Enemy, adapted from Jose Saramago’s "The Double", addresses the doppelgänger narrative with a particular fondness for subverting expectations. Denis Villeneuve, who directed 2013’s Prisoners which also features Jake Gyllenhaal, displays a knack for emphasizing how our environments can prove to be foreign and unaccommodating. He did a similar thing in Prisoners, where the once lofty expectations of suburban living were compromised with a child abduction. But whereas Prisoners was so dependent on histrionics and a brutally violent worldview, Enemy ascribes to a somber sense of loneliness in the face of day-to-day living. One’s solitude can play tricks on the mind and recalibrate expectations of the past and future. Moreover, Enemy is a film that hinges on the development of a dream logic atmosphere. It’s a rarity for a contemporary film to achieve this kind of logic to such inundating affect as Enemy, but it’s the sort of picture that achieves it with a similar sense of horror as Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers.
Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a history professor living a life of solitude. Grading papers in a poorly lit highrise apartment, his life is a series of repetitions. Villeneuve lays the thematic groundwork clearly, if not especially subtly, by including bits of Bell’s history lectures on the nature of historical repetition over his mundane daily activities. Regardless, it works as a means of addressing Bell’s discontent, where his only social interaction comes from his girlfriend’s (an underused Mélanie Laurent) nightly sexual visits. Following a recommendation from a colleague, Bell rents a movie. Reluctantly watching the film, he puts the film away and proceeds to bed. But in what becomes a series of nightmares, Bell awakens to return to the film. He skips around and finds what he was looking for: a character in the film’s backdrop looks exactly like him. Looking through the cast list he proceeds to do a bit of detective work to uncover who is the man.
Gyllenhaal has developed into an incredibly complicated actor in the years after Donnie Darko, conveying a sense of uncertainty with a deep-rooted aggression boiling beneath. He plays Bell and the actor doppelgänger Anthony Claire with an appreciation for the differing aspects of one’s personality. Bell represents the clear id to Claire’s ego, reflected best through the lens of how they approach women. Claire’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) interacts with both men - with Claire positioned as aggressor to the more soft-spoken and emotionally conflicted Bell. In one of the more telling sequences of the film, Claire follows Bell’s girlfriend, becoming obsessed with exploiting Bell’s identity (or lack thereof) for a new sexual conquest.
Enemy utilizes the Toronto scenery to convey an unnerving sense of dread. It’s like a toxic fog that rolls through the city, enveloping everything in a dreamlike haze. This presents some interesting complications to how the narrative develops. There are passages that indicate dreams, often with scenes of Bell in bed waking. But as the film moves closer to its ending, the passages become less clear and more complicated narratively. The ending in particular presents not just an immediate horror, but calls to questions everything prior. Films like Enemy are the sort of pictures that tend to fester. The abstract qualities that define that help in maintaining their mental longevity - this is one film, with the incredible imagery that it provokes, the palpable sense of social isolation, and perpetual feeling of unease, that will not be forgotten.