Based on "The Double" by novelist Jose Saramago, "Enemy" stars Jake Gyllenhaal in what the old studio publicity departments used to call "a demanding dual role." We're in a city — Toronto, clouded over with haze and a peculiar, sickly light managed by cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc — where a history professor, played by Gyllenhaal, tries to rally his half-empty lecture halls with warnings of the totalitarian state.
Is this man, Adam, the same man (also played by Gyllenhaal) we meet in the prologue, the one attending some sort of underground sex club, where a woman in very high heels and little else crushes a large, hairy tarantula to death? The spider imagery roams freely in "Enemy." On the advice of a colleague, Adam rents a movie called "Where's There's a Will, There's a Way." In the movie, stuck in a bit part, there's an actor who looks exactly like Adam. The professor, taking some time away from his desultory relationship with Mary (Melanie Laurent of "Inglourious Basterds"), tracks down this two-bit actor, whose pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) somewhat resembles Adam's girlfriend.
Quicker than you can say "Make mine a double!" Adam and the actor blur the lines of their respective roles. This could be a story of one psyche split in two. Or, judging from the nutty final shot, it could be an allegory about tangled webs and male insecurities.
Either way, as scripted by Javier Gullon, "Enemy" has a blase, take-it-or-leave-it air that's part of its methodically hypnotic atmosphere. The director is Quebec-based Denis Villeneuve, who shot this strange project just prior to collaborating a second time with Gyllenhaal on the far more commercial "Prisoners." (His best film to date remains "Incendies," one of the great stage-to-screen adaptations of recent years.) Watching "Enemy," in which Gyllenhaal cleverly delineates the character differences and confidence levels of the two leading roles, it's clear that the movie is messing with you, in a highly calibrated fashion.
It's not a frenzied head-trip, the way Roman Polanski's "The Tenant" was, nor does the movie have half the energy and nightmarish allure of David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive."It's best taken, I think, as a jape and a wry male-centric fable on transgression and desire.
Villeneuve puts it this way: "It was designed to be very playful, meaning it's really a movie like some of the films that I liked when I was young, like 'The Twilight Zone.'" Many are destined to find the elliptical torpor of all those underfurnished interiors a little vexing, and may find that statement silly. The surprise ending achieves a unique double whammy; it's simultaneously blunt and completely baffling. And yet this film worked for me. Consider it a riddle, methodically sustained. Whatever it is, it's a movie that holds together even as its meanings are coming apart.
"Enemy" - 3 stars
MPAA rating: R (for some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language)
Running time: 1:30
Opens: Friday at the Music Box TheatreCopyright © 2015, RedEye