It seems last year was something of a doppelganger-off between Richard Ayoade’s The Double and Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy. But while The Double plumped for off-kilter quirk and a Terry Gilliam-esque aesthetic Enemy goes in a different direction, a direction definitively darker and infinitely more unsettling. Before sitting down to watch Enemy brace yourself, because it’s going to get head-scratchingly terrifying.
Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a quiet history teacher whose life seems fairly mundane as he lectures how dictatorships control their population during the day and makes love to his beautiful girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent), while having nightmares about giant spiders at night. But when one of his colleagues recommends a film to him he spots an actor called Anthony (also Gyllenhaal) who is his exact double. Daring to track down Anthony, Adam learns he is a more aggressive but identical version of himself who is soon to become a father with his wife Helen (Sarah Gadon). As the pair’s lives are thrown into disarray so Anthony sees an opportunity to take advantage of the situation and begins a deadly game of switched personalities.
Enemy is a wonderfully Freudian examination of the human psyche. Adam and Anthony perfectly capture the idea of the ego and the id and all the while those terrifying images of looming spiders seem to represent a controlling force over the world the two protagonists occupy, a super ego desperate to keep the balance of power ticking over.
Villeneuve intentionally makes Toronto look like an Eastern Block collection of concrete monoliths stretching as far as the eye can see. There is a nicotine stained yellow hue to everything, a sense of fear and damp, dark foreboding coursing through every fiber of the film’s narrative.
But more than anything it is the sense of unease and tension injected into the film that makes you quiver with dark delight. It is as if David Lynch has possessed Villeneuve with that waking nightmare experience. The presence of Blue Velvet’s Isabella Rossellini, who turns up as Adam’s mother and more than hints at the bigger picture bubbling below the surface, only accentuates this theory.
It is the kind of film that will leave your head spinning, a film that doesn’t offer answers but rather plants ideas in your head to let you draw your own conclusions. Indeed on the interviews with the cast, accompanying the DVD release, all of them present their own theories as to the hidden meanings of the film. Laurent is typically ethereal in her role, delicate and one of the only bright things able to pierce the darkness of the world Adam occupies. Gadon presents a stronger female role, her Helen is perhaps more aware than anyone as to what is going on, and she’s willing to manipulate this to her advantage, despite her delicate state. But the real star here is Gyllenhaal. His dual performances are both wonderfully complete, not so much ying and yang but rather two dark shades of grey battling for a world in which there is only room for one of them. Adam is hunched over, insecure yet powerful when he wants to be. Anthony meanwhile has a confidence, indeed an arrogance, that he lauds over Adam but often to his own detriment as Adam seems able to out-think his alter ego. Such is the detail with which Gyllenhaal instills in both that even when dressed the same you can immediately tell them apart.
A seductively disturbing Freudian examination of the duality of man, Enemy will make your skin crawl, your subconscious scream and, in one of the best final moments of any film in recent memory, make you cower in horror and strange realisation at a story that has been smartly guiding you to an inevitable climax.