Denis Villeneuve’s previous film, “Prisoners”, caught me off guard and absolutely blew me away with its intense look at two men pushed to the brink and forced to do extreme things after one of their daughters is kidnapped. After watching this harrowing film, I made sure to search out any other projects directed by this talented French Canadian, and have so far caught up with his 2009 film “Polytechnique” and a short film he did entitled “Next Floor” (with my “Incendies” blu-ray currently in transit to me). Everything I have watched by Villeneuve up until this point has impressed me, but the film that I was most looking forward to checking out, was his latest film “Enemy”. Although the film has been released after “Prisoners”, it was actually shot before it, thus making “Enemy” the first collaboration between the director and its star, Jake Gyllenhaal. The two films could not be more different, as “Enemy” is a mind bending mystery/thriller that seems to have been tailor made to my own obsessions within cinema.
The film is about a university teacher, Adam, who one day by chance, happens to notice his exact double in a movie he is watching on dvd. This revelation seems to shake Adam up, and he becomes obsessed with meeting the actor, Anthony, at first on just a curiosity level. When the two boys finally meet and realise that they are indeed exact doubles of one another (with matching scars to boot), it sets into motion a series of events that sees Adam and Anthony start to infiltrate the lives of the other, with their unsuspecting wife/girlfriend being pawns in their games of duplicity.
As I mentioned above “Enemy” is the type of cinema that I just adore. I love movies that are open to interpretation, that feature characters who may or may not be suffering a mental breakdown, and the phenomenon of doppelgangers totally intrigues me. What is so exciting about “Enemy” is working out just what is going on in the film. Villeneuve has smartly chosen not to explain anything, leaving it totally up to interpretation, while littering the film with clues throughout. Like pieces of a puzzle that could be put together in a number of different ways, there are a plethora of theories that could be concluded in regards to what is happening in “Enemy”. The big question is whether or not both Adam and Anthony are real, and if not, just which one is a figment of whose imagination? Are the events of the film happening concurrently, or do they represent moments of the past and present combined? The fact that both characters seem to be going through very similar things in their lives, particularly from a sexual standpoint, is very interesting, to the point that the entire film could be based around the guilt of a sexual affair. While I am not going to go into massive detail on my own interpretation I will mention that my personal belief is that the two guys are one person, and that the other is a representation of his guilt (or his temptation) from a past affair. Who is who though, I will leave up to you. To get to this conclusion, you need to look at the many clues in the film which include the wedding ring, the conversations with the mother, the wife’s suspicion, the key in the envelope, the blueberries, the car crash, the topic of history repeating itself, the photographs and of course, the big one, the spiders. While I am not saying that my theory is the correct one, I do have my own theory mapped out in my mind, but knowing that there could be numerous more explanations is what makes a film like “Enemy” so exciting.
In regards to the visual representation of the world of “Enemy”, I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag. Personally I was not a fan of the over-filtered look of the film, particularly the choice of using the dirty yellow/orange filter as the predominate colour. While the film does look unique, to me it came across incredibly ugly and even made it hard to distinguish between some of the images. What I did like however was the way Villeneuve chose to shoot Toronto. This is Toronto as it has never looked before and he gives the place an appropriate “alien” feeling to it all. There is a coldness to this world that just seems right, and it also has a level of decay to it that seems spot on. In terms of set design, Adam and Anthony’s worlds are distinguished by their apartments with Adam’s being very empty and rundown, whilst Anthony’s is more lived in and polished.
From an acting standpoint, Jake Gyllenhaal does an amazing job of differentiating his two characters, but does so in such a subtle way. Firstly he makes Adam less assertive and nervous and as such he holds his body much differently than his counterpart. He is more slouched over, with his shoulders down, whilst Anthony appears more confident, standing straighter and more upright at all times. Adam always seems more nervous in his speech, whilst Anthony has a sense of arrogance to him. It is too simple to say that Adam is the good guy, and Anthony the bad, but aspects of their personalities deem this to be so. After both “Prisoners” and “Enemy” I must say that I am becoming seriously impressed by Gyllenhaal’s ability to create a character particularly with the use of his body. He is outstanding in “Enemy” and is the sole reason the film works as well as it does. Saying that, the girls are no slouches either, with both Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon both impressing in their roles. Gadon in particular is fantastic, as she plays the pregnant wife of Anthony who must deal with the suspicions that he is having an affair, or worse, losing his mind. You can sense in her that she wants to forget the past, although trusting her husband outright, may be a luxury that she no longer can afford and that the man she once fell in love with, may not be the man he is now. I also applaud the choice to use two actresses who look similar in nature, as it helps to blur just what is going on in the film.
A film like “Enemy” is extremely hard to talk about without imposing your own opinions on it, which in turn has the potential to colour someone else’s interpretation, and as such, I really do not want to say much more about it. All you need to know is that “Enemy” is a mind-bender that is well worth your time; it is exciting and energetic cinema and I wish that there was more films like it. The film is brilliantly acted by a superb Gyllenhaal, who creates two distinct characters out of Adam and Anthony, and Villeneuve backs him up in the directing department by creating a surreal world for him to inhabit. The best thing about “Enemy” though is its repeat value, as this is a film you can see again and again, and get something different from each time. This is highly recommended folks, if just for the final image in the film. (Oh, and the poster for “Enemy” is the best I have seen for a very long time).