In Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal plays the Toronto-based professor Adam, a man who isn’t exactly meager, but neither is he particularly enthralled with life. Adam’s life is a pattern of teaching, grading papers, sex with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) and little else. He doesn’t appear to enjoy any of them, even though describing him as depressed would seem a bit much. Adam’s life is calcified.
Then a fellow professor asks Adam if he likes movies. Adam doesn’t really spend much time watching films. The other professor rambles on anyways, eventually recommending a film he claims to be worthwhile and fun. Adam rents it and one night, amidst his usual routine, throws on said feature. All is fine until something catches Adam’s eye; himself. The movie has a nameless hotel employee standing behind the lead actress that looks identical to Adam. The curious situation leads to an internet search, revealing that living in the same city as Adam is a man that is his double.
This incident propels Enemy, the latest film by director Denis Villeneuve. Working from Javier Gullon’s adaptation of a Jose Saramago novel, Villeneuve has put together a dark wonder which is compelling, confounding and worthwhile. The tone achieved here is most easily described as if David Lynch directed Dead Ringers. Enemy bares an uneasiness, not in its filmmaking, but aura. Buoyed by an unsettling score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans and mirky, grungy Nicolas Bolduc cinematography, the movie grips tight to a weird tale of obsession, jealousy and fear.
Gyllenhaal is terrific, ripping off two different performances with subtle differences. As Adam, Gyllenhaal is quietly cumbersome, slowly having his eyes revealed of the world’s eerier elements. He also portrays Anthony, the actor Adam witnesses in the movie. Anthony has his own inadequacies, but they never hover on the surface like Adam’s. The movie knows and comfortably plays with the audience’s expectations. Are Adam and Anthony the same person? What does Adam’s mother (the perfectly cast Isabella Rossellini) think of the situation? What of the two’s significant others, including Anthony’s pregnant wife (a haunting Sarah Gadon)?
Those expecting easy answers will be displeased. Enemy is a picture far more interested in its sense of menace, lingering in the confusion and regularly unleashed freakish spider-based images all over the Toronto terrain. At times it all feels akin to a devilish Sliding Doors, unleashing masculinity’s basest desires in a society where those longings are easier to grasp than ever, while growing to be seem more sinister in its eyes.
By no stretch of the imagination is this picture for everyone. Those that it clicks with will likely want to return again and again though.
Enemy opens in limited release in Seattle tomorrow.