Review – Enemy

There’s double trouble to be had in Denis Villeneuve’s compulsive and uncompromising psychological descent into a world of neurosis, nightmares and arachnids.

Enemy is bold and beguiling filmmaking and a puzzle that will linger in the memory long after the closing credits

Enemy is bold and beguiling filmmaking and a puzzle that will linger in the memory long after the closing credits

Loosely based on José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double as opposed to Dostoyevsky’s novel of the same name (which Richard Ayoade adapted to moderate acclaim in 2014), Enemy is one of those puzzle box films that reward repeat viewings.

Ostensibly, the movie follows unfulfilled history lecturer Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) down the rabbit hole following the shock discovery that a bit player in a movie he’s watching is his apparent doppelgänger. Adam seeks out actor Anthony Claire (also Gyllenhaal), who may be his physical duplicate but appears more narcissistic and charismatic than the nervous and emotionally repressed Adam. Their encounter has unforeseen repercussions for both men, as well as for Adam’s girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) and Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon).

The left hand doesn't know what thr right hand's doing for Adam/Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Enemy

The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing for Adam/Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Enemy

Scratch beneath the surface, however, and Villeneuve’s absorbing picture is a spider’s nest of different interpretations and perspectives in which individuality has become as precarious as one man’s collapsing mind.

The film’s opening intertitle “Chaos is order yet undeciphered” – a line taken from Saramago‘s novel – is given form by the numerous long shots of a city (in this case Toronto); that most chaotic yet fully formed of human creations that here is infected with a yellow, hazy sickliness, beautifully realised by cinematographer Nicolas Bodluc.

Anthony's pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) in Enemy

Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) in Enemy

It has been argued (convincingly in my mind) the spiders seen throughout the film are both a visual and subtextual metaphor for a loss of freedom.

Adam teaches his class about the larger impact of this loss of freedom through his lectures on dictatorships, specifically their obsession with control and “censoring any means of individual expression”. On a more personal scale, Villeneuve shows us Adam/Anthony’s fractured psychological state and as the film continues it becomes apparent (at least to this reviewer) that Adam and Anthony are one in the same person, battling it out to see which side of his personality wins out. As a poster for the film implies: “You can’t escape yourself.”

Anthony (or is it Adam?) (Jake Gyllenhaal)  spies on Mary (Mélanie Laurent) in Enemy

Anthony (or is it Adam?) (Jake Gyllenhaal) spies on Mary (Mélanie Laurent) in Enemy

Shots of overhead electrical cables and a cracked window signify a spider’s web and lend extra weight to the suggestion that Adam/Anthony is trapped and must confront his own identity.

In many ways, Prisoners, the title of Villeneuve’s and Gyllenhaal’s other collaboration would be a more fitting title for this film, although the name Enemy, like the rest of the movie, works on more than one level.

Since breaking out with 2001’s Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal has freed himself from the spider’s web of big budget nonsense like The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time (2010) to set himself apart as an actor who commands serious respect. Gyllenhaal has had his fair amount of detractors in the past, but the choices he’s making with the likes of this and Nightcrawler are genuinely exciting.

Double trouble in Enemy

Double trouble in Enemy

Gyllenhaal is tremendous in the dual role of two men both separate and conjoined and, crucially, makes you forget about the novelty factor almost immediately. Laurent and Gadon don’t have an awful lot to do, but lend themselves to the overall sense of disquiet. The influence of Vertigo has been acknowledged by Villeneuve and the fact that both Laurent and Gadon are striking blonds in the picture is presumably a nod to Hitchcock’s preference for women in his movies with that hair colour.

Furthermore, the film’s ominous visual palette is lent extra impact by the disquieting score by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans which pulls you around as much as Bodluc’s camera.

Enemy is bold and beguiling filmmaking and a puzzle that will linger in the memory long after the closing credits.

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39 comments

  1. TheMovieReviewDude · January 4, 2015

    This film sounds so strange, but Gyllenhaal has really impressed me with his last few performances so I’d like to see how he goes in this one.

    • Three Rows Back · January 4, 2015

      He’s having a real purple patch isn’t he? I can’t wait to see him in Everest.

  2. keith7198 · January 4, 2015

    You mention Gyllenhaal detractors. I have certainly been one. But as you say his recent film choices have been exciting and I have really come over to his corner. He’s a true talent.

    • Three Rows Back · January 4, 2015

      Yeah, he’s turned into a serious talent. He cant’t do any wrong right now.

  3. sidekickreviews · January 4, 2015

    Great analysis and write up, I’ve been meaning to check out Enemy, sounds very intriguing.

  4. Grog the Ginger · January 4, 2015

    I really loved this film and Gyllenhaal might just be my new favourite actor. Source Code, End of Watch, Prisoners, Nightcrawler and this all in a row is insane!

