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Enemy: Unconventional Doppelgänger Thriller

By Ural Garrett · March 11, 2014

Director Denis Villeneuve re-teams with Prisoners star Jake Gyllenhaal for the chilling yet sensual thriller Enemy. Based on The Double by Portuguese writer Josè Saramago, there’s an air of confusion that works in the film’s favor. That notion extends to Enemy’s slowly shot opening scene involving some exclusive sex club and a spider. This is where the film’s mysterious mood captivates, taking viewers hand as the narrative gets weirder.

Enemy’s premise gets remotely clearer following Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Adam Bell. Life is pretty monotonous for Adam. He lives in a cramped and dry Toronto apartment with girlfriend Mary (Inglorious Basterds Mèlanie Laurent) while employed as a college history professor. Villeneuve perfectly establishes Adam’s day-to-day existence as quite unfulfilling. So lame that his relationship with Mary even begins to sour. That changes after a co-worker advises him to rent a “lighthearted” movie. During a laptop viewing of the DVD, he notices a minor actor, which resembles him perfectly. An intensive track down leads him to his doppelgänger Anthony St. Clair, a struggling actor with a pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon). The two look and sound so alike, Helen even thinks Anthony is pulling a prank when Adam makes calls the couple’s home for the first time. What follows throughout the film’s 90-minute stretch is something that lures those who are welling into its web and never lets go.

Gyllenhaal is magical in his duel roles as Adam and Anthony. Though both characters are physically alike, their differences lend the film life. Everything leading up to the two’s initial meeting feels real yet surreal. Adam’s quiet and awkward demeanor is quite a contrast to Anthony’s narcissistic attitude. While the hermit lifestyle of Adam is affecting his relationship with Mary, Anthony’s alluded infidelity may be a little too much for an expecting Helen. Even Adam’s mother (Death Becomes Her actress Isabella Rossellini) doesn’t get what’s going on.  Gyllenhaal manages to be magically transformative regardless of whose shoes he’s placed in.  For a film involving an actor playing two characters, there’s never a “just because” special effect during scenes with both Adam and Anthony thankfully. Simply put, Gyllenhaal delivers the best “look alike” role since Nicolas Cage’s Academy Award turn in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. Specifically, the Brokeback Mountain star also manages to give his most morbid performance since Donnie Darko.

Villeneuve’s Toronto lends to a dreamlike landscape with an color filter that switches between yellow and brown. The Incendies director makes great use of moody lighting, especially during nighttime scenes taking place in Adam’s apartment. There are some confusing symbolism regarding a spider which doesn’t make sense on the surface. Again, many will probably be able to connect the dots in some way or another.

Expect multiple screenings of Enemy to grasp every plot point and wink-and-nod as the film thoroughly at times feels like an art-house flick that’ll leave many bewildered. However, the narrative structure of Enemy is standard enough to follow outside of its ridiculous premise.

Then there’s the ridiculously frighting ending.