Here’s a bit of movie math for you: At this year’s Toronto Film Festival, Jake Gyllenhaal gives three strong performances in two movies for one director. If you’re confused — or wondering whether this is the fortunate byproduct of all those infinitely spawning Gyllenhaals in 2011’s Source Code — then just know that your confusion is exactly what Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve intended.
You’ll find a good 66.6 percent of those Gyllenhaals in Enemy, directed by homegrown Canadian hero Villenueve (whose film Incendies was Oscar nominated in 2010 for Best Foreign Language Film). In it, Gyllenhaal stars as Adam, a college professor whose days and nights seem awfully routine: Adam lectures his class about repetition, heads home to grade papers, doffs his clothes, and boffs girlfriend Melanie Laurent. Lather, rinse, repeat … until Adam happens to watch a movie starring his doppelgänger in a bit part. Soon enough, Adam has tracked down this carbon copy — a part-time actor named Anthony (also played by Gyllenhaal, natch) — and before long, Adam and Anthony have become obsessed with one another, though the film frequently implies that this might actually be an elaborate, schizophrenic case of self-obsession.
To judge from some of the walkouts at the screening today, Enemy isn’t for everybody — it suggests a mash-up of director Shane Carruth’s two head-scratchers, Primer and Upstream Color, and the movie is clearly goading you to parse its clever timeline with your friends afterwards — but it’s a good showcase for Gyllenhaal, who juggles both Adam and Anthony with aplomb, even as Enemy seeks to intentionally blur the lines between both men. It’s too bad that a more fitting title, The Two Jakes, was already taken; then again, Enemy is based on the José Saramago novel The Double, a title that’s already been claimed by another Toronto film … Richard Ayoade’s The Double, which stars Jesse Eisenberg as a man who confronts his own dopplegänger.
This weird situation — double the double movies — suggests some more meta-textual readings: Are both movies somehow the same movie? Are all the Gyllenhaals and Eisenbergs different facets of one single character? Is this the epiphany at the end of the second act where I realize that I’m Gyllenhaal and/or Eisenberg? It would explain the moment yesterday when a strangely accented woman accosted me in the elevator to tell me about her run-in with Jesse Eisenberg, whom she’d just seen on the street. “He’s so short, and his jeans were so tight,” she insisted, before giving me the once-over. Her eyes alighted on my skinny jeans.
Enemy is still seeking distribution, but Gyllenhaal’s other Toronto collaboration with Villeneuve, the dramatic thriller Prisoners, is getting a big awards season push by Warner Bros. this month. Hugh Jackman is the lead, a distraught father who takes the law into his own hands when his daughter is kidnapped, but Gyllenhaal delivers his best work in years as the detective assigned to the case. It would be hard to call Gyllenhaal’s performance unshowy — the character has a blinking tic and awfully conspicuous tattoos that practically announce, “Ask me about my backstory” — but it still takes good advantage of Gyllenhaal’s inherent calmness, especially when it pits him against Jackman’s justifiably overwrought sad dad. It’s a quietly appealing turn that could put Gyllenhaal back into the Best Supporting Actor race eight years after his first Oscar-nominated role in Brokeback Mountain.
Even though Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal first collaborated on Enemy, it’s Prisoners that will get the first (and wider) theatrical release, and if that seems like an unusual twist … well, isn’t that tortured timeline a little apropos, given the subject matter? At the very least, this concentrated triple dose of Gyllenhaal will give Hollywood types and festgoers a chance to reappraise the actor, who has kept a low studio profile since the 2010 flop Prince of Persia. God only gives you as many Gyllenhaals as you’re prepared to handle; maybe this week, we’ve learned there’s no such thing as too many.