Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini, Tim Post
Written by: José Saramago and (based on the novel The Double) Javier Gullón
Running Time: 90 mins
Release date: 2nd January 2015
The doppelganger is a well-worn narrative device seen in dozens of movies, normally used for comic effect or some twisted thriller. Enemy goes for the latter and while this might be a frequent ploy, Denis Villenuve’s film is deeper, darker and more twisted than most and he manages to breathe new life into the old formula.
Adam Bell is a history teacher who is insecure and very sombre. He shares his life with Mary, a fiery lady who seems completely unsuited to Adam’s more quietly nervous lifestyle. While watching a movie, Adam notices a supporting actor who looks exactly like him. Unable to get the image out of his head, he decides to track him down, discovering he is confident, arrogant Anthony Claire, a bit-part actor who is married to Helen, who is expecting. Obsessed with wanting to share this information with Claire, Adam wants to meet but when the two men finally do, it is Claire who becomes more obsessed but in a very different way to Adam.
The first thing I have to say about this film is that if you are easily frustrated by unclear story lines, then this might not be for you. Villenuve’s movie, based on a novel, The Double, by Javier Gullón, is full of loose ends and contrivances. The images and themes are a muddle, with spiders being the biggest mystery throughout.
Starting off with a scene set in some strange men’s club, where scantily clad ladies walk on mirrored flooring with a giant spider as a plaything, the film, drenched in yellow, feels like it’s heading down a more conventional route, then Villenuve throws in another confusion, then another, as if he’s laying out all the themes for us to see, then enjoying watching us squirm trying to tie them all together.
After his previous film, the thriller Prisoners, you’d expect Villienuve to be more conventional with his story telling and yet this provokes memories of early David Cronenberg or David Lynch, taking the tale and allowing flights of fantasy to slip in, ultimately making this as frustrating as it is interesting. Using the doppelganger idea, he also manages to play with our heads and while Adam and Anthony are clearly very different in personality, you do question who you are watching.
Which leads to the performances. Melanie Laurent, as Mary, is given a paper-thin character to play with and yet she injects energy and charisma into the role, making her as complex as the situation yet wiser than anyone. Sarah Gadon, as Helen, is quietly convincing while its good to see Isabella Rossellini back on the screen in a far too brief cameo as Adam’s mother.
Yet the film belongs to Jake Gyllenhaal. Slowly becoming the screen’s most exciting actor, this gives him another chance to show just how good he is, playing the two varying personalities, effortlessly switching from the softly spoken Adam to the brutish Anthony. After last year’s Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal is slowly becoming the one that you want to see what he does next.
Enemy is provocative, thought-provoking, disturbing and highly original. It’s slow-burning pace helps build the tension and yet you still come out feeling confused. I can see this being the cult classic of this year.