The Double: An overlooked film and novella

The Double is a short novella originally written by Fyodor Dostoevsky, first published in 1846. If the name sounds familiar, you’ve probably read Crime and Punishment, arguably one of his most popular works. If it doesn’t sound familiar, you aren’t alone: his writing style is notorious for being dense and tiresome to read, meaning you won’t find his works on any coffee tables. The novella was adapted into a movie of the same name, which was released in 2011 and stars Jesse Eisenberg. I actually saw the movie first, which inspired me to read the book, so I’ll be discussing them in that order.

The first time I watched The Double, I thought it was complete nonsense. It was weird, the ending didn’t make any sense, and it was so boring that I almost fell asleep. I was disappointed, considering the concept looked interesting and it starred Jesse Eisenberg, who I’ve always loved in other movies. I wondered what I was missing; who would be pretentious enough to pretend that they liked it? Evidently it festered in my mind, because I ended up re-watching it over a year later when I saw it on Netflix. This time it was a completely different experience; I don’t know if maybe my tastes had changed, or if I was just paying more attention, but I absolutely loved it. It was entirely unique in every way; incredible acting, visually interesting scenes and filming, an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack which I highly recommend listening to, and an atmosphere that kept you on the edge of your seat. Out of these, I want to focus on the strange atmosphere that the film has, since I find that to be its most unique and defining element. Now if you’ve been reading my last few posts, you might have a feeling of where this is going: Surrealism. This movie is a prime example of Surrealism in film, and is a testament to the power of film as an art form.

I recognize this film as surreal because it has the same atmosphere as any other surreal work of art: a dense fog, a feeling of semi-nostalgia and anxiety, and an unexplainable otherworldliness. This is developed in the movie mostly through the use of its color palette, which includes yellows, browns, beiges, and other grimy colors. It’s odd to say the least, and it makes this universe seem like some parallel universe where everything is drab and lifeless. Also contributing to this surreal atmosphere is the vagueness of the whole movie. I can’t really say what time period it takes place in, what the setting is, or what the main character does all day. Every place seems so disconnected, which is so contradictory to normal life. The closest thing to experiencing this is going to North Campus after 9pm on a weeknight and walking to a bus stop. The towering brick walls, strange architecture, and the complete emptiness of life is similar to some abandoned dystopian parallel world, much like the universe of The Double. Another key element of the surreal atmosphere is obviously the story; the idea of the doppelganger, somebody who is identical to you in almost every way, induces anxiety in itself. Watching the main character Simon as he falls into madness at the hands of his doppelganger is terrifying, and it defines the universe of the movie as much stranger than ours. Finally, I think even the soundtrack contributes to this atmosphere, much more than your typical movie score. It’s mostly composed of string music and piano, with dark and heavy chords that create a tension throughout the film. Listening to the soundtrack by itself induces anxiety, and in the context of the film, it is the soundtrack of madness. Overall, this movie is a work of art in almost every way, and is fascinating to me as a lover of surrealist art. It’s just an unforgettable, personal experience that challenges what you think about traditional media.

This brings us to the novella, which I read promptly after finding out that it inspired the movie. It was the first thing I ever read by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and I can definitely understand why people say his books are a challenge. After forcing my way through it however, I was glad I did: not only is it an incredibly well written story, it is a great companion to the movie. While they aren’t exactly identical, as they aren’t meant to be, reading the book further revealed the true genius of the movie. The movie perfectly matched the atmosphere of the book, so much that it’s eerie. Maybe I was influenced by watching the movie first, but the book is a work of surrealism itself: it has the same bizarre atmosphere, which is developed through the writing and the events of the story. The way Fyodor Dostoevsky writes is so dark and heavy that it creates the same feeling of anxiety and fear, which is absolutely fascinating. I highly recommend watching the movie and reading the book, although I don’t suggest any particular order. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on it to see if people see what I see, or if I just sound completely crazy.

(Image Credits: Google Images)

Experiencing Cold Weather and Cancelled Classes

“Stay inside,” my mother said. A few hours after the phone call, I would be doing the exact opposite.

On Tuesday, the call for school to be closed was deafening. There had already been an order made by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that declared Michigan in a state of emergency due to predicted sub-zero temperatures. Throughout the day, universities across the Midwest cancelled Wednesday’s classes in anticipation for the dangerously cold weather. Even MSU suspended classes for only the 7th time in history. For U of M students, pages such as “Overheard at Umich” and “UMich Memes for Wolverteens” were teeming with memes and comments made by students across campus asking for no school. In addition, students created a petition to cancel classes that reached over 13,000 signatures in a matter of days.

