The Double is a British drama about a man who finds his life being taken over by someone who looks exactly like him, but with a very different personality. Directed by Richard Ayoade, the film is an interpretation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella of the same name, and transposes the story of alienation and identity from 19th Century Russia to a surrealistic, ‘steampunk’ styled version of modern-day America. The film has echoes of George Orwell and Franz Kafka, with a dystopian vision of the futility of battling faceless bureaucracy.
Simon James is a timid, chronically self-effacing man, enduring a lonely existence in an indifferent world. He is overlooked at work, cares for a difficult, demanding mother, and can’t seem to connect with his dream woman. Feeling powerless to change any of these things, Simon James is thrown into greater confusion by the arrival of a new co-worker whose name is James Simon and is Simon’s exact physical double, but with a completely opposite personality: confident, assertive and popular. As James slowly starts taking over Simon’s life, Simon realises he might have to go to some very dangerous extremes in order to rid himself of his increasingly nasty ’double’.
The film was submitted to the BBFC for classification at the end of 2013, without any category request. The Examiners who viewed the film noted strong language and suicide references as the category-defining issues.
Defining issues are those which secure the age rating, though many films feature other content which is discussed by Examiners, and might be of interest to parents or viewers. That information is always recorded in BBFCinsight. Examiners use the BBFC Guidelines, current research and the law as the basis for all decision making, also bearing in mind recent decisions with similar works.
The Double has around seventeen or eighteen uses of strong language ('f**k' etc), some of it used in an aggressive context. The context in which an issue is presented is central to the question of its acceptability. The work's target audience - who is likely to want to watch this film, and to whom does it 'speak' – is also taken into account. Under BBFC Guidelines, this level of strong language is sufficient to establish 15 as the baseline category. Examiners noted no special contextual justification for the strong language, unlike The King’s Speech, classified 12A in 2010, where strong language is used exclusively, but in a speech therapy context. The Examiners also took into account that The Double has no obvious appeal to younger teenagers. Other uses of bad language in the film are much milder (eg. 'crap', 'bloody' etc).
Suicide references in the film include scenes depicting characters killing themselves by jumping from tall buildings. These acts are presented in a fairly stylised manner, with only brief images of bloody injury in the aftermath. One character attempts suicide by overdosing on pills, but this takes place off screen. There are also verbal references to people trying to kill themselves.
There are plenty of darkly comic elements throughout the film, and all the visual and verbal references suicide are relatively undetailed, and may have been suitable at 12A. However, the overall tone of a film may also affect the final decision, and whilst the presentation of a specific issue such as suicide references may not necessarily be problematic at a particular rating, if the work has a generally dark or disturbing tone that might upset the audience at that level, then it may receive a more restrictive rating. The impact of a work, or how it makes the audience feel, is also taken into account, particularly where issues such as suicide or self-harm are depicted or discussed. Examiners considered the overall tone of The Double to be somewhat unsettling, and therefore decided the public should be informed that suicide references form one of the key issues in the film. The BBFCinsight for The Double offers viewers a little more information on how the subject is handled within the film.
Secondary issues in the film include: some brief moments of moderate violence (including a headbutt and generalised fighting); some knife threat that results in a little blood being drawn; a few undetailed moderate sex references; a fleeting and undetailed reference to drugs.
The Double was therefore classified at 15 in January 2014. The DVD version came to the BBFC for classification in May 2013 and was passed at the same category. The Double was selected for the Into Film Festival 2014.