners. Simon James is an ordinary man in a bizarre world, while Golyadkin is a bizarre man in an ordinary world. […]
[T]he fundamental difference between the two protagonists generates a fundamental difference between the works themselves—where the original novella navigates a man’s complex and often irrational relationship with his own personality and the world around him, the film adaptation explores the reactions of a helpless, ordinary man to inexplicable events brought onto him by the outside world. Though the storylines are similar, the experience of the original novella is much more internal, while the film adaptation only scratches the surface.”
How Ayoade Put Dostoevsky’s Classic in a Time Machine
By Blake Amann
“Ayoade’s adaption of Dostoevsky’s novella The Double is an extremely innovative way of translating Dostoevsky’s environment from the page to the screen and modernizing the central philosophical question of struggling with one’s identity. Ayoade’s picture, also called The Double, brilliantly employs a very dystopian-like setting in order to match the rigid, bureaucratic society that was present in the life of Golyadkin in St. Petersburg. The setting’s boring coloration and strict organization in the office area spotlights the ideal of fitting in and matching societal expectations that is key to social success in 19th century St. Petersburg. Additionally, Ayoade’s film takes place in a city that has no daylight, drawing even more parallel to the dark mood of St. Petersburg, which Dostoevsky describes in his novella as ‘pregnant with colds, agues, quinsies, gumboils, and fevers of every conceivable shape and size.’”
A Mad, Mad World
By Skyler Melnick
“Am I asleep? Am I dreaming?” Dostoevsky’s protagonist asks himself upon peering at his double (49). Throughout the manic stream of the novella, Golyadkin wavers, doubts, suffers, and fantasizes, feeling as though he is “neither dead nor alive, but somewhere in between” (23). In a similar fashion, Richard Ayoade’s film adaptation, The Double (2013), cultivates an absurd, dreamlike tone of inbetweenness through the use of constant oppressive noises, disorienting lighting, deadpan dialogue, and a hurried protagonist trying to catch up with a fast-paced environment. These visual and formulaic choices generate a similar manic, dreamlike tone to that of Dostoevsky’s novella, but reverse the core thematic essence from an unraveling man to a more stable, albeit troubled man in a deranged society. I give the film five twinkling stars on account of its superb sustained tone, an unusual pairing of bleakness with whimsy. It deviates from the novella in its thematic reversal, but retains the essence of madness and bleakness, resulting in a surprising, yet timeless translation: a piece of inbetweenness, a film where dream and reality, death and life, a man and his shadow are not separated, but swing back and forth like a pendulum, intertwined, leaving the viewer both shocked and empathizing.”