Enemy is a psychological thriller/ mystery film directed by Denis Villeneuve who also directed the critically acclaimed thrillers Prisoners, Incendies, and Sicario (all of which also happen to be on my to-watch list). I’m on the fence about whether or not I would call this an arthouse film or not, because it seems to straddle the line between an accessible movie that makes you think and a surrealist mindfuck. Enemy is loosely based on the book The Double by José Saramago and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, a bored history professor who finds Anthony St. Claire, a small time actor who looks exactly like him. It isn’t just an uncanny resemblance. Anthony is physically identical to Adam. If you haven’t guessed it, Anthony is also played by Gyllenhaal. Adam researches and quickly becomes obsessed with Anthony, and begins interfering with Anthony’s private life trying to figure out who Anthony really is and why they appear to be the same person. Their lives become somewhat intertwined and they both need to find their way through a web of mistrust and deception to get to the bottom of it.
Enemy is not a light movie. There’s no violence, there’s no dense or impossible to decipher dialogue, and its run time is just a touch over an hour and a half. This should be by all accounts a breeze to get through. Enemy provides such a heavy subject matter executed with unnerving, sometimes disturbing, surrealist imagery which lingers with you, clinging to the underside of your brain like a giant spider.
Oh, I should warn you. Do not watch this movie if you are afraid of spiders.
It’s difficult to write about Enemy without getting into spoilers and I really, really like this movie enough that I’ll give a little summary of my thoughts before I get into the meat of this post. Enemy is incredibly well shot and boasts amazing cinematography. It uses varying color sparingly, settling on a golden yellow hue that dominates a majority of the scenes. Visually it feel like a successor to Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin and Green Room, with a strict color pallet that helps establish the tone of the film. Yellow can represent irrationality, anxiety, deception, and cowardice, all of which are themes that run through this film. Jake Gyllenhaal gives an amazing performance as both Adam and Anthony, using subtle but effective ways to distinguish the two otherwise identical characters. From the way they dress to their postures, to the way they speak and the words they use, Gyllenhaal makes sure the audience can always tell the two apart. Lastly, Enemy is a discussion movie. This isn’t Avengers 7 where you can walk out of it and say “man I loved when [superhero] punched [supervillain] really hard, that was awesome!”. This is a movie that you need to sit down afterwards and think about it. If you saw it with friends, you might need to all go grab a drink and hash it out. It’ll take a bit of time to put all the pieces together but that being said, this is not a pretentious movie that tries to be confusing. It just doesn’t follow some of the conventional ways to deliver a narrative and demands a bit of thought before you can make sense of what certain scenes, shots, and dialogue meant. I highly recommend Enemy to anybody who enjoys deeper movies, especially those who are interested in getting into arthouse or experimental cinema. It’s a great first step down that rabbit hole.
Alright, let’s get to the good stuff. Spoilers ahead. Enemy is a confusing movie. Are Adam and Anthony long lost twins or clones? Did giant spiders take over the world? While Enemy isn’t easy to digest at first, after a bit of reflection the movie’s real plot bubbles the surface. Adam and Anthony are like Tyler Durden and Tyler Durden from Fight Club. They are the manifestations of two different aspects of one man. Adam is meek, shy, reserved, and lives a repetitive and boring life. Anthony appears much happier, is much more intense, and is prone to emotional outbursts. Think of Adam as Edward Norton and Anthony as Brad Pitt if we’re going to continue our Fight Club analogy. Parts of this movie take place in the subconscious of our main character, which makes it hard to distinguish which parts of the movie are actually happening and which are in his head. Villeneuve’s dream-like directing and cinematography, matched with legitimate dream sequences give this movie an almost ethereal quality to it that makes it sit rather uneasy with the viewer.
Anthony/ Adam has been cheating on his pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) with his mistress Mary (Mélanie Laurent) and has cheated before with another (possibly multiple) women. He clearly has trouble with commitment and being faithful to his partner, and feels trapped and ensnared by the family he’s started. This is where is spider imagery comes into play. In this movie, the spiders represent how Anthony/ Adam feels about women. He finds them controlling and oppressive, like he’s caught up in their webs unable to escape. When Adam is giving lectures at the beginning of the film, he talks about control, dictatorship and totalitarianism, saying how a regime like that only gives its subjects what they need to survive, just to give them a little bit of hope and keep them complacent. Once Anthony and Mary fight while driving which ends with a presumably fatal car crash (a scene I believe to be entirely in Adam’s head), Adam takes over Anthony’s life hoping to start over and live a committed life to Helen and his family. This is however, just before Adam finds the new key to the underground sex club that was given to him. This is where Adam ultimately fails, succumbing to the temptations of sex and infidelity. His mental state reverts back to that of Anthony, where he feels the women in his life are holding him in their webs, keeping him restrained. And that is why the ending is presented the way it is.
For anyone who doesn’t know, despite being both a movie that slipped by a lot of peoples’ radars and that its relatively new, the ending is notorious for being incredibly disturbing, and fucking scary. I nearly fell off my couch. Seriously. Once again, if you happen to have read this far into this review: do not watch this movie if you are afraid of spiders.
There is more that Enemy touches on and dives into that I haven’t mentioned, but I think to fully understand what the movie was going for you need to watch it front to back. Hopefully my rambling here made a bit of sense, and if you have seen Enemy and were confused, hopefully it helped you define your interpretation of the story.
If I haven’t made it clear enough, I highly recommend Enemy. It’s a compact, intriguing, and intense movie that doesn’t spell everything out for you, but isn’t self-serving or pretentious. It looks amazing despite its apparently low budget (no official number has been announced, but I can’t imagine it being more than several million dollars), and Gyllenhaal delivers an amazing and detailed double performance. Just be sure not to watch it with someone who constantly asks questions about what’s happening on screen while the movie is playing because I guarantee there won’t be a single moment where they won’t be chattering.