Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Javier Gullón (Based on a novel by José Saramago)
Producers: M.A. Faura, Niv Fichman
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 90 min.
Denis Villeneuve is a national tresure. The Canadian director who has garnered acclaim around the festival circuit for years, landed in Hollywood with a bang, delivering the great 2013 thriller Prisoners, that didn’t rip him of his artistic integrity. Unsatisfied with simply one movie, Villeneuve was also in post production on a second feature which co-produces with France instead of Hollywood. Far smaller, Enemy is also proving to be the more ambitious of the two projects in both subject matter and scope; a tall feat considering Prisoners went to some pretty deep places.
The basics of the story are fairly simple: while watching a movie, a history professor named Adam spots a man who appears to be his identical twin. Adam becomes obsessed with the idea of meeting his double and after some stealthy manoeuvring, discovers his double’s name (Anthony) and address. The pair eventually meet and it’s immediately clear that beyond looking identical, they share nothing in common. Adam is mousy and bumbling while Anthony is confident, womanizing and conniving.
As one might expect, the pair eventually trade places but the events surrounding the switch are far more nuanced and complicated than anything Hollywood has ever offered up from mistaken identity stories. Mind you, Enemy is adapted from a José Saramago novel so exploration of deep, philosophical ideas are to be expected and screenwriter Javier Gullón doesn’t shy away from any of them.
Adam is completely engulfed and haunted by the discovery of his double, almost as if he’s discovered some secret that will change his world. Helen, Anthony’s pregnant wife, is just as shaken by the discovery of her husband’s double but for Anthony, the emergence of Adam simply provides him with an excuse to be even more self centered. I can’t help but think that maybe Gullón and Villeneuve are making a statement on the perils of self involvement because things don’t progress very well for Anthony.
As with Villeneuve’s previous works, Enemy is very much a thriller but one that plays out more like Kafka than Saramago. It’s a perfect fit for cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc who previously shot Villeneuve’s fantastical and equally odd short Next Floor (full short) and there’s a similar kind of creepiness throughout Enemy though this time the palette is deceptively warmer with hues of yellow. The entire thing has an almost dreamlike quality which could make for an interesting interpretation of the events that unfold though this reading doesn’t sit particularly well with me. The message Enemy imparts of of living in the moment and how we are all interconnected (sometimes more closely than we imagined, others imaginably distant) feels far too important to be chalked up to a dream.
Gyllenhaal has always been well recognized for his leading man qualities but in the past he’s also proven to be a talented actor with great range. He was excellent in Prisoners and here he takes on a dual role and brilliantly encapsulates the two personalities with body language. When the hunched over professor dawns the actor’s wardrobe, he stands a little taller and there’s a different weight to his step but he’s not quite the same as Anthony who carries himself in a completely different manner. There’s never any mistaking who is who and though the change is subtle, it’s not difficult to spot and beautifully separates the two very different characters.
Enemy is dense with ideas, touching on everything from self worth to cheating, but it doesn’t drown the audience with them. It’s a simple story, interestingly told by a director who has a full grasp of the medium and who uses it to draw his audience in and keep them engrossed; those that want a bit more don’t have anything to fear; there is plenty to decipher here and the multi layered story is one that you’ll want to watch again and which will keep you thinking and talking for days.