Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon and Mélanie Laurent
Running Time: 90 minutes
Release Date: January 2nd
“All the world’s great events happen twice… the first time is a tragedy, the second time is a farce.”
Adam, a dishevelled college professor, explains the systems of control used by dictatorships to his class, alluding to a quote by Hegel that was expanding upon by Marx. It appears throwaway but could also form another piece in the Möbius strip puzzle Enemy turns out to be. At face value, the tale of a man who meets his doppelgänger isn’t a new one — we even had one last year — but where Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) and Jake Gyllenhaal take it is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Adam becomes intertwined and obsessed with his lookalike, a jobbing actor Anthony, after briefly catching him in an almost hallucinatory state watching a movie. He tries to make contact, confusing Anthony’s six-month pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) and enraging Anthony, sparking a conflict between the two. Simple, right? Not a hope.
Considering its noose-tight running time, Villeneuve packs every frame, every image with hints to something larger going on. Adam teaches about totalitarianism and his world seems to support it. Buildings are Orwellian, looking like mid-80s east Berlin, fascist propaganda is splattered on walls in the background and the whole movie is coated in a sickly yellow hue, almost jaundiced. And then there’s the spiders: facing crushing under the long heel of a stiletto (some wild inversion on a fascist boot on the face); webs appear in cracked mirrors, ties and overhead cables; and a whopping great one crawling over a cityscape. Its Toronto setting, too, is apt — the home of one David Cronenberg whose early fondness for sexually charged body horror creeps in and out.
I had high praise for Gyllenhaal’s super-creep performance in Nightcrawler, a return to him being an actor rather than a movie star. With Enemy, he gets to be both. Adam is a jittery mess, living in an apartment so bare and spartan, it’s hardly there. Anthony, on the other hand, is strong-willed and cocksure, carrying himself like a movie star when his leather jacket is juxtaposed with Adam’s schlubby tweed one. Its trio of women — Gadon, Laurent and Rossellini — play small but crucial and impressive roles; their interactions with Adam and Anthony probably tell you most about them. Gadon must be mentioned for particular praise, wonderfully conveying the effects of a fractured relationship and the fear of a stranger possibly living with you and having their offspring in you.
Villeneuve fleets through the genres with ease. Enemy is as much a mystery as it is a thriller, horror, relationship drama or psychological evaluation. There’s a malaise in the air throughout, it’s there in the perpetual fog that hangs over Ontario and or the low-end throb of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrians’ score. It’s safe to say it infects you, hanging around, and — if you’ll excuse borrowing its spider imagery — covering your brain in its web. You can’t help but get stuck in it.