Cinema embraces psychosexually tortured doppelgangers. If Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” were remade and recast with Jake Gyllenhaal as a gloomy professor in place of Natalie Portman’s psycho ballerina, it might look something like Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy,” a nifty bit of murky fun rife with unsettling imagery and a sense of taut dread even Alfred Hitchcock would have admired.
In “Enemy,” a faithful adaptation of brilliant Portuguese writer Jose Saramago’s 2002 novel “The Double,” Gyllenhaal plays two versions of himself: Adam Bell, a university lecturer stagnating in a cycle of detached sex with girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent), and Anthony Clair, a middling bit part actor living a posh life alongside his pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon). Adam first spots his doppelganger in a rented film his coworker casually recommends — immediately throwing him into a spiral of paranoia and obsession.
“Enemy,” which debuted at TIFF alongside “Prisoners,” marks Villeneuve’s most personal film to date, occupying the dark corners of the unconscious of a piece with Roman Polanski’s doppelganger creeper, “The Tenant” (1976). Tightly plotted by screenwriter Javier Gullon, and wasting not an ounce of the film’s curt 90-minute runtime, the film was improvised a great deal by the actors. Gyllenhaal effectively embodies two like-minded yet distinct personas, which DP Nicolas Bolduc coordinates seamlessly in sequences where both Adam and Anthony are present. Underneath all that five-o-clock shadow and dusty malaise, Gyllenhaal has rarely looked this sexy. And there are two of him!
A la Hitchcock’s best, chilly blondes and Freudian imagery abound, like the grotesque spider that, quite literally, looms over the beige, sickly landscape of the film. Isabella Rossellini delivers a nervy turn as Adam/Anthony’s domineering mother — though Villeneuve and Gullon don’t push the Oedipal underpinnings too far.
Like the grand conceit of the film, the meaning of its potently disturbing final image is up to you: it could haunt your dreams, as it does Adam’s, or leave you scratching your head in disbelief. Either way, this pretentious but never overtly self-serious thriller delights in the interplay between the two Gyllenhaals, and the sinuous plot twists that hit like a car crash — horrifying to watch, but spellbinding nonetheless.
“Enemy” hits select theaters March 14 via A24 and is currently available on DirecTV