Fortunately, classes were indeed cancelled and the campus “issued an emergency reduction in operations” until 7 a.m. Friday. For middle and high school students across Michigan, snow days are a fairly common occurrence across Michigan. For college students, on the other hand, a snow day is a rarity. So what does one do when it’s so cold classes are cancelled?

For many students, the two days of cancelled classes provided time to study or relax. There was still work to be done for courses, and a day or two stuck inside provided optimal time to catch up or get ahead on schoolwork. The Wednesday and Thursday off also gave students some time to sleep in and recuperate. When not filled with people studying, the dormitory lounges were frequently filled with students watching movies, playing games, or simply hanging out. For me, the two days with no classes provided an opportunity to do all of these things. There was time to do some work without feeling stressed, and I enjoyed sleeping in. Yet, in addition to these things, I ventured outside the safety of my dormitory and into the bitter cold.

Now, this wasn’t a “I’m going to disregard any warnings because I can” decision. On Wednesday, the Michigan Theater played Your Name as part of the “Icons of Anime Film Series” sponsored by the UM Center for Japanese Studies. The screening was originally sold out and going to take place at the State Theater, but due to popular demand was moved to the Michigan Theater. This discovery, in addition to prior commitments being cancelled due to the weather, resulted in a quick decision to have a night out.

Despite the wind chill warning, my boyfriend and I left East Quad shortly around 6:45 p.m. Bundled in layers, the brisk walk to Michigan Theater wasn’t that bad. We took pictures of an empty diag with snapchat filters reading -11°F, and made it to the theater to find plenty of other students who had braved the arctic temps. So many, in fact, that the lower section of the theater’s main auditorium was pretty packed. After seeing the movie, which was captivating and breathtakingly beautiful, I could see why.

Since the dining hall would be closed by the time we got back (closing early due to the weather), we also stopped by a restaurant for dinner. The ten-minute walk back to East Quad, while just a few degrees colder at -15°F, was harsher. Thick wool socks were no match for the freezing winds. Literal frost coated my glasses, and ice droplets twinkled on my boyfriend’s eyelashes. We passed by a few people with no hats or scarves and wondered how they were surviving.

Back at the dormitory, hand warmers and blankets were quick to the rescue. It was so cold, however, that there was ice and frost on the inside of the windows. This only magnified the severity of what was happening across the Midwest, and the relief for students that classes were cancelled. Overall, while the night out was enjoyable, you can bet we stayed in on Thursday.

 

Links to further details on information noted in this post:

More information on U of M’s reduced operations.

News on the cold weather and its impact on the Midwest.

The petition calling administration to cancel classes.

Books to Movies

In the past ten years a trend in Hollywood has taken over blockbuster movies.  Studios love to make movie adaptations from popular books or comic books. The bigest and most popular has been superhero movies, both Marvel and DC, with adapting comic books into record breaking movies.  The audience for people who are going to see these movie adaptations are broken into two groups: people who have read the book/comic and people who haven’t.

The people who have previously read the book come into the theater with high expectations.  They have already pictured every aspect of the story and its world in their heads and are anxious to see how the big screen adapts it.  These people are more likely to be let down than the other group because unless you personally made the movie, it won’t be 100% like what you pictured in your head.  If fans of the book don’t like the movie than it could impact its sales as the movies reputation spreads by word of mouth. But no matter if the fans of the book like to movie or not, the movie is almost guaranteed to have a big opening weekend if the book has a big fan base.  People haven’t seen it yet to form their opinion, and generally people try to go into the movie with an open mind because they know that the movie won’t look exactly like what they are picturing in their head.

People who go to the movie but haven’t read the book are often less critical because they have nothing to compare it to.  The movie could generate positive word of mouth reviews from these fans if the movie was good but maybe didn’t follow along well to the book.  The problem that these viewers face is if they can fully follow the plot through the entire movie. Some movies assume that the audience at least has a small understanding of the plot or characters before walking into the theater leaving people who didn’t previously read the book with questions.

An example of movie adaptations that did well in the theaters with fans that read and didn’t read the books are the Marvel movies.  Now the movies have a three types of viewers: fans who have read the comics and seen all of the movies, fans who have not read the comics but have seen all the movies, and fans who only sporadically watch some of the movies.  An example of an adapted movie series that went poorly was the Divergent series. The fan base that read the books were disappointed in the movies portrayals, and it didn’t gain any new fans that did not read the books. The movies did so poorly that the third movie had only a tv release.

Movies that are adapted from books are almost guaranteed to have a big opening weekend and then the feeling that the first couple audiences have will determine the success of the movies.  The popularity of the movie also depends on how much it relies on its audience knowing the plot of the book beforehand, the more the audience needs to know about the movie before it starts, generally the worse the movie will do.