I hate spiders. I really, really hate spiders.
I'm thinking director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) might really hate them too, for he has included them—prominently and in sinister fashion—in Enemy, his twisted screen adaptation of the José Saramago novel The Double.
Jake Gyllenhaal (who co-starred in Prisoners) plays two men (or one really disturbed guy) in this spellbinding take on infidelity and basically losing one's shit. Spiders are featured as some sort of manifestation of salacious misdoings or perhaps some sort of mysteriously understated giant spider alien invasion.
Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a college history professor who reeks of insecurities and has a guilty vibe about him. He has a beautiful girlfriend (Melanie Laurent), with whom he seems to be having a few sexual problems. He's having some bad dreams in which the arachnids show up and he seems depressed for most of his waking hours.
A co-worker tries to strike up a conversation about film and eventually recommends a movie he regards as "cheerful." When Adam resigns himself to watching the film in an effort to cheer up, he spies what appears to be himself playing a bellboy. Weird.
A little research reveals that the bellboy is Anthony, a bit-part actor who is Adam's doppelganger. Anthony is married to Helen (Sarah Gadon), and while full details aren't given, it seems as though Anthony has been unfaithful in the past. Unlike the confused and sad Adam, Anthony is regimented and bold.
Anthony is probably the man depicted visiting a strange sex show in the film's opening scene, a sex show that featured a big tarantula (Damn it ...more spiders!) to go with its naked women. In retrospect, Adam seems a little too timid to have been the guy taking part in that sort of thing, but until Anthony is revealed, it's presumed Adam was the one with the public sex fetish.
After some awkward phone calls, the two eventually meet in a hotel room. Anthony seems OK with the whole thing but Adam freaks out and tries to leave his apparent twin behind. Eventually, Anthony concocts a horrible scheme with Adam's girlfriend and all hope for some kind of friendship is forever lost.
The film can be seen as Adam and Anthony being two sides of the same coin. I happen to think the film is about dual personalities, post-infidelity guilt and post-traumatic stress syndrome. The brilliance of the movie is that you can view it many different ways, all of them working just fine. You can see it with somebody, with both of you walking away with different perspectives.
Gyllenhaal, who was the best thing about Prisoners, is phenomenal in the two roles. It's the sort of performance that would garner him an Oscar nomination if the film had a more concrete narrative. But I think this complicated movie will be lost on Academy voters, and Gyllenhaal's excellent work will go generally unnoticed.
As for Villenueuve, this effort is far superior to Prisoners, a film that started strong and spun out of control. Enemy remains dedicated to being morally and thematically twisted, and remains consistent in tone throughout.
There's also a shock ending that will leave your jaw hanging open and your mind racing. It's the stuff of nightmares, and it will haunt you the day after seeing it. It might even contribute to you waking up in the middle of the night, spasmodically brushing non-existent eight-legged creatures off of your body.
For those of you who don't mind a movie that refuses to give you definitive answers, Enemy is great brain candy. A repeated viewing shows that much of what seemed inexplicable the first time makes total sense.
And what to make of those damn, horrible, spiders? Only Villeneuve and his crew really know the truth about their participation in this film. Damn those spiders ... damn them to hell.