Something important obviously happened when Jake Gyllenhaal and Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve started collaborating last year.
The films that resulted are so intense.
First came Prisoners, a haunting drama about kidnapped children (and tortured adults) with Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman.
Now comes Enemy, a psychosexual thriller about identity. Gyllenhaal stars as Adam, a lacklustre college lecturer who by chance spots his exact double in a movie. The men are so alike they could be twins, and with trepidation, Adam decides to track down this doppelganger.
And so he encounters Anthony (also Gyllenhaal), an actor who might be described as a sleeker version of Adam. Anthony lives in some faceless part of Mississauga, Ont. So begins a complicated dance of ego and supremacy.
There are differences between the two men's lives. Adam is emotionally disconnected in some crucial fashion, sleepwalking through his lectures and somehow distant even when he's having sex with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent). Anthony appears to be quite the opposite, fully engaged in his own life and in that of his pregnant partner (Sarah Gadon) — although both men seem essentially unknowable to the women in their lives. Appearances notwithstanding, there seem to be darker elements at work in both Adam and Anthony's uneasy existence; the overall atmosphere is unrelentingly creepy, and in both roles, Gyllenhaal seems to be fighting to contain some sort of darker impulse.
When the men are finally together in the same room, all that weirdness and friction is doubled, not reduced in any way. What a sense of shock and loss to find oneself duplicated.
Will one man's life overtake the other's?
Based on Jose Saramago’s novel, The Double, Enemy begins with a dream-like sequence set in what seems to be a private sex-club. Men sit quietly while the naked women on state engage in erotic routines, one involving a tarantula; yes, the spider sort of tarantula — it goes a stretch past dread and right into the heart of repellent.
Er, what was it Chekhov said about showing a spider in the first act?
What you think of Enemy (and it is, in the end, mysterious) may depend upon whether you view Adam and Anthony as individuals or as two sides of the same person. All that delving into the subconscious has lots of impressive underpinning in the way of visuals and unsettling music; rarely has Toronto looked so impersonal and metallic.
The movie is, finally, unsatisfactory. And in some ways, impenetrable.
Hella cool to look at, though.
Last Sunday, Enemy won five Canadian Screen Awards, among them prizes for cinematography, editing and music. Sarah Gadon won Best Supporting Actress.
And Denis Villeneuve was named Best Director.
Just so you know.