In 2013, director Denis Villeneuve brought one of my favorite movies of the year, ‘Prisoners,’ to the big screen to widespread acclaim. I was amazed by the great storytelling and dark, gritty presentation of the film, and now he and one of the films stars Jake Gyllenhaal have reunited for another dark and suspenseful film, ‘Enemy,’ based on the novel The Double by Jose Saramago.
A down in the dumps college professor sees what looks like his exact lookalike as an extra in a movie and in curiosity seeks out to find him. The other version is identical in terms of looks but much different in personality and demeanor. He is also married, and develops an equal curiosity. From here, their obsessions and strange actions lead to a series of strange bizarre events.
Wow. Breathe Out. That’s how I felt as the credits rolled and I sat in my seat at the theater. After watching Prisoner’s and now Enemy, I can confirm that Denis Villeneuve is one of my favorite directors and one of the best out there at creating suspense and a continually building sense of dread. From the very first grainy, filtered, foggy shot in Enemy, you can just tell that something bad is going on, and it can be genuinely unsettling as the viewer. Establishing this mood is so important in a film like this, and the opening camera work, combined with an incredibly creepy and old fashioned suspense musical score certainly worked on me.
The cinematography, music, camera angles and lighting all help establish and maintain this continual sense of dread throughout the film, and provide a great foundation for the three primary actors to do their work. The cast is of course led by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is tasked with the difficult challenge of playing two different versions of the same character, Adam, the professor and Anthony, the actor. It is a task that cannot be easy at all, and he absolutely nails it. What makes it harder is that he has to play the parts just right, so that it seems like they’re still the same person, but also give them unique personalities. He manages to switch between nervous, depressed and unsure to arrogant, smooth and confident so well that there is a real sense of credibility in this bizarre situation.
Supporting him are Melanie Laurent as Adam’s girlfriend, and Sarah Gadon as Anthony’s wife. The two of them are fantastic, and both of them hold a mysterious sense of the unknown, giving us just enough to leave us a little unsure of their part in the proceedings. The characters are all fantastic, but they are just leading us where the writing tells them to, and based on a novel by the great Jose Saramago it was always going to be compelling. The dialogue is clever though, and does a nice job of leading us on little mental tangents, that make us question theories and ideas we’re developing as we watch.
In terms of the plot, it is certainly not cut and dry, and if you prefer films that make sense and have a clear linear and logical story then Enemy might not be for you. It isn’t completely mind boggling in the sense that you don’t understand what you see. It mostly follows a clear story and you can see what is going on, but at the same time it gives you much that must be interpreted. Symbolism, nightmares, lingering and repetitive camera shots. They’re all involved in sending our minds down different paths, while the actual events follow a relatively simple path. I think that’s something that needs to be distinguished, because a lot of people will leave the theater claiming that the film made no sense. I’d argue that it was easy to follow. It’s the overall meaning of the collective film that is far more difficult to nail down, and that isn’t a negative in my book.
I mentioned the score already, but it’s worth mentioning again. Put together by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, the music is almost like an ode to some of the old fashioned horror films, or some old Hitchcock suspense. Full of sharp strings that rise and fall, it moves us along with the action and helps us realize the dread the film wants us to feel.
If the film has flaws they are hard to find for someone who loves a complex, detailed, original film that leaves you thinking and interpreting it’s meaning. But if this isn’t you’re cup of tea then you could argue that the film is silly or nonsensical at times. That is the opinion of some, and it highlights the fact that this is a film that will likely be very polarizing, similar to Gyllenhaal’s more famous work, Donnie Darko. (Although I can certainly tell you that it makes WAY more sense than that did!).
My advice? Go in with an open mind, ready to take in a very detailed and intentional film which is open to be interpreted and analyzed, not to mention full of dread and creepiness in heaps. It won’t be for everyone, and that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Mine is that I loved it, and I can’t wait to watch it again. I’d also like to commend myself for a completely spoiler free review at this point as well!