A jaundiced sense of unease hangs over director Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy like a fog, and that’s before the first spider’s crept into the frame. From its noir-ish opening to startling end, it’s a riddle wrapped up in an eerie enigma.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who put in an engagingly twitchy performance in Villeneuve’s previous feature Prisoners, takes on a dual role here. First, he plays Adam, a bearded, unremarkable history teacher who shuffles through life with the slightly pained expression of a chronic migraine sufferer. Adam becomes obsessed with Anthony, a jobbing actor whom he spots in some sort of breezy romantic comedy called Where There’s A Will There’s A Way. Disturbingly, Anthony looks exactly like Adam (because he’s also played by Gyllenhaal) and, like Adam, lives in Toronto.
The mystery deepens when Adam arranges a meeting with his doppelganger. They both have a scar in exactly the same place, and even Anthony’s girlfriend Helen (Sarah Gadon) can’t tell the pair apart. There doesn’t seem to be a logical reason why the universe would produce two identical men, and their knowledge of each other begins to nag at their psyches.
Adapted from The Double, a 2002 novel by Jose Saramago, Enemy is a murky, inscrutable film – more atmospheric mood piece than conventional thriller. There are vaguely Hitchcockian overtones to some scenes – particularly when Anthony begins to stalk Adam’s girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent), his eyes leering predatorily – but Enemy’s more Lost Highway than Dial M For Murder. The Lynchian connections are underlined by a brief appearance from Isabella Rossellini, whose most famous role was arguably Lynch’s classic Blue Velvet.
Like Lynch’s more personal films, Enemy functions under its own dream logic. Certain character actions – particularly in the final third – don’t initially make much sense, at least until you start viewing the film as a 90-minute-long nightmare about sexuality and commitment.
Gyllenhaal is excellent in his dual role, deftly contrasting Adam’s unassuming everyman with Anthony’s cocksure volatility. It’s a more low-key performance than Nightcrawler, and necessarily so: both characters are overwhelmed by the hazy, concrete expanse of Toronto, which seems to envelope the entire movie like a prison. One of the key themes in Enemy seems to be individuality, or what happens when it is suddenly taken away.
In The Double, Richard Ayoade’s Gilliam-like adaptation of Dostoyevski’s novel, we saw a much more flamboyant and outgoing Jesse Eisenberg effectively cancel out a quieter, more awkward Jesse Eisenberg. In David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, the twins played by Jeremy Irons lived in a state of delicate symbiosis, where the removal of one destroyed the other. In Enemy, one doesn’t cancel the other one out, but rather, they cast each other in a disturbing light, accentuating their paranoia and anxiety.
Shot almost exclusively in shades of black and sickly amber, Enemy is punctuated by a trio of arachnid images, which I won’t spoil by describing here. Prowling to an abrupt, startling and possibly even frustrating conclusion, Villeneuve’s film has already been subjected to a number of interpretations, including one theory that the whole thing has something to do with Totalitarianism. In the disc’s scant extras, which amount to a handful of interviews and some behind-the-scenes footage, members of the cast (and Villeneuve himself) talk a bit about their interpretation of the film’s symbolism – Gyllenhaal’s explanation (which, again, I won’t spoil) is among the most plausible.
Whatever Enemy’s underlying meanings are, its refusal to provide immediate solutions to its riddles will probably irritate anyone expecting a more conventional mystery thriller. But for those willing to stick with it, Enemy‘s a creepy, hypnotic film that, like the wisps of a spider’s web, has a stickiness that stays with you for days afterwards.
Enemy is out on DVD and Blu-ray on the 9th February in the UK.
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