Canada | 2013 | Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Logline: A college professor spots an identical-looking man in a movie and becomes obsessed with meeting him only to provoke the look-alike into a more troublesome agenda.
A man (Jake Gyellenhaal) is in the audience of an underground erotic fetish show, a clandestine club for voyeurs, watching a naked woman on a small stage about to crush a live tarantula under her stilettoed platform shoe. He partially covers his face, as if in detached horror, or maybe repulsion. His name is Anthony. He is an actor.
A man (Jake Gyllenhaal) lectures his university class on history. In the staff room a colleague recommends a movie, despite the teacher expressing no interest in watching films. But he rents it anyway. His name is Adam. He is a professor.
These two men look identical. One is the double. The other is the doppelganger. They are both one and the same.
Adam has a lover, Mary (Mélanie Laurent), who comes around for wine, dinner, and sex. Anthony has a wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), pregnant with their child. Both are blondes. They don’t look the same.
Adam discovers one of the extras in the movie appears to be him, or looks exactly like him. This absurd weirdness becomes an obsession leading to the two men meeting secretly. They even share the same scar on their torso.
Now it’s getting very strange, indeed.
Especially when Anthony becomes convinced Adam has impregnated his wife and makes an aggressive proposition.
Based on the novel The Double by José Saramago, and featuring a superbly nuanced performance from Gyllenhaal, this is an elusive and elliptical portrait of infidelity, deceit, corruption, and betrayal. The excellent screenplay, by Javier Gullon, takes the basic elements of the novel and twists them into a parable of fear and desire, a creeping nightmare bathed in jaundiced daylight.
Be careful of what lies behind the door you now have a key to.
The visual motif Villeneuve uses significantly, and yet, keeps tantalisingly out of quick and easy comprehension, is the literal/symbolic use of the spider and its web.
There is no immediate or obvious explanation for the arachno-punctuation. The spider exists in a kind of limbo of interpretation. Curiously, a contractual clause for the cast was not to discuss the meaning of the spiders in any media interviews.
Narrative path as subconscious stream.
The spider represents different elements within the man’s mind, his subconscious: his morbid fascination, his reckless desire, his inexorable fear, his clutch on power, and his lack of control. The behemoth spider that looms over the city symbolises the power the women in his life have, the cracked glass of the car window represents the deadly web of the hunter and the hunted.
The giant spider frantically backing up into the corner of the room is coiled rage waiting to pounce and devour the enemy.
Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered.
Hell hath no fury like a woman cornered.