Filmed before last year’s Prisoners but released after, Enemy is the second team-up by actor Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve, who have achieved nothing short of a banner year, with two films that complement each other beautifully, withEnemy the short, quiet, understated, psychological, independent little brother of Prisoners‘s sprawling, Hollywood, epic exploration of identity, religion and duty.
Steeped in bright whites and shades of brown like the poster,Enemy follows the humdrum life of college professor Adam (Gyllenhaal), whose rote, repetitive existence by day teaching the same things to students year after year, and by night grading papers and tossing around in bed with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) like clockwork, is given a much needed jolt of excitement when a chance recommendation of a film by a colleague causes him to discover his exact twin, Anthony (also Gyllenhaal) as a featured extra.
It’s somewhere around this point that Villeneuve asks the audience to jump-ship from the dedicated comfort zone of a cause and effect narrative and follow him into the darker recesses of the male psyche and ego, of which the film slowly becomes an indictment, through visual imagery as a sexual metaphor suddenly turning concrete the seductive power of desire and lust, and always wanting what you don’t have, and the reduction of gender relations to power plays where one is either devouring or being devoured. Suffice it to say Enemy does not hold men in the highest of regards.
The acting is uniformly superb, with Gyllenhaal deftly handling the dual role, giving both Adam and Anthony unique enough characteristics to be different, but similar enough to be cut from the same cloth. Of the supporting “significant others” in the two men’s lives, Laurent is effective yet functional, while Sarah Gadon as Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen is a revelation, given her own little journey of discovery. It’s both agonizing and heart-wrenching to watch her evolve through the film, simultaneously being true to her own character while also being objectified by the superficial longings of our two heros.
Enemy is the most assured film yet from Canadian director Villeneuve, and so far it’s also my favorite. It’s rare for a filmmaker to be able to master both sides of the cinematic spectrum, especially in the same year, but there is something about Enemy‘s intimacy that is extremely universal, contrasted with the way Prisoners journeyed from the universal to the more intimate, that resonated with me and forced me to look at my own life and past and future relationships. If you go into Enemylooking for a traditional story, like Prisoners, with a beginning, middle, and end you will be sorely disappointed, but then many times those are the best kinds of films, the ones that are so easily malleable to our own unique personalities and desires, even determined as we are by society’s programming, especially when it comes to gender. As far as Enemy is concerned we are at the mercy of our own psychology; it’s a refreshingly original, and downright wonderful reworking of the old adage, we are our own worst enemies.
The Verdict: Rave