If you saw someone who looked exactly like you, how freaked
out would you actually be? Enough so that music recalling Hitchcock films starts
playing in the background? Would you immediately leap to some wildly sinister
conclusion or would you take a minute, calm down, and do something more
commonsensical, like have a serious question and answer session with your mom? In
his muddled identity-thriller, Enemy,
Denis Villeneuve chooses the overwrought, panicky direction, which makes this
ambitious film go haywire.
Enemy starts at a
dark sex club but quickly enters daylight to become the story of Adam, a
college professor who watches a B-movie and spots a moderately
successful actor, Anthony, who looks just like him. Both men are played with eloquent
subtlety and the same beard by Jake Gyllenhaal, but you can easily tell them
apart because Anthony wears a wedding ring.
Shot in Toronto among boxy, nondescript high-rises, the film
offers a suitably gray, overcast backdrop for Adam’s often ludicrous actions.
It makes sense that he’d track down his double. It makes no sense that, already
suspicious, he’d agree to meet the man alone at a hotel an hour out of town.
The Adam-Anthony pair echo much better films with doubles, including
the twins in David Cronenberg’s Dead
Ringers and the fake doubles of Vertigo,
a pointed influence. Both men are in love with Hitchcock blondes who vaguely
resemble each other. (Adam’s girlfriend is played by Melanie Laurent, Anthony’s
wife by Sarah Gadon.) As the men play cat-and-mouse with each other, the
ominous music and style lead us to expect some jaw-dropping Vertigo-like explanation, although the
story leaves open other possibilities:
that one of the men is imagining the other; that they were separated at birth.
When Adam finally gets around to visiting his mother,
(Isabella Rossellini, so he must take after dad) we see just how much the film is a story of identity, as the
trajectory suddenly swerves closer to Kafka than Hitchcock.
I admired Villeneuve’s Middle-Eastern family drama, Incendies. His Prisoners (filmed after but released before Enemy, which may tell you something) with Gyllenhaal and Hugh
Jackman, elevated the revenge drama far beyond what it usually is. But while Gyllenhaal is reliably strong here,
Villeneuve’s usual strength — clarity in
the midst of ambiguity — deserts him.
Enemy is the kind
of film that relies on misdirection and leaves you feeling not stunned, just
The film is based on Jose Saramago’s The Double (2002). Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in
1998, but The Double is not
considered one of his stronger works. Despite its serous intentions, Enemy is not one of Villeneuve’s.
This interview with Gyllenhaal, for The Playlist, explains
the film a lot better than the film explains itself. Gyllenhaal is so lucid, in
fact, his comments would be close to spoilers, except that Villeneuve leaves
all possible readings open.