Strange, beautiful, terrifying, and stunning, Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy is one of the most enigmatic films of the year.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who last appeared in Villeneuve’s kidnapping drama Prisoners, plays two identical men in Enemy, a mystifying exploration of the male subconscious that unfolds in a way that evokes being trapped in a giant web as we watch a spider slowly approach to make the kill. Indeed, spider imagery is all over this film – the opening scene takes place at a secret sex club where a group of well-dressed men silently watch naked women perform in a small room…and that’s when a tarantula gets involved. Kicking off the movie with a sense of sheer dread, Villeneuve sets the stage for what comes next: a hazy, yellow-tinted, deliberately paced, “Twilight Zone”-style nightmare.
Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a meek college professor who gives lectures about weighty themes like control, self expression, and repetition. Think those are going to be reflected in the movie we’re watching? Adam can’t please his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) in the bedroom – or at least we don’t see it if he can – so one night he ends up watching a movie instead of sleeping with her. But in the background, he notices something strange – there’s a guy who looks exactly like him. Naturally, Adam wants to know what’s up with his doppelganger, and so he sets out to track him down. (Conveniently, they live in the same city.) He finds Anthony St. Claire, an actor who’s personality is the opposite of Adam’s; Anthony is assertive, powerful, and aggressive, and after some back-and-forth phone conversations between the two men, they eventually set up a meeting.
Since the film has shown us that both men are in relationships, it only a matter of time before one of them gets the wholly original idea of trying to sleep with the other’s girl (read: not exactly an original idea). But Villeneuve excels at that whole “creating dread” thing, and he manages to make the scenario feel like the truly horrifying thing it would be if it were to happen in real life instead of like a bad sitcom episode. Helping with the weirdness factor is the fact that the movie isn’t cut together in a linear fashion – the opening scene takes place at the end of the story, and various snatches of the middle of the film feel as if they could be set at a different time from when they’re presented to us.
Enemy (which is based on author Jose Saramago’s 2005 novel The Double) is an uneasy and often frightening film, but it’s also beautifully shot. It’s hard to avoid comparisons to Villeneuve’s Prisoners since these two films were made so close to one another, and though this doesn’t possess the same kind of precision that Roger Deakins brought to that rainy drama, Enemy is loaded with so much subtext that it makes you want to freeze every frame and study every choice and camera move for deeper meaning. Gyllenhaal does great work separating his dual roles, while Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon both bring a lot to the table in their supporting roles.
In many ways, Enemy is a study of masculinity, sexuality, and…well, I’m honestly not sure how else to describe it. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen it, and I’m still trying to process what it all means and how I feel about it. The only thing I’m sure of is that the movie’s imagery is striking and memorable, and each time an image from the film flashes through my mind, it sends a shiver down my spine. Until next time…
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