0342 | Enemy

1015996-rodeo-fx-enhances-villeneuve-s-enemyLoosely adapted by Javier Gullón from José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double, Enemy is the second 2013 collaboration between actor Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve, who made the child abduction thriller Prisoners together in the same year. This is by some distance the more satisfying film of the two, though the ambiguous nature and glacial pace of its story will undoubtedly put some people off. It was finally released in cinemas earlier this year in the UK, six months after the DVD and Blu-Ray went on sale, and around eight months after general release around the rest of the world.

We’re in doppelgänger territory once again, though in truth Enemy has little in common with the recent likes of Coherence, The One I Love or – I imagine – Richard Ayoade’s The Double. Villeneuve’s nods are to David Lynch, that great master of dual identity stories, and he opens proceedings with an unsettling scene set in an underground sex club that recalls the transformative Silencio venue of Mulholland Drive. He also casts Isabella Rossellini in a minor role, but it’s Villeneuve’s reticence with regard to explaining what is happening that most obviously recalls Lynch, though you could also point to the sudden outbreaks of surreal, dreamlike passages that suffuse: spiders are used symbolically throughout and feature in a variety of unexpected forms, from facial disfigurements (linked to one character’s wearing of a motorbike helmet) to the giant arachnid briefly seen wandering around Toronto (see picture above).

The Double featured Jesse Eisenberg playing opposite Jesse Eisenberg, and here Gyllenhaal also plays two different characters, one a distracted college history professor by the name of Adam Bell, the other a jobbing actor by the name of Anthony Claire. The former becomes aware of the existence of the latter, who it transpires is an exact body double, an_enemywhen a colleague recommends renting a certain DVD in which Claire briefly features as a hotel bellhop. Both men live in Toronto, and thus with a little online research the professor is able to find the address of the talent agency representing Claire, and poses as the actor in order to discover his home address. This is, of course, strange behaviour: given a similar predicament most people would certainly freak out, and assume that they have a twin, but would probably go about making contact in an entirely different way. Yet by this stage Adam’s moribund lifestyle and jumpy nature have been established and his snooping, duplicitous conduct smartly sets off a series of ripples through the film, echoed by later scenes which show Anthony or his pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) stalking other characters.

The film is low on dialogue and heavy on mood and imagery, mostly filmed with a hazy yellow overlay. Conversations are largely awkward and stilted, including those between Adam and his long-term partner Mary (Mélanie Laurent), who seem to have little in the way of affection for one another (the same can be said for the ENEMY2bickering Anthony and Helen, with Anthony’s infidelity mentioned during one row; this is one of several hints to establish that the actor has a far stronger sex drive than the professor and, due to the pregnancy, there’s a suggestion that Anthony’s sex life at home is also far busier than Adam’s). Indeed Adam’s life generally seems to be a dreary, daily mix of commuting and marking papers, while the snippets of his lectures reveal a listless, monotonous delivery, his state of mind ironically emphasised by the fact that he is talking to his students about the effects of repetition in historical terms.

In terms of the imagery, a lot of it is as you would expect, given the subject matter. The opening and unlocking of doors features heavily: most obviously the key granting access to the sex club keeps appearing but Adam also struggles to get in the door of the building that houses Anthony’s talent agency, while when the two characters first meet Villeneuve concentrates for a short period on the motel room door that separates them (the last barrier stopping two worlds from colliding). Additionally the director very deliberately chooses not to show Adam opening the door for Mary when she arrives at his apartment on two occasions. Reflective surfaces such as mirrors and polished tables also feature, with the former allowing Gyllenhaal a De Niro-style moment as Anthony aggressively practices his delivery of the question ‘Did you fuck my wife?’ in the bathroom. Some of the images of Enemy, however, are more surprising and, as such, more intriguing. The spider is a particularly interesting motif; in dreams they are often supposed to represent cunning, but can also signify rebirth, death and cycles, and in that sense Villeneuve’s inclusion of the creature in different forms makes sense even if the film’s final shot is designed to leave you scratching your head. Instead of relying on two Gyllenhaals in a frame for insta-weirdness it’s the sightings of these over-sized spiders that linger in the memory, as well as related images (for example the slow zoom into a smashed car window that resembles a spider’s web).

