Posted by martinteller on March 31, 2014
Real quick plot summary here. History prof Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers that he has a doppelganger, a bit part actor named Anthony (also Gyllenhaal, duh). He tracks him down and their lives become intertwined, with Adam’s girlfriend Mary (Sarah Gadon) and Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Melanie Laurent) getting caught in the middle. Also, spiders.
Chances are if you’ve heard about this film, you’ve heard about the final shot. And yeah, it is a doozy of a shot. It’s one of the best final shots I’ve seen in a long time. It really blew me away. And it made me wish I had enjoyed all the stuff leading up to it more. I would like to think this is a movie that works at establishing a Lynchian (is the casting of Isabella Rossellini as the mother an homage?) atmosphere rather than a cryptic puzzle waiting to be solved. Then I wouldn’t have to feel so frustrated by it. But director Denis Villeneuve has apparently made clear in interviews that there is an explanation for everything, and the film opens with a line from the novel — “Chaos is order yet undeciphered” — that also suggests the story can be pieced together.
I certainly can’t offer an explanation. As best I can tell, it’s a statement about totalitarianism. Adam gives a lecture about dictatorships, how they manipulate the citizenry and how the pattern repeats itself. Shortly thereafter, we hear him repeat the lecture. This could be another instance of “doubling” in the film, it could be simply to show how repetitive his life is, or it could be to highlight the fact that he is under the thumb of sinister powers. Perhaps all of the above. But there are hints of secret societies where an elite wield a power that others don’t have access to (also, spiders). I’ve seen theories that Adam and Anthony are the same person. This doesn’t hold much water with me, and seems like an attempt to shoehorn the movie into the Fight Club model. On the other hand, I’m not sure the whole movie supports my dictatorship theory, either. I’d have to watch it again.
And here’s the thing: I don’t want to watch it again. That last shot (and a few really intriguing grabs at surrealism throughout the film) almost makes me want to go back and examine it… but as a movie-watching experience, it’s pretty ponderous. The color palette is exceptionally drab (again, perhaps to illustrate the state of affairs under this mysterious totalitarian presence) and the movie really plods along. It didn’t draw me in, or it occasionally drew me in for a second only to dump me back out again. Gyllenhaal handles the double role well… there are times when it’s clear who is who, and times when it’s appropriately confusing. But I had a lot of problems with the way the characters behaved. Adam and Helen are both disproportionately freaked out about finding someone else who looks like him, and Adam’s weird attempts at subterfuge about the whole thing didn’t jibe with me at all. Perhaps, if we are in fact talking about an oppressed society, then everyone is just naturally fearful and suspicious all the time.
I’ve seen the film compared to Lynch and Kafka. But Lynch and Kafka are fun. They give you a lot to chew on, they dazzle you and intrigue you and mindfuck you properly. I love a good mindfuck. This is a mediocre mindfuck. It’s more like a mindhandjob. Rating: Fair (64)