Fyodor Dostoevsky: Not exactly the name that comes to mind when one thinks of written works primed and ready for adaptation. Yet many a filmmaker worldwide has picked up one of his works – whether it be Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov, or one of his less popular stories – in an attempt to bring it to the big screen. Is it the draw of nineteenth-century Russia, the robust language with which Dostoevsky infused his work, or perhaps simply the challenge of finally doing justice to the writing of a man who brilliantly mingled literature and psychology? Most recently, this would be a question best directed to Richard Ayoade, whose latest movie plans are to bring Dostoevsky’s novella The Double to the silver screen.
The 1846 story tells the tale of Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, a man startled and disturbed by an encounter with his doppelganger. Though identical in appearance, this carbon copy exhibits personality traits that are in direct opposition with Golyadkin’s own; he is confident and extroverted, whereas Golyadkin is a pushover through and through. Golyadkin finds it increasingly maddening as his double begins to shoulder him out of his own life, edging his way into his social and professional circles. But does this doppelganger really exist? Or is the story really that of a schizophrenic breakdown?
Richard Ayoade’s most recent film, “Submarine,” based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, was quirky and touching and disturbing all at once. Though the story skimmed off the surface of the novel reads like a sweet tale of young love and a boy coming of age, the movie had a dark intelligence to it that marked a lauded debut for this up-and-coming director. “The Double” will certainly test Ayoade’s abilities, but with Jesse Eisenberg of "The Social Network" fame now in place for the lead and Mia Wasikowska attached to co-star, this Dostoevskian adaptation is off to a great start. Eisenberg has just the right sense of implied isolation as well as the ability to, an a dime, leave us wondering, “Crazy -- is he or isn’t he?” -- which will all help bring the character of Golyadkin to life. Wasikowska, though edgy and interesting in “The Kids Are All Right,” really caught our attention in Cary Fukunaga’s “Jane Eyre,” with her own subtly somber interpretation of Charlotte Bronte's Jane. Though we don’t yet know what role Wasikowska will take on in the story, you can bet that she’ll fit right in.
So yes, Dostoevsky is a huge undertaking. Many have tried, and many have failed. And though we’ve seen little in quantity from Ayoade thus far, the quality of what we have seen is indicative of his abilities. Dunthorne to Dostoevsky is a big leap, indeed. But it’s one we have full faith Ayoade can pull off.