Review by-Jarrett Leahy
While watching a movie recommended by a fellow colleague, Adam Bell, a withdrawn college history professor, shockingly discovers an actor who is identical to him. As fascination turns to obsession, Adam attempts to track down and meet this apparent look-alike. Loosely inspired by the 2002 Jose Saramago novel, The Double, Enemy is the cinematic creation of Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve’s initial success came after his 2010 foreign masterwork, Incendies received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film of the Year. His follow-up film, the 2013 ultra-dark, crime drama Prisoners officially introduced Villeneuve to American audiences, showing just how gifted a filmmaker he is. In Enemy, Villeneuve’s use of a muted, yellow-hued color pallet along with sharp contrasts between light and shadows, and a harsh, discordant musical score creates an hypnotically ominous and eerie atmosphere that keeps the viewer on edge throughout. His dank, dusty, smog infested depiction of the almost unrecognizable skyline of Toronto adds even more to the sinister, haunting feel of the film.
Over last decade, Jake Gyllenhaal has become one of the most taken for granted actors of his generation. While other movie stars have been coasting on the latest big budget, superhero craze, Gyllenhaal has expanded his range, taking chances on riskier, more rewarding projects like Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, Brothers, Source Code, End of Watch, and Prisoners. Despite being released after Prisoners, Enemy is in fact the first collaboration between Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve. Asked to play not one, but two emotionally convoluted characters, Enemy is yet another example of Gyllenhaal’s ever-expanding commitment to selecting challenging roles. Through the use subtle changes in inflection along with variations in gestures and body language, Gyllenhaal is able to expertly differentiate the unique personalities of these two identical characters.
Throughout the movie, we are keenly made aware of the mental anguish both of these men are struggling with through Villeneuve’s repeated use the off-putting image of the spider. One can be seen during the illicit, underground erotic show depicted early in the film, another is seen in a dream sequence that portrays a naked female body with a grotesque spider’s head. Even images like the trolley car cables and shattered glass were designed and filmed to give the shrouded appearance of a spider web. Similar to the way they deceive and ensnare their prey, the spider becomes a type of symbolic representation of the perceived trappings of the relationships these men are in.
The film’s most powerful brilliance, its ambiguity, may also be its ultimate downfall in some peoples’ eyes. As the film unfolds, questions begin to arise as to whether these are in fact two separate men or one man who is having a break with reality. Why does Adam have a torn picture that later shows up in Anthony’s apartment? And why did Adam’s mother tell him to quit that fantasy of being a third rate actor? (which is in fact Anthony’s dream). Interpretations and conspiracy theories have already begun popping up on various movie fan boards, each one more detailed and elaborately entertaining than the last and some laying out pretty compelling arguments that in fact there may be only one man. When questioned about the equivocalness surrounding Enemy, Villeneuve simply stated that he wanted to keep the ambiguity of it intact so that the film remained open to interpretation.
This has been one of my most difficult reviews to write, not only because the movie’s complexities and prevarications, but because of an immense desire to adequately capture my admiration and wonderment for this film. An esoteric example of experimental, art house horror, Enemy is advanced viewing that some just simply won’t appreciate. Having now watched the movie three times in less than a week, I can honestly say it is a film that you can explore repeatedly and discover new clues with each viewing. Some may find the unresolved ambiguity of films like this to be a frustrating experience. I personally found Enemy to be one of the most hauntingly fascinating and intoxicatingly thought-provoking films of the first half of 2014.