TIFF13: The Bibliophile: The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky and The Double by Jose Saramago

If a pair of movies ever needed to be screened back-to-back at TIFF, then they would be Richard Ayoade’s The Double, and Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy. Alas, they are premiering on different days, but during this year’s TIFF, Torontonians won’t need to go to Tim Hortons to order a Double Double.

Dostoevsky’s book, more of a novella, really, is the tale of Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin. Golyadkin descends into madness upon coming into contact with his double, who proceeds to work with him at his government office. Or maybe Golyadkin imagines the whole thing. Or perhaps he has already suffered a break from reality. It is hard to say. This is one of Dostoevsky’s early works, and he had yet to develop his mature style that would develop with works such as Crime in Punishment, in which Rodion Rashkalnikov witnessed a horse being beaten and suffered…a descent into madness.

The Double was extremely difficult to read, perhaps because Dostoevsky had yet to develop his classic style, (Notes from Underground and Crime and Punishment are two of my favourite works in any genre), maybe because the book is so open to interpretation. But at no point did I say “Boy, this book is laugh out loud funny”.

So, naturally, The film (loosely) based on the book coming to TIFF is a comedy. Also known as the movie in which Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska met and fell in love, The Double is a radical interpretation of the story, especially considering that Golaydkin is now known as “Simon”, and there is the introduction of a female lead, which did not appear in the novella. Based on a Russian novella, and starring an American and an Aussie, and directed by a Nigerian-Norwegian Englishman, It will be fascinating to see how loosely Ayoade and fellow screenwriter Avi Levine interpret and translate The Double. 

To add a little bit of double double to this story, it was announced today that Norte, the End of History, a 250 minute (!) reinterpretation (?) of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment will also be coming to TIFF. Naturally, it is directed by a Filipino, noted filmmaker Lav Diaz.

Dostoevsky’s idea of the double also inspired many authors, especially Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize Winner José Saramago. His story, also called The Double, is about the peculiarly named Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, (Saramago himself comments on the strangeness of the name), a history professor, who comes across his exact double in a (dated reference alert!) VHS video, and sets about tracking him down. This book was also extremely difficult to read, this time because Saramago is extremely liberal in his use of paragraphs and periods, and because he occasionally pauses to make observations into the nature of self, or about the failure of political institutions. Despite these digressions, I found this book much more accessible than Blindness, another Saramago text, later turned into a movie.

Despite its difficulty, the ending of Saramago’s The Double was extremely shocking when Afonso strips the pseudonym Daniel Santa-Clara away from his double, (interesting that his other is known by a second name), encounters his double in the flesh, and, well, then things get really interesting.

The film version of The Double has been renamed Enemy, (formerly An Enemy), which perhaps gives a clue as to how the face-off will go. Denis Villeneuve, a Québécois director, shot the film in Toronto, and cast American Jake Gyllenhaal to play the lead(s), now renamed Adam and Anthony.

Though it probably had nothing to do with his casting, it is nevertheless curious that Gyllenhaal features two sets of double letters in his last name. The last bit of double double is that Denis Villeneuve has another film at TIFF this year, the movie Prisoners, this time featuring Hugh Jackman with the beard that Gyllenhaal sports in Enemy, and also starring, of course, Jake Gyllenhaal. Double double, indeed indeed.



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