Denis Villeneuve has been a busy man; in 2013 he released not one but two new films and both premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The first one was Prisoners (his first feature in English) starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman and the other was Enemy, also with Jake Gyllenhaal. While Prisoners was a fairly conventional yet very solid thriller; Enemy on the other hand is something entirely different. A genre-bending film that is officially classified as an erotic thriller, Enemy is like a rubick’s cube in its complexity and mystique. The film is about a University professor named Adam Bell (played by Gyllenhaal) who notices a man that looks exactly like him in a film and attempts to meet him. It is a simple premise that becomes noticeably complex as the film nears the inevitable conclusion.
As you can already guess Gyllenhaal also plays the doppelganger, a minor film actor named Anthony Claire. Gyllenhaal portrays two men who look identical while having different personalities and does it with relative ease. Rounding out the main cast is Mélanie Laurent and Isabella Rossellini as Adam’s girlfriend and mother respectively and Sarah Hadon as Anthony’s wife Helen.
Right from the beginning the atmosphere of this film is thicker than a humid summer day in downtown Toronto. It opens up at a mysterious sex show and shots of a pregnant woman and then for some reason, a spider is brought out. Later on we get shots of the Toronto skyline with a smoggy orange sky and this stuffy atmosphere stays in the whole film, especially the early scenes with just Adam. Prisoners had the great Roger Deakins providing cinematography and though he is a little missed in this I think Nicolas Bolduc does a decent job creating the unified tone and look of the film.
Adam’s life revolves around his teaching job, having sex with his girlfriend, and drinking. Flawed characters are the most interesting and even if Adam is a very flawed individual (to the point of attempting to rape his sleeping girlfriend) he is not particularly compelling on the surface. Anthony, though seems to have a fulfilling life with a fancy high-rise condo and a pregnant wife, is not much better. The two characters are shallow as individuals but together they play off each other nicely and the main aspect of the film to me was seeing how these two characters interact with one another. Besides the ending, I was quite satisfied with how the sequence of events played out.
Enemy goes a lot of places during its 90-minute run time and even if it is a very unsettling film there are some comedic moments (perhaps unintentionally) sprinkled throughout. These comedic moments (especially the ones with Adam’s mother) are brilliant in how awkward they are. You can tell just by watching that something is not quite right with the world Adam and Anthony live in. There are subtle and not so subtle clues about what is going on but by the end of it you are left to figure out what it all means.
Enemy feels like a nightmare that you can not wake up from. What does all of it mean exactly? Well, like a good puzzle, Enemy is a film that has many layers and can be interpreted a lot of ways. I can guarantee, despite the fact the ending will rub a lot of people the wrong way, it is still worth seeing just so you can attempt to solve its web of mystery for yourself.