Synopsis: A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie
Dennis Villenueve has made two films with Jake Gyllenhaal; tense, moody child abduction thriller Prisoners; and Enemy. One is very much not like the other.
Enemy was technically their first collaboration having been filmed before Prisoners, yet released some 15 months later. Without knowing the exact reason for the delay it’s not hard to imagine that without the critical and relative commercial success of Prisoners in the bank, finding a distributor for this surreal noir thriller would have been tricky. Enemy is never an easy watch, bathed in a sepia deviancy and full of disconcerting imagery of spiders, ambiguously symbolising something darker at play. Symbolism apparent from the opening sequence which leaves you in no doubt as to the tone of the next 90 minutes.
Gyllenhaal plays both male leads. Two halves of the same man, be it actually or metaphorically, something which is left for the viewer to decipher along with a host of other things. His primary role is Adam Bell, a sad sack history professor at a Toronto University who seems destined to repeat the sad facts of his mediocre existence. Go to work, teach the same things. Go home to the same sparsely decorated apartment and engage in an odd sexual relationship with a mysterious blonde that always seems to conclude with her leaving for unknown reasons at the end of the night. When he does sleep he is plagued by vivid dreams of spiders.
One day when he attempts to break the monotony of his dull routine by watching a movie he makes a remarkable discovery. His doppelgänger. A bit part actor called Anthony Claire. Suddenly consumed by his need to find his double, Bell tracks Claire to a plush apartment block in a Toronto suburb and begins a strange relationship with his physical counterpart. A man who is the opposite of Bell in many ways, representing the things he fails to be; succesful, positive, assertive, confident. Bell soon lives to regret his decision to seek him out as Claire begins to use their unique situation to satisfy his own sexual proclivities.
It is easily the most head scratching film Gylenhaal has involved himself in since he burst on to the scene with Donnie Darko back in 2001. Both share a similar desire to present the film to it’s audience as a partly formed jigsaw of imagery and dialogue, with the expectation that you work out how the rest of the puzzle fits together before seeing the whole picture. Unlike many pretentious offerings that seek to do the same but fall short when the audience doesn’t care enough to make the effort, Enemy dazzles you with surrealism and a weighty performance from Gyllenhaal that leaves you desperate to work out what you’ve just seen and why you liked it so much. Already there are many web pages dedicated to discussing whether Adam and Anthony are one and the same person, and the meaning of the spiders throughout. I imagine as Enemy finds it’s audience through limited theatrical release and VOD these discussions will grow and grow.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini