While watching a rented movie, a history professor glimpses a familiar face: his own. The resemblance isn't uncanny, it's utterly exact. By the time Adam Bell comes face to face with the actor, Anthony Claire, rational explanations are beginning to dwindle.
"Maybe we're brothers," says Anthony. "When were you born?"
That question, like many others in Denis Villeneuve's mesmerizing and confounding nightmare "Enemy," goes unanswered. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal in two tightly coiled performances as Adam and Anthony, "Enemy" presents one tantalizing mystery after another until closing with a genuinely horrifying jolt. Despite some flaws and frustrations, this is one movie whose ending you will not see coming.
Written by Javier Gullón from a novel by the Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago, "Enemy" is part of a current doppelgänger trend: Jesse Eisenberg recently played dual roles in "The Double," based on the Dostoyevsky story, and even Kermit the Frog meets his mirror image in "Muppets Most Wanted." Moviegoers already know the rules about evil twins: They cannot coexist; one must be vanquished; and, sometimes, they were one to begin with. "Enemy," though, toys fiendishly with these presumptions. It knows that you know.
"Enemy" has another duo in Adam's girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent), and Anthony's pregnant wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), who sense strange changes in their men. On the periphery is Adam's mother (Isabella Rossellini), whose assessment of the whole weird situation seems suspiciously glib. As Adam and Anthony become increasingly intertwined, Villeneuve (last year's moody thriller "Prisoners") uses hazy lighting and slow, syrupy camerawork to give "Enemy" the inexorable feeling of a terrible dream.
"Enemy" belongs to a subgenre of cinematic puzzles that come without answer keys. Their meanings appear to be encrypted in a highly personal symbolism and cracking the code can be fun if you're not too results-oriented. It's possible that Villeneuve himself isn't quite clear what "Enemy" is trying to say. If so, the movie works as a kind of Rorschach test: Whatever the answers are, they'll be revealing.
PLOT A history professor discovers the existence of his exact physical double.
RATING (language, nudity, sexuality, adult themes)
CAST Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini
BOTTOM LINE From the director of "Prisoners" comes another shiver-inducing thriller, though this one does not wrap up neatly. Its strange ending will fascinate some and infuriate others.