Imagine staring into a mirror, you and your reflection mimic each other. Now imagine if your reflection suddenly stopped and addressed you. That’s the kind of goose-bump inducing feeling you get from Enemy; director Denis Villeneuve and writer Javier Gullón’s adaptation of José Saramago ‘The Double.’
Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a history teacher at a university, living a painfully unfulfilling life, slave to a numbing routine of repetition at work and home; even his physical relationship with Mary (Mélanie Laurent) has become a chore. Finally in conversing with a fellow teacher in the staff room about a film recommendation he stumbles upon an extra, which looks exactly like him. After some turbulent ‘googling’ he discovers Anthony (Gyllenhaal) and makes contact triggering a hall of mirrors, refracting as these seemingly identical men lose touch with who they are.
Villeneuve turns Toronto into an alien landscape of beige spires, and sparsely populated outdoor areas that look more for decoration than for people to gather. You’re either in rooms that are coloured with every kind of artificial light or suffering through the oppressive glare of the outside world. Hopefully Villeneuve and his leading man are settling into an enduring collaboration. After a scintillating performance in Prisoners, Gyllenhaal takes the audience through the dizzying paranoia of meeting someone so identical to you, that you immediately lose sense of what’s real or unreal. Gyllenhal’s Adam is functioning on the fringes of feeling. He’s merely defined by a repetition of a life that doesn’t seem to have space for contentment. Adam’s apartment is Spartan, his clothes are practical and he constantly seems like he’s a step out of sync. His ‘girlfriend’ or lover (it’s not really clear) Mélanie Laurent’s Mary, pops into his life with dinner, drinks and sex like clockwork; and just as quickly leaves him in his hollow shell. Gyllenhal’s Adam is a stuttering, exacerbated wreck; this discovery gives him life.
In his first attempt to make contact with Anthony, he encounters his wife Helen beautifully realised by Sarah Gadon. The very prospect begins to conjure tangible insecurities originating from Anthony’s past. The emergence of Adam pushes Helen into a state of melancholia and Gadon’s able to project so much about a purposefully under-written character. In scene the Helen meets Adam for the first time in person, he doesn’t know her at this moment, the warmth in Adam and the devastation and yearning in Helen is Villeneuve and his players at their high point. Once we meet Anthony (Gyllenhal), we meet a menacing and opportunistic presence. From even the slightest more assertion in the voice over the phone it’s clear that Adam and Anthony, despite their physical similarity, are poles apart in manner and personality. Anthony is on the defensive with Helen about the appearance of Adam, he downplays it and says that they’ll never meet; while imagining the sinister possibilities of being able to substitute yourself into someone’s life. It’s a credit to Villeneuve to not only extract two unique performances from his leading man but to choose classic in camera special effects to flawlessly play the characters in the same space.
Screenwriter Gullón doesn’t bother with any exposition, instead there are choice moments of dialogue between characters or monologues of Adam teaching that are left to stew around in your head questioning, ‘wait, could that have been Adam or Anthony or a projection?’ There’s a finely manipulated ambiguity in every detail especially the past. We come to characters at a place in time and the hints of history are conspicuous in every way. Gullón and Villeneuve explore a psycho-sexual layer of the narrative that may very well be projections from the cycle of the characters’ subconscious. These hints of darkness and unreality only further add to your inquisition of the perspective of the film.
In one of the most striking and perplexing final scenes of a film in recent memory, Villeneuve’s Enemy is at its most enigmatic. In that final flash of obscurity, the entire film flashes before your eyes to attempt to make sense of proceedings; not knowing only made me desperately want to relive Enemy again.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Javier Gullón (based on the novel by José Saramago)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
Jake Gyllenhaal … Adam + Anthony
Mélanie Laurent … Mary
Sarah Gadon … Helen
Isabella Rossellini … Mother