ADVERTISEMENT

You need to pay rapt attention to the first 20 minutes of “Enemy.” When the jaw-dropping ending comes and wallops you in your seat – as it has almost every onlooker so far – you’re going to need to remember the film’s beginning.

No matter what, I assure you you’ll have a very lively conversation in the car on the way home (or wherever), but you’ll have a lot more to chew on if you’ve paid attention.

The film ends very differently from the novel on which it’s based by Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago. A great deal of Saramago’s novel “The Double” corresponds to what happens in the film – just not the ending which is another matter entirely. So don’t search there for clarity. The ending is by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve and his screenwriter Javier Gullon.

Obviously, it’s in the great doppelgänger tradition of Western storytelling, the tradition where you’ll find Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “William Wilson,” Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella and E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale both called “The Double,” Joseph Conrad’s story “The Secret Sharer,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and any number of others.

The tale here from Villeneuve – whose later impressive and ultra-dark film opened previously and was called “Prisoners” – is about a mild-mannered Toronto academic named Adam who is told by a chirping colleague that even if he doesn’t like movies, he owes it to himself to see a film called “Where There’s a Way.”

Adam’s sex life with his girlfriend doesn’t seem to be all that satisfying anyway so instead of coming to bed one night, he watches the film on video. And there, in a spear-carrying role in the background, he spots a man who could be his exact double.

Put a trained academic together with a computer and in no time he discovers that the actor doing the flash-by walk-on part in the background is named Daniel Saint-Claire. His real name is Anthony Clare. He has a pregnant wife and he seems to live in an apartment much more high-end than Adam’s grim gigs in the arid apartment buildings found in Mississauga (rather starkly rendered).

He knows he shouldn’t seek him out. So do we in the audience. Even if we didn’t, the creepy droning electronic soundtrack score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans reminds us. But Adam the academic can’t stay away without finding out more.

So he does. What he discovers is that the two not only look exactly alike but sound exactly alike. And not only are their voices identical but the women in their lives could be sisters.

When they meet, the focus shifts to Anthony’s life – suggestions of recklessness and fecklessness, a history of infidelity and tensions with his mother (played by Isabella Rosellini).

Their personalities are very different – cautious, fretful, given to depression for Adam, Anthony given to wildness and a secret life.

Anthony’s wife learns her husband has a double but Adam’s girlfriend is left in the dark.

What these suddenly secret twins eventually concoct is the ancient temptation of all twins in stories – the trading of partners.

What each vaguely unhappy woman discovers during unknowing sex with their partner’s double is a satisfaction she couldn’t get before from her real lover.

And then after that in this dark expressionist tale of Toronto Gothic, you’re entirely on your own, with only your fellow audience members and critics to help you. As I said, Saramago’s original novel can’t explain it for you.

I like the fact that the droning, proto-electronic soundtrack seems to have made a comeback for this kind of creepy thriller (think of T-Bone Burnett’s music for HBO’s “True Detective”).

The movie isn’t long but it doesn’t feel rushed or jangled. Its narrative jostlings, up to the end, are coherent and logical. You’ll need to do some figuring out sometimes to match actor Jake Gyllenhaal with the right character and the right narrative but you’ll have little difficulty.

And then, quite nicely, the movie blows your mind to kingdom come.

An artfully minor horror thriller to disturb your fantasies and dreams for a bit longer than usual.

ENEMY

3 stars

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Isabella Rossellini, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Running time: 90 minutes

Rating: R for nudity, strong sexual content, language and horror film imagery.

The Lowdown: A mild Toronto college professor spots his exact double in a film and can’t stop himself from seeking him out with increasingly dire consequences.

email: jsimon@buffnews.com