Based on a novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning Portuguese fabulist José Saramago, Enemy centers on an affectless history professor named Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal, who also worked with Villeneuve on Prisoners), a man who spends his days resisting conversation with his colleagues and his nights having distracted sex with his gorgeous girlfriend. But when one particularly tenacious co-worker suggests Adam rent a silly rom-com, he gives in—and discovers that one of the actors looks exactly like him. Thus begins a Jekyll and Hyde-meet-Twilight Zone scenario, in which Adam disguises himself in girly sunglasses and sets out in search of his doppelgänger. His name is Anthony, and he shares Adam’s face, voice and scars—even his handwriting—but not his melancholy. As the look-alikes, Gyllenhaal turns in two sly and playful performances, sweating and stuttering as Adam, crowing and strutting as Anthony. Yet the differences remain subtle enough that each time Gyllenhaal appears onscreen, you ask yourself which man he’s playing.
Set in an unnamed Canadian city (it was shot in Toronto), the entire film looks stained by nicotine, all sickly taupes and jaundiced yellows. The score, a fitful mix of strings and metallic clangs, amplifies the sense of menace. And then there’s all the spider imagery, including a dreamlike sequence in which a tarantula-headed woman walks on the ceiling. Arachnophobes may find it freaky; I found it humorously self-aware.
Villeneuve, mostly to
his credit, doesn’t bother to decipher the aforementioned chaos.
Instead, he keeps a patient but firm grip on the proceedings, even as
his characters’ grip on reality disintegrates. What it all means—and
whether it’s more than a creepy mood piece—is debatable. Is Villeneuve
commenting on male insecurity? On isolation and desire? Or perhaps he’s
just spinning us into an intricate, inescapable web.
Critic’s Grade: B
SEE IT: Enemy is rated R. It opens Friday at Living Room Theaters.