People often think they truly know their beliefs, actions and emotions as they settle into their daily, mundane routine. But it isn’t until they meet someone who challenges their ideas and pushes their limits that they begin to question what they thought they knew about themselves. Not only is this the intriguing, mesmerizing concept between the distinctive protagonist and antagonist in Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s new mystery thriller, ‘Enemy,’ but also the relationship between the helmer and actor Jake Gyllenhaal. The two forged an intense, captivating working relationship while filming ‘Enemy,’ which is set to open on Friday at New York’s Angelika Film Center, that they worked together again right away on last year’s acclaimed crime drama thriller, ‘Prisoners.’
‘Enemy’ begins by following an unidentified bearded man (Gyllenhaal) as he joins an underground gentleman’s club, where its members watch women engage in sex acts on stage. The story then cuts to the man, who’s identified as Adam Bell, a tense, anxious history professor, as he’s teaching at a university in Toronto. He has difficulty connecting with the people in his life, including his students and his girlfriend, Mary (Melanie Laurent). Adam’s so uneasy connecting with those around him that he’d rather grade history papers than enjoy intimacy with Mary.
On a coincidental recommendation of one of his colleagues, Adam rents a romantic comedy, and discovers one of the actors in a minor role looks exactly like him. Curious about why they look exactly alike, he tracks the actor down to his talent agency, and finds his home phone number. The woman who answers the phone, Helen (Sarah Gadon), turns out to be the wife of the actor, and believes Adam is her husband, Anthony St. Claire (Gyllenhaal). Helen decides to find Adam, and tracks him down at the university.
Adam calls Anthony again, as he’s eager to meet the stranger who looks exactly like him. The actor eventually gives in and agrees to meet the professor at a hotel an hour outside of the city. When they do meet, Adam realizes he made a mistake in wanting to get to know Anthony better. But Anthony insists on continuing the relationship, and even asserts that he meet Mary, since Adam meet Helen. The two men continuously struggle with not only their own sense of identity, but also with how the other man threatens their life and sense of contentment.
Screenwriter Javier Gullón created an interesting, thought provoking and gripping adaptation of José Saramago’s 2002 novel, ‘The Double.’ The intriguing plot of the mystery thriller is a stimulating example of surrealism that instantly captivates viewers’ perceptions and ideas of what it truly means to leave their own distinctive impact on the world. Gullón brilliantly created two diverse characters in Adam and Anthony, who hold their own separate beliefs on the importance of personal relationships and the success of their work.
While Adam is more introverted and longs to live a simple life as a professor and in his romantic relationship with Mary, Anthony instead longs for control and attention in every situation he comes across. The constant battle between the two unique characters on how they should continue their relationship, and the persistent questioning of the validity and origin of their new-found, uncanny connection, is ingeniously embedded in the story’s heart-wrenching minor details. The two characters’ body language and actions are more telling about their mindsets and motivations than their actual words. The more they dig into each other’s lives and pasts, the more the lines of their actions, connection and subconscious motivations become blurred, which allows the audience to fully understand Adam and Anthony’s despair of not knowing how they are truly linked.
Gyllenhaal expertly balanced the individual, distinct personalities of Adam and Anthony, and emotionally carried the bulk of the source of conflict and tension in ‘Enemy.’ The former Academy Award-nominated actor perfectly captured the sensitive, thoughtful motivations and emotions of Adam, the naïve, sincere protagonist who was only innocently trying to uncover his connection to Anthony. Gyllenhaal was also creatively and passionately able to switch into the cunning mind of the antagonistic up-and-coming actor, who callously took away Adam’s sense of intrigue by using the situation to his advantage. Anthony forced Adam to bring him into his life, which was yet another way for the actor to escape his true feelings of unfulfillment with his life with Helen, who’s pregnant with their first child.
The extremely different motivations, thoughts and emotions between Anthony and Adam are the main source of conflict and driving force in the mystery thriller, and Gyllenhaal smartly and intensely emphasized the heightened sentiments and reactions of the two men. The heightened, electrifying dual roles truly explore the story’s menacing exploration of people’s seemingly lives, and how their perceptions of reality often differ from the truth.
‘Enemy’ is a captivating, thought-provoking and memorable exploration of how people’s lives can quickly and truly change with a chance encounter. Gullón wrote an intriguing tale that’s set in a realistic and frightening situation of how people would react if they found someone who’s entirely different from them in personality looks completely similar to them. The extreme emotional and mental descent these people experience as they get to know that person who mysteriously looks just like them leads to a surrealistic exploration of a person’s true mindset. Gyllenhaal showed his talents as an actor by brilliantly highlighting the flaws and attributes of the two extremely dissimilar Adam and Anthony, and flawlessly carried the majority of the film’s haunting, unforgettable conflict within himself.