Within a single year, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has collaborated with Jake Gyllenhaal on two films. The first was Prisoners, a harrowing Hollywood studio drama about two fathers searching for their missing children.
The second, Enemy, is very much a Canadian film. It is set in Toronto, has a lower budget and is oblique in its narrative. And it's a little depressing.
But it has one of the most breathtaking endings ever.
Adapted from a novel by Jose Saramago (Blindness), it is the story of a man who discovers he has a doppelganger.
Gyllenhaal is Adam Bell, a depressed college history teacher who begins the film with a lecture on how history tends to repeat itself.
At home, he has a relationship with a beautiful girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent), but it cannot be called bliss. Their nightly sexual habits seem to include a ritualized coitus interruptus.
At the suggestion of a colleague, Adam rents a DVD of a "cheerful" movie. After watching, he goes to bed and wakes up to realize he appears to be in the movie in a minor role, as a bellboy.
He uses the Internet to learn the identity of the actor who played the bellboy, one Anthony Claire, and succeeds in tracking him down. But after arranging to meet him at a cheap motel, the mystery only intensifies. Adam's mother (Isabella Rossellini) insists they cannot be brothers, but they are identical, down to the scar on each of their abdomens.
If they are identical in appearance, they are not in temperament. The more aggressive Adam sees an angle in exploiting the resemblance. He is married to the very beautiful, very pregnant Helen (Sarah Gadon), but he finds himself attracted to Mary. The passive Adam plays along.
With its mad twins, its arachnid dreams/hallucinations and intimations of a kinky private sex club, the movie vibes of David Cronenberg's influence (Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, Crash).
There's a touch of David Lynch, too, and his delirious movies Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway, each film revealing a shocking schism within their seemingly normal protagonists. Like them, Enemy has that quality of a delicious puzzle to be solved.
But Enemy is ultimately in a class by itself, even if it begs to be dissected after viewing.
Preferably over a stiff drink.
That ending is wicked.