Gyllenhaal uses his body language to differentiate between the two characters; where Anthony is upright, projecting an air of confidence, Adam is slightly hunched and shaky, his anxiety seemingly enhanced by internal dialogue; he stumbles through sentences and is flustered where Anthony is concise and clear. Yet although Anthony seems like the aggressor for much of the second half of the film it is Adam who is the more cunning and successful in terms of attaining a goal (partly due to the opposite ways that Mary and Helen react to events). Both make a series of calculated moves that are spookily similar but the final outcome of their short battle of wits comes as a surprise given that Anthony’s job as an actor is to impersonate and ‘become’ someone else entirely. I also liked the way Villeneuve intentionally blurs the picture on one or two occasions so that we’re unsure which of Gyllenhaal’s two characters are on screen; see, for example, the scene with Isabella Rossellini, who is supposedly playing Adam’s mother but chastises him for choosing acting as a career, rather than teaching. That’s just one small mystery in an intriguing, thought-provoking and carefully-designed puzzle thriller, one that furthers suggestions that both Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve are on the verge of producing something truly special.

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve.
Written by: Javier Gullón. Based on The Double by José Saramago.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini.
Cinematography: Nicolas Bolduc.
Editing: Matthew Hannam.
Music: Daniel Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Year: 2014.


Comments 17

  1. ruth August 11, 2015

    This is an extremely weird flick, and some of the scenes are just hard to watch. But I’m glad I saw it as the acting by Jake G. is outstanding. I don’t have interest in seeing The Double as I’m just not fond of Jesse Eisenberg, I think liking the actor is key as he’s playing TWO characters, ahah.

    • Stu August 12, 2015

      Very weird indeed! I agree Gyllenhaal is very good here, he’s improving all the time and I think we’re going to get something great from him soon. I haven’t seen The Double either but I’ll give it a go at some point as I like the director (his first film was Submarine but he’s also been in quite a few comedies such as The IT Crowd, and has a couple of funny TV shows in the UK).

  2. Todd Benefiel August 12, 2015

    Stu, you sure know how to ruin a guy. As soon as I opened the e-mail to your review, and saw the photo that leads it all off, I thought, “Oh cool! Giant spider-things invading Toronto! I gotta see this!” Alas, it was not to be. But I enjoyed your review, as always, and it looks like an interesting film (and all of it in a short 90-minute run time, which surprises me). For some reason, your details of the story remind me of other films, but I can’t quite place them. ‘Adaptation’, maybe?

    • Stu August 12, 2015

      I’m afraid the spiders only appear for brief seconds, but rest assured this is still well worth seeing! Adaptation – I haven’t thought about that film in ages. I think Nic Cage is playing twin brothers in that, right? It’s definitely the busier, more hurried film of the two, this is a brooding, serious and slightly creepy thriller.

    • Stu August 12, 2015

      I don’t think you’ll regret it if you watch it, Keith, but don’t hold me to that! Gyllenhaal is really good, for starters, but I think Villeneuve is on the verge of making something excellent.

        • Stu August 12, 2015

          He certainly has. It’s only the past 8 or 9 months or so that I’ve caught up with some of his best performances in recent years, including this one (I watched Prisoners and End Of Watch recently too). He’s going from strength to strength.

  3. Tom August 13, 2015

    I really can appreciate your ending line there. I think over time this movie has started to grow on me. I absolutely hated it when I first watched, and not simply because of what I thought was hands-down the strangest ending to any movie I had ever seen, but mostly because of the overwhelming ambiguity. But since, I’ve come to appreciate that same aspect. I think this definitely warrants a re-watch. I probably should have done so before writing my thoughts down on it, but oh well.

    For what it is worth, I also loved Gyllenhaal in a double role. And this is a much better film than Ayoade’s The Double, if you ask me. 🙂

    Great take.

    • Stu August 13, 2015

      Thanks for the advice! I still want to see The Double, especially as opinions seem mixed (that kind of thing always attracts me to a movie). As for Enemy, obviously I liked that ambiguity personally, and I’d be interested to hear what you think if you ever give it a second watch, especially if your opinion has changed over time. Cheers Tom!

  4. Anonymous August 16, 2015

    Completely in agreement Stu. Found this to be an involving and intriguing work on cinema that has shades of Lynch at his best. Much better than the otherwise overrated Prisoners.

    • Stu August 17, 2015

      Thanks very much. I thought Prisoners was pretty good when I saw it, but on reflection not a patch on this. I’m interested to see Sicario soon. Villeneuve, strong cast, Roger Deakins, up for the Palme D’Or…looks good on paper!

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