Written by: Javier Gullón
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
Life can throw some truly strange predicaments your way with little to no explanation. It becomes up to us to react in a way where we do not lose our minds. Scenarios do not get wilder than what gets explored in Enemy, as this surrealist film presents a truly stunning scenario with no easy answers. Above all, it promises to be weird, which is something I always relish.
College history professor Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) feels the repetition of his life when teaching about control, particularly used by the Romans with the use of entertainment. When suggested by a colleague, he watches a film where it appears to have an actor who looks just like him. When researching the actor, he finds out where he lives and attempts to contact him to extraordinary results.
Nothing about Enemy wants you to believe it will present a straightforward story, which should give anyone thinking of watching this a fair warning. Feeling like a David Lynch film at times, the surrealist nature of the story releases many threads with numerous directions the audience can use as an interpretation. We may never know if a definitive answer exists but the fun comes with the analyzing opportunity presented with the different avenues possible. In this narrative, Adam meets someone who looks just like him, but he’s not some long lost twin brother akin to The Parent Trap. As they converse, it appears they may be the same person with each of them having the same birthmark. Even down to the facial hair, it appears to be the equivalent of a mirror being held up with the only discernible differences being their personalities. Adam has this unsettling neurosis and nervousness to him while Anthony Claire has a more arrogant and mean-spirited streak. Their mutual existence raises plenty of questions but it’s up to us to decipher what it means.
Sure, this can be frustrating for individuals who want straightforward storytelling, but the different interpretations this film has received make it all the more compelling seeing as they all make narrative and thematic sense. Further differentiating Adam and Anthony shows the former to be a teacher with what appears to be a casual sex partner with the latter being a former actor with a pregnant wife. The women play a major part in the story because of what happens in the plot, but also tied into what the spiders represent thematically. At several different points throughout the film, spiders appear in different locations. Enemy opens with Adam or Anthony attending what appears to be a top-secret club where men look at naked women in awe. During the evening, a special surprise arrives with a large spider presented on a silver platter with a naked woman about to crush it with her high-heeled shoe. An interesting opening until seeing the other instances of when the spiders appear along with what conversations precede and follow their appearances. One of the many interpretations this film allows for correlates the presence of these spiders with the relationship Adam and/or Anthony has with the women in their lives. Apparently, size matters but also what weighs on their mind. It makes for a stunning ending, which may ultimately answer the question and draw the thematic connection between the arachnoid and the women.
Enemy ultimately attempts to latch onto the idea of existence and what it means to be a singular person in this world. Adam’s life comes with a level of monotony where he teaches the same subject to multiple sections of students, heads home, and has sex with his casual sex partner, Mary (Mélanie Laurent). I hesitate to call her a girlfriend seeing as Adam cannot possibly have a serious significant other with the way his apartment looks. A jest, of course, but an observation nonetheless. It all becomes incredibly repetitive, which only gets broken when he finds the intrigue of meeting his potential doppelganger. This provides something to look forward to until meeting the bitter reality of what it means and the consequences of their meeting. Their interactions reach a sickening point of no return, which only opens more avenues of interpretation.
The yellow-hued color palette presents an otherworldly look to Toronto to make it mysterious, which only makes the appearance of the spiders all the more distressing when they arrive. In a year where Denis Villeneuve has two outstanding films starring Jake Gyllenhaal, he shows the multitudes in his directing style. Being able to do something as straightforward as Prisoners and as surreal as this film shows some great range in the same year to a satisfying degree. His incredibly serious style of filmmaking comes through with this story without a single laugh to be had, but it matches the internal stakes involved with this particular narrative. He presents the puzzle for us to solve and leaves it up to the audience to fully engage with it.
Jake Gyllenhaal has proven himself to be both a commercially and critically successful actor and having him take on this truly strange dual performance allows him to flex. With both of these characters having the same appearance outside of their clothes, Gyllenhaal wonderfully brings a different demeanor to each of them in order for the differentiation to be explicitly clear. Not for one second could you confuse whether or not he was portraying Adam or Anthony in any given scene. With this being a complete showcase for him, plenty of credit should also go to Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon for their roles as the casual sex partner and wife respectively. With their limited screentime, they certainly leave their marks in the story even with their characters being more symbolic rather than substantive.
When the story concludes, some may walk away confused, aggravated, frightened, and intrigued, which would all be justified for what this film wants to achieve. It succeeds in presenting the narrative and themes in a way that encourages conversation and to this day I cannot definitively state exactly what everything means. For me, that’s more than okay because of the experience Enemy provides. Endlessly intriguing and thrilling as it unravels just enough to catch you in its web.