  5. Cindy Bruchman · January 5, 2015

    Nice review. His blossoming is fun to watch. I’ve read ‘The Cave’ by Saramago and liked it. I think I’d like to read ‘The Double’ and then watch the film.

    • Three Rows Back · January 5, 2015

      Thanks Cindy, appreciate that. I’ve not read any Saramago but The Double is now on the list.

  6. ruth · January 5, 2015

    This one makes my list of ‘weirdest movie of the year’ but definitely a bold & unique film. Jake G. has been impressing me lately and I haven’t even seen Nightcrawler yet.

    • Three Rows Back · January 5, 2015

      It’s certainly an enigma isn’t it? Ruth, you need to see Nightcrawler ASAP!

  7. Stu · January 5, 2015

    Really intrigued by this, having watched Prisoners recently and with Nightcrawler still fresh in the mind. I’ll definitely check it at the cinema if it’s on near me. Nice write up.

    • Three Rows Back · January 5, 2015

      Thanks Stu. You may get lucky with the cinema release; it’s a limited release option. Otherwise, check it out on demand of DVD.

  8. Andrew · January 5, 2015

    Remarkable review. You’re so right…this film lingers. In fact, I may be placing this back in my top five of the year…

    • Three Rows Back · January 5, 2015

      Ah, thanks Andrew. That’s most kind. I’m delighted my review has given you some pause for thought re: top five.

  9. theipc · January 5, 2015

    I liked this film for the most part up until the final shot which almost made me poop.

    • Three Rows Back · January 5, 2015

      I’d been pre-warned about it but it still comes out of nowhere. People with arachnaphobia probably shouldn’t watch it.

      • theipc · January 5, 2015

        E-X-A-C-T-L-Y with an emphasis on EXACTLY

  10. CinemaClown · January 5, 2015

    I’ve been really amazed with the script choices he’s been making for the past few years… barring a few wrong ones… but he’s really turning out to be an amazing talent. And Nightcrawler really put every detractor of his to shame. I like this film but more not as crazy about it as others have been. Good review.

    • Three Rows Back · January 5, 2015

      Thanks buddy. It’s not as impressive as Nightcrawler, for sure, but I have a lot of respect for Gyllenhaal to be doing such material.

  11. CMrok93 · January 6, 2015

    Doesn’t always make perfect sense, but there’s something intriguing about that. Good review.

    • Three Rows Back · January 12, 2015

      I found it a real treat, but then I love this kind of stuff 🙂

  12. mlbradford · January 6, 2015

    Happy New Year!
    My resolution is to try & catch up w films like this one!
    http://bradscribe.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/what-the-flux/
    Cheers!

  13. Paskalis Damar AK · January 6, 2015

    I think Enemy might be Villeneuve’s most deviating movie lately (given Incendies and Prisoners), but I like Gyllenhaal here.

    • Three Rows Back · January 12, 2015

      Yeah? I thought Prisoners was a solid piece of work but ultimately forgettable after a time. I’m still thinking of this one.

  14. Zoë · January 6, 2015

    Excellent review! I really liked Enemy, though I can totally understand how and why this would divide audiences.

    • Three Rows Back · January 12, 2015

      Ta Zoe! It’s divisive that’s for sure. It’ll never attract a big audience but I loved it.

  15. Mark Walker · January 7, 2015

    Superb stuff, mate. I absolutely loved this flick. Gyllenhaal is on a roll just now and I’d have to say I prefer this over the highly praised Nightcrawler. Great flick!!!

    • Three Rows Back · January 12, 2015

      Looks like the Two Marks are on the same wavelength again! (I did love Nightcrawler though)

  16. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · January 9, 2015

    Interesting stuff mate. Been hearing some really good things about this although I can tell I’ll need to be in a certain frame of mind to watch it.

    • Three Rows Back · January 12, 2015

      It’s not the easiest of watches, but once you settle down it’s actually absorbing stuff. Check it out mate. Cheers for the feedback.

  17. Tom · January 13, 2015

    Interesting. It would seem I selected the wrong ‘duel-role’ film of 2014 to watch. I went with Richard Ayoade’s ‘The Double’ and became infuriated with Eisenberg’s characters hahah. I do however, have lots of time for Jake Gyllenhaal. Let me at this one already!!

    • Three Rows Back · January 18, 2015

      Do it! When you watch it, let me know what you think. And, more importantly, I want to know how many slices you dish out!

  18. Victor De Leon · January 16, 2015

    Need to move this movie up on my list. Keeps getting pushed down. It sounds so weird and bizarre. Right up my alley. Liked the write up. Kudos!

  19. nuwansenfilmsen · January 20, 2015

    Sounds intriguing. I’d love to watch it.

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