The same year as Prisoners, director Denis Villeneuve sneaked this atmospheric thriller passed us.
Adam is a history lecturer whose mediocre life is shaken when he sees an actor in a film who looks and sounds exactly like him. When he reaches out to his doppelganger, both men’s lives become entangled and tensions mount.
What a strange experience this was. Based off of the novel The Double by José Saramago, Enemy is a tense, explicit and unsettled experience, full of the bleak, often washed out colours that many of Villeneuve’s films feature. This puzzle box of a movie definitely requires multiple viewings!
At first nothing seems overly wrong. Adam, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, seems only at odds with his life and upon seeing this actor in a film who looks exactly like him decides to seek him out. Nothing especially surprising about that; most of us would do that! But throughout this long, almost silent, sequence the score is tense and unnerving; drenching the quiet in foreboding and doubt, as if we want Adam to stop his search before its even begun.
Even before we meet his double, there is some unease built through scattered, explicit and surreal imagery; Enemy has to be the most edited film of Villeneuve’s I’ve seen so far, lacking a lot of his long, steady establishing shots. The tight, concise pacing is loaded with symbolism and questions.
Antony, also played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a far more troubled and aggressive man compared to the meek and cautious Adam. Gyllenhaal portrays both men extremely well (as if you needed me to tell you that he provides a layered performance) but the film doesn’t go out of its way to use this as a gimmick. Both men are intensely reluctant to be around each other and Anthony immediately conspires against Adam.
There’s a lot of symbolism here. Chief among them being spiders. Villeneuve had the cast and crew sign contracts to never explain what the spiders represent, yet they and similar images, appear everywhere and even in fantastical manners. This is great as the film never explains it; leaving it to the viewer what the film’s true intentions are. Many film critics and film buffs have made good cases for what they believe are the relevant themes. Entrapment is one of mine, but I don’t want to go into too many details and spoiler-territory.
It is a very slow boil, very reliant on the viewer’s attention to detail and involvement with atmosphere (similar to a lot of the director’s work) as I said before, there are no hi-jinx or gimmicks with having two Gyllenhaals. This is a relationship study with almost supernatural undertones.
It isn’t going to wow everyone, but it had me compelled to watch it throughout and insists that I watch it again. While some of the thematic intention doesn’t quite fit with the actual doppelganger concept, this could be improved upon watching it again.
Overall I enjoyed this dark, mature, puzzle-movie and I highly recommend it. It can only improve with further viewing, so appreciate this score might be considered low.