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Stream of the Day: ‘Enemy’ Proves Denis Villeneuve Might Not Abandon Lynch for ‘Dune’

Lynch looms large over Denis Villeneuve's 2013 identity thriller, which is now streaming on Netflix.

"Enemy"

“Enemy”

A24

With readers turning to their home viewing options more than ever, this daily feature provides one new movie each day worth checking out on a major streaming platform. 

Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” is one of the most highly anticipated studio tentpoles left on the 2020 release calendar. The director has been vocal from the start about the science-fiction epic being his original take on Frank Herbert’s novel and not sharing similarities with David Lynch’s infamous 1984 adaptation. In a 2017 interview, Villeneuve acknowledged that Lynch’s adaptation “has some very strong qualities,” but added that his take “was not what I had dreamed of, so I’m trying to make the adaptation of my dreams. It will not have any link with the Lynch movie. I’m going back to the book and going to the images that came out when I read it.”

However, while “Dune” may steer clear of Lynch — and may look to Frank Herbert’s novel for more inspiration — Villeneuve has already shown just how much Lynch’s aesthetic impacts his own. Villeneuve’s 2013 identity thriller “Enemy,” now streaming on Netflix, proves the Canadian filmmaker is at his best when he’s carving out his own voice within a Lynchian atmosphere.

“Enemy” stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, a college history professor whose monotonous life is rattled after discovering the actor Anthony Claire (also played by Gyllenhaal) looks exactly like him. Adam becomes obsessed with meeting Anthony, who in return becomes obsessed with using Adam’s life as a reprieve from his own. Anthony’s choice to manipulate their identities has nightmarish consequences.

The way “Enemy” presents Adam and Anthony as two halves of a split personality that meld in dangerous ways recalls many of cinema’s great identity psychodramas, from Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” to Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive,” but it’s the odyssey of self-discovery Villeneuve sends his characters on that makes “Enemy” feel so Lynchian. Like Jeffrey Beaumont in “Blue Velvet,” Betty Elms in “Mulholland Drive,” or Nikki Grace in “Inland Empire,” Gyllenhaal’s Adam is sent down a rabbit hole of obsession where his reckoning of identity acts in tandem with his world becoming unhinged and overwhelmed by the surreal. The more Adam follows the breadcrumbs to Anthony, the more Villeneuve upends the constrictions of reality. As with Lynch’s greatest works, “Enemy” contemplates the idea that finding one’s true identity happens when part of that identity is lost or ripped away by surreal forces beyond our control.

Villeneuve is playing with the foundations of the Lynchian odyssey, but he directs Adam and Anthony’s psychological free fall in a thrilling style all his own. The film’s muted yellow and grey color palette never changes, making the switches between Adam and Anthony’s perspective hard to detect. “Enemy” is shot in color, but its stark colors give off the same kind of otherworldly atmosphere as the use of black and white in Lynch’s “Erasherhead.” Villeneuve’s editing choices combine his characters’ narratives with seamless precision, such as when Adam enters a bathroom in one scene only for Villeneuve to introduce Anthony in another one by cutting to him coming out of a bathroom. Villeneuve proves a master at a disorienting style that unravels Adam and Anthony’s mental state as much as the viewer’s.

“Enemy” could be described as a Villeneuve movie with a David Lynch core (he even casts “Blue Velvet” star Isabella Rossellini as Adam’s mother), and arguments could be made that the director’s later studio efforts like “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049” are, too. Amy Adams’ Louise Banks and Ryan Gosling’s K both find themselves on Lynchian odysseys of self-discovery, complete with awakenings that shift their physical realities. It’s baked into the plot of “Arrival,” which finds Louise’s mind unraveling in time the more she studies an alien language. With “Blade Runner 2049,” Villenueve seems to suspend time the more K gets closer to discovering his true self, with scenes that stretch on as if in slow motion. Other directors would cut to the action, but Villenueve maintains an unnerving slow place in which long establishing shots provide atmospheric fillers between scenes that move the plot along.

All of this brings us to “Dune,” which tells the story of Paul Atreides finding his own identity in an interstellar war among rival dynasties. Villeneuve is adamant his “Dune” won’t connect to Lynch’s version, but the core of Lynch might be there anyway depending on how Villeneuve depicts Paul’s self-discovery. Whether it’s a full descent into Lynchian surrealist horror like “Enemy” remains to be seen, although being that experimental on a studio budget might not be possible these days. Regardless, Villeneuve’s characters often find themselves on Lynchian odysseys and there’s no reason to believe Paul Atreides won’t be next.

“Enemy” is currently streaming on Netflix.

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