Last year Denis Villeneuve painted a harrowing and devastating picture of families dealing with a kidnapping in Prisoners in a small Pennsylvania town, a personal favourite and hard watch viscerally. This time, the Canadian director presents a film of utmost intrigue in his psychological thriller Enemy. Based on Jose Saramango’s novel (adapted by Javier Gullon), The Double, Enemy is set in the metropolis of Toronto, Canada and in this most open ended of films, my mind turned largely to another Canadian director as I tried to make sense of things though that may be a bit of a stretch but more on that later.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars here as a man and his double. The first of his characters we are really aware of is Adam Bell, a history teacher who has a largely droning and uninteresting life. In the first couple of lectures we see him in, he appears to be teaching the exact same thing to a class generally apathetic to what he has to offer or maybe they were just being students. The mundane extends to what I guess passes for his love life which is characterised by silent nights and hollow intimacy with his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). One day, he breaks the sorry routine of his dull existence by seeking out and renting a DVD recommended by one of his colleagues. Watching the DVD which he hopes will lift his spirits, he discovers an actor, Anthony Claire, who is unerringly identical to him.
On the surface, Adam and Anthony seem to have similar lives; they obviously look alike, they both appear middle aged and they are both involved with blonde women whom they have issues with however it’s the underlying contrasts that caught my attention. Anthony is married to his blonde, Helen (Sarah Gadon) who his heavily pregnant and that perhaps speaks to a relationship looking to the future whilst Adam has to contend with meaningless sex in a relationship nearing its end. Anthony’s profession as an actor also hints at some variance in his day to day but we then we have Adam who has been droning on in the same lecture theatre for God knows how long.
The two men eventually meet up and the more emotive differences become apparent as we watch Gyllenhaal, playing dual personalities in close proximity to each other as they meet for the first time in a hotel room which is always a fascinating watch. Anthony is assertive, meaner and downright twisted and Adam seems to walk around with this budding frustration which never manifests because of how reclusive he is. It is testament to Gyllenhaal’s nous that he is able to embody these two personas simultaneously. Things escalate after they meet up again later on which culminates a somewhat predictable sequence of events.
The strength of this film for me lies not in the plot but in the intrigue underpinning everything. As noted, this film is as open ended as they come and Villeneuve and Gullon present us with several questions as we follow proceedings. The film is set in Toronto but those aware of the films poster would notice that the city has been superimposed on Adams head wear his brain should be perhaps supposing most of this occurs in his subconscious or one long bizarre delusion. The cinematography creates a brownish tint over the city consistent with our central characters overall look; his beard, his Khakis and even his leather bag which again ties him ostensibly to his setting.
There is also the presence of spiders which makes an appearance early on and for some will be the most cryptic and chilling image by the end. I’ve come across some ideas as to what the arachnids on show actually mean and some of them I feel are stretches but our director doesn’t appear to be overtly asking us to solve a puzzle or attempting draw up something labyrinthine for us to manoeuvre round. Indeed the film is quite compact running at about 90 minutes but I feel if you do watch it, you just may find yourself threading up theories to explain this film depending on your own experiences. On my first viewing, the presence of doubles, spiders which represented some form of psychological transformation and the setting of Toronto, Canada (which to me really didn’t serve any other real purpose) all screamed David Cronemberg.
Cronemberg is a master thematic auteur who has deconstructed the idea of identity through most of his filmmaking. His craft has seen him on occasions intertwine the physical and psychological while tapping into some of humankinds deep seated fears. Again, depending on the audience and further experiences, some may identify with this particular thread however I won’t go as far as saying Villeneuve was playing out some form of homage from his fellow Canadian. In the end, it is a legitimate story about doubles in its own right with its own intriguing and whimsical psychological undertones and is a relatively easy watch compared to the emotional trauma that run through Prisoners. Just bear in mind the first line of the film from the novel “Chaos is order yet undeciphered”.