As the end credits began to roll on Denis Villeneuve’s latest film Enemy, a collective hush came over the crowd. The stunned silence, which followed the brilliantly abrupt ending, could best be summed up in one word “huh”. Though something tells me that this was the exact response Villeneuve was hoping for.
Coming off a year in which his first English language film, Prisoners, received rave reviews, Villeneuve will no doubt have people talking again this year. This is not surprising mind you as Villeneuve has been one of Canada’s most exciting directors for years; it just took a while for the rest of the world to realize this. For those now discovering his talents, Enemy may not be the film you want to use as a jumping off point. Easily his most head scratching film to date, the film requires multiple viewings to decipher. Even then there will no doubt be several mysteries left unsolved.
The story revolves around a history professor named Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) who lives a rather ordinary life. He spends his days lecturing about the repetitive nature of dictatorships, nights grading papers, and only seems mildly interested in spending time outside of the bedroom with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent). Breaking his usual routine one night, Adam decides to rent a DVD and is startled to see himself on screen.
Slowly Adam becomes obsessed with finding out everything he can about his doppelganger. He discovers that his double is an actor named Anthony St. Claire (also, played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who lives in the west end of the city. Like Adam, Anthony has his own beautiful blonde in the form of his wife Helen (Sarah Gadon), who is six-months pregnant. At first the giddy excitement of Adam’s curiosity is on par with a fan meeting their favourite celebrity. However, the tables take a dark turn when Anthony becomes interested in aspects of Adam’s life, more specifically Mary.
To reveal anymore of the plot would be a disservice to the film. While I will be the first to admit that I did not understand several of the things that occurred in Enemy, there is something intriguing about the genuine sense of surprise that the film offers. There are a couple of great scenes that are so mind-bending and shocking that you really need to just experience it. Much like last year’s Upstream Color, even more so in fact, Enemy is a puzzle that feels like it may take a decade to solve.
The film is a psychological thriller that feels both Hitchcockian and Kubrickian at various points. I honestly cannot recall the last time I felt such an urge to seek out the source material, it is based on José Saramago’s novel The Double, immediately after the screening ended. Maybe it will provide the golden brick road to deciphering the film. Of course I have my own theories about Adam and Anthony’s relationship, but I need to see the film a few more times to be sure.
For their part, the cast does a wonderful job of taking us down Villeneuve’s dark and confusing rabbit hole. Gyllenhaal is great playing the two men, he ensures that both men are unique enough that they are distinguishable when they need to be. Canadian actress Sarah Gadon is the subtle scene stealer of the piece. She perfectly encapsulates the ominous paranoia that both her character and the audience feel throughout the film. Their performances fit well with the seedy yellow tint that permeates the film. Villeneuve’s version of Toronto and Mississauga is bleak and grimy. It actually makes the underground gentlemen’s establishment at the beginning, a small key to unlocking the cerebral labyrinth that is Enemy, feel like the nicest place in the Greater Toronto Area.
Though the words above may sound like I disliked the film, I actually found it rather intriguing. While I did not grasp everything that was going on, I was never bored with the journey Villeneuve was taking us on. Enemy is a film that I think is worth seeing, but it is best to go into the film with tempered expectations. Although the premise is straightforward, the overall film is anything but. Enemy will have you scratching your head in confusion and pondering it for days…just the way Villeneuve intended.