Jake Gyllenhaal faces off with himself in this new doppelganger thriller from director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies), which is an adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago’s novel The Double. Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal) is a Toronto-based history professor, who lives a somewhat mundane and routine life with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent). Based on the recommendation of a co-worker, Adam rents a film one night and is shocked to see a man that looks exactly like him in one of the film’s bit parts. Adam quickly becomes obsessed with finding this doppelganger, who goes by the name of Anthony Clair and lives with his pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon). Adam quickly begins to regret tracking Anthony down, as the latter starts getting a little too interested in the former’s life.
If there are three words that I can use to describe Enemy, they are ugly, weird, and confusing. The confusion starts with the very first scene, showing a bunch of men, including Anthony, at some sort of private sex club, watching a naked Helen on stage. This scene, as well as repeated spider imagery and weird dream sequences, don’t seem to belong in a story about a man obsessed with his double. Of course, Denis Villeneuve is no stranger to putting weird elements in his films, such as the talking fish that narrates his 2000 film Maelström. However, there is something about these weird elements of Enemy that just take you out of the story. The film’s very head scratching final shot is either going to get you thinking about what this imagery means or you will leave the theatre completely confused and perhaps somewhat angry.
If you take away all the weird and confusing elements, Enemy is a relatively simple story. However, the plot of the film is structured in such a way that the story, which is probably better off as a short film, is needlessly stretched out. Much of Enemy’s 90 minute timeframe is spent with Adam merely seeking out and stalking Andrew and about an hour has passed before they finally meet face-to-face. I do have to give credit to Jake Gyllenhaal for attempting to make Adam and Andrew into two distinguishable characters, even though they look identical. It isn’t as successful as other dual performances, such as Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers, however you are able to tell for the most part which is which.
For all intents and purposes, Enemy is a four character film, with Adam, Andrew, and their significant others being the only major factors to the plot. That said, I have to argue that the female characters in the film are quite underdeveloped. Mélanie Laurent has very few lines in the film and it almost seems like her only purpose in the film is to have sex (with Adam) and be stalked (by Andrew). Sarah Gadon has a bit more character development and is very much the lead female of the film, but even she seems to be just “there.” I should also note that Isabella Rossellini makes a brief appearance in the film as Adam’s mother, whose appearance serves to add a bit more confusion to the ongoing double story.
I should also make note of Enemy’s cinematography, which shows everything in a very ugly sepia tone. All the interiors are a sickly yellow, while the smoky yellow-tinged shots of Toronto, makes the city look like the worst place to live in. I’m sure Denis Villeneuve had an artistic reason for shooting Enemy like this, but all this yellow isn’t really that pleasant on the eyes. Then of course, there is the somewhat distorting editing, which will repeatedly cut to black, before switching to a new shot. In some ways, the way the film was shot reminded me of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, particularly in the film’s opening scene in the sex club.
Overall, I have to say that Enemy is a very hard film for me to process. There are some aspects of this film that I liked, while others I was not too crazy about. The film’s weird and confusing images might serve as a hint that there is probably much more to this, seemingly simple, doppelganger story than we are lead to believe. However, the film purposely leaves things open to interpretation, which is ultimately its main undoing. The film also takes too long to get Adam face-to-face with his double, which is a shame, since I thought the plotting of the film improved somewhat after that point. I’m not going to completely write-off Enemy, since there is a chance that I might understand it more on rewatch. However, as of right now, I am just going to remain neutral on the film, since I really don’t know what the film is trying to say.5 | INDIFFERENT