By Janine Gericke.
Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy opens with a quote from José Saramago’s novel The Double, which Enemy is loosely based on, “Chaos is order yet undeciphered.” Well, that peaked my interest.
College history professor, Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), leads a normal, yet fairly mundane, life. He spends his days teaching the same lectures, goes home to his essentially bare apartment, and spends his evenings having sex with, but not entirely connecting with, his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurant). One day, a coworker randomly asks Adam if he likes going to movies. What a strange question, but it doesn’t entirely come out of left field. Adam admits that he doesn’t really like movies. Instead of leaving it, Adam asks his colleague why he wants to know, is it just to spark conversation, or does he have a recommendation? After a few awkward moments, Adam asks for a comedy recommendation and his coworker suggests a film called Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way. Walking home, Adam passes a video store and begins browsing the aisles. I would like to point out the Vertigo poster that is hanging on the wall behind him, a fun nod to Hitchcock. Adam finds the comedy and watches it on his laptop while his girlfriend sleeps in the other room. Nothing particularly memorable initially jumps out at him upon the first viewing, but later that night, he dreams about the film. It’s during his dream that he thinks he sees, well, himself. Has his dream just placed him in the film? He gets up, rushes to his laptop, and fast-forwards to that exact scene, and there he is. How can this be? So begins an obsessive spiral.
But let me back up a bit. The atmosphere in Enemy is dreamlike, yet ominous. You get the sense that something is not quite right. The film opens in just such a way: in a very dark club, we see men seated around a table where a woman is pleasuring herself. In walks Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal), who we soon find out is a married actor and Adam’s exact double. A platter is set on top of the table and when the cover is removed, it reveals a very large tarantula. Indeed, spiders are seen throughout the film. This fact has actually fueled many online theories about the purpose of the spiders, or if they are purely symbolic. There is an image of a giant spider walking over Toronto on the film’s poster, so I am not giving anything away here. Before the scene cuts away, the woman dancing on top of the table hovers her spiked heel over the spider, while Anthony half covers his face with his hands, not able to look away. Is it just difficult to watch, or is there more going on here?
After seeing his double in the film, Adam becomes obsessed with the idea of meeting Anthony, even visiting his acting agency in hopes of finding out more. Although we realize that seeking answers may not be the best thing one could do, we are just as curious as Adam. We too are trying to wrap our heads around what exactly is happening. After some convincing, Anthony agrees to meet Adam in person, and the scene is just as creepy and confusing to watch, as it is for the characters to experience. They meet in a hotel room about an hour outside of the city. Adam arrives first, seeming incredibly nervous, yet exhilarated by what is about to happen. Staring at the door, we can see a shadow of a person standing at the door. Anthony then unlocks the door and peeks his head in. Adam’s first reaction is to say, “I told you.” Anthony walks into the room and the two men stand by the only window in the room, just staring at each other in disbelief. Everything about these two men is exactly the same. They share the same facial hair, the same voice; they even have identical scars on their stomachs. It’s a spectacular scene, and things only get stranger from there.
There are many theories out there about what is happening in Enemy. I won’t address any of those in this review. I will say that it is a fun movie to deconstruct and the theories are certainly entertaining. I have watched it twice now, and I must admit that the pieces do come closer together with each viewing. Not only is the film visually stunning, but it is a real head scratcher. In my opinion, the ending alone is enough of a recommendation, and it will leave you talking and analyzing for days.
Janine Gericke is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.