By Bill Graham
A film that makes you think is always a pleasure to encounter in cinemas today. Enemy is one that doesn’t allow easy answers but instead sparks conversations, like the one I had shortly after seeing it Tuesday night, and cements its place in your memories. Richly acted by Jake Gyllenhaal, he is able to blend into his dual roles and make it more than just a gimmick in which the narrative pivots. Yet as good as he is here, it’s the decisions by director Denis Villeneuve that shine. It’s the peppering of fantasy elements with the kind of subtlety that you might miss, the way he paints the Toronto skyline as this grey cityscape devoid of color or fun, the impeccable actresses he positions against both of Gyllenhaal’s characters, and the way the haunting score of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is woven to become the atmosphere that intrudes, propels, and illuminates throughout. Indeed, Enemy is the type of film that benefits from a slew of moving pieces that align just right.
We begin with no description of our characters. In one scene we see a dapper Gyllenhaal named Anthony St. Claire in an erotic voyeurism chamber and in another world we see the disheveled college history professor Adam Bell. When Adam’s coworker suggests checking out an upbeat film he has a vivid dream of a brief scene with a bellhop. Turns out it’s Anthony, which throws Adam for a loop. When he attempts to contact his doppelganger to meet, it sets both of their minds racing. Anthony has his frequent in his wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) and Adam has repeating sexual experiences with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) who frequently drops by late at night and then leaves shortly after. Adam talks in his lectures about history repeating itself and we sense a theme becoming clear.
Again and again, I was mesmerized by the interaction of the film and the score. There was a haunting pleasure to it, the way it flowed over dramatic moments without doing obvious flourishes to make you feel a certain way. At other moments it highlighted the action on screen. Even when something wasn’t obviously wrong or bad, the score would at times dip in cleverly. There’s also some choice cinematography at play particularly during our first real interaction with Helen. We see Anthony and her arguing as she accuses him of infidelity. Gadon is a lovely woman and you wonder why she is so accusatory. Then, slowly, the camera pulls back and we see her in full.
Despite Adam and Anthony sporting the same beard growth during the film, we can still tell the differences between them. That goes partly to costuming and partly to the way Gyllenhaal moves within the two distinct characters. Anthony is in control at nearly every stop, with his confidence brimming towards the end. He’s sure footed, suave, and wears his clothing well. Even his hair is distinct and the real factor to me is that within this world, his beard looks properly grown and groomed. Meanwhile, Adam’s looks like just casual growth without care. He’s a hurried man and obsessive. He throws himself into finding out who Anthony is and his life becomes even sloppier because of it. The key here is that Villeneuve is able to drop in between each character without having to tell us in an obvious manner who is who. We learn the way they move, the clothes they wear, how they wear it, and other, more subtle factors. Whether the beard growth of the two characters is due to the obvious—a tight shooting time-frame or overlapping character shoots—or a clever choice to challenge the audience, the film benefits in the end by challenging the audience to keep up.
Enemy also delves into submission and possession. Layers are slowly built. We pick up on the spinning narrative and where Adam and Anthony’s lives seem to intersect. The mystery is the draw and we stay because of the intensity of the experience. No one seems to be in immediate danger, but there’s an unknown factor at play that could suddenly change everything. Villeneuve manages to pack quite a bit of thrills and chills into what could have been such an ordinary doppelganger film. Everything melds and blends. The drab backdrops only highlight the lives of these four people. They are our focus and the way Anthony and Adam bounce off one another is as enthralling. Enemy is the kind of film that asks you to think and rewards you with a vivid descent into chaos with flourishes of fantasy.