Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Strong Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity and Language
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Javier Gullon
(based on the novel THE DOUBLE by Jose Saramago)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini & Sarah Gadon
Based on the 2002 novel THE DOUBLE, ENEMY tackles the well-worn idea of the doppelgänger. Denis Villeneuve and Jake Gyllenhaal teamed up to make this film in the same year that their well-received PRISONERS hit wide release. ENEMY has been expanding into select movie theaters and there’s a good reason for this. This film will not please everybody. It doesn’t have the mainstream appeal that PRISONERS has and I can see a lot of people walking away disappointed at the deliberate pace or surreal artistic style. This is very much like David Lynch directed a feature-length TWILIGHT ZONE episode. It’s disorienting, unnerving, and I don’t attest to entirely understanding the whole thing, but this is one dark nightmare I won’t forget any time soon.
Adam Bell is a college professor going through the motions of everyday life. He lectures about history repeating itself and his life repeats itself every single day. He teaches, he walks home, he grades papers, and then has casual sex with his girlfriend. It’s a pattern that occurs over and over. That is until Adam rents a film recommended by a co-worker. In an odd coincidence, he notices a background actors that looks identical to him. Adam tracks down the performer, Anthony Saint Clare, and they meet face-to-face. Neither of them has an explanation for why they are doppelgängers and appear exactly alike in every way, but their insertion in each others lives has a chaotic effect on both men. We all know that stories about doppelgängers never quite end well and ENEMY is bleak the whole way through. To make the atmosphere even more thick, a layer of smog covers the city constantly and sunlight only shines in two scenes (kind of like how PRISONERS kept things in a dank environment that ramped up the tension tenfold).
Competing against himself, Jake Gyllenhaal is compelling as both Adam and Anthony. Both characters have their faults (though by the end, it’s clear which one the viewer will prefer), but they seem to be struggling through this otherworldly scenario. There’s a good deal of misleading where it takes the viewer a moment to recognize which character is on-screen. I feel this approach was entirely deliberate. A good use of sleight of hand and pulling the rug out from the viewer, albeit it’s used a select number of times in the story. The artistic visuals are stunning and there is some absolutely nightmarish scenarios throughout (the last shot chills up my spine and left me a bit shaken as exited the theater). The story tackles universal ideas of the loss of self, connection with others, and the darkness of human nature.
My problems with the film come in some scenes that aren’t specifically addressed and seem too vague to the viewer. The film runs at only 90 minutes and it felt like it might have been an even better experience had there been more time for all of this to develop. The imagery of spiders is constant throughout the movie in different ways. Two of which are otherworldly, but not necessarily addressed in the conventional sense. Those with a arachnophobia might have a hard time sitting through ENEMY based simply on that notion. The ending is abrupt too. The last shot, while absolutely startling, seems to convey a deeper meaning and doesn’t make a lot of logical sense. Again, if more time was dedicated to a certain plot thread, then it might have had a much bigger impact. I don’t entirely understand what it meant and I’m positive there were deeper meanings conveyed throughout some of this, but I can’t stop thinking about the last moment before the closing credits began to roll. Even if that conclusion can be seen as deeply flawed, everything that came before it was so great that it’s easily forgiven.
In the same vein as a Cronenberg or Lynch film, ENEMY is one that is a dark story meant to be looked over and analyzed. This is one you’ll want to discuss long into the night with fellow cinephiles, debating the finer points and weirder aspects of the story. The plot could have used a bit more time dedicated to certain elements and I don’t confess to entirely understanding the whole thing, but I’d be willing to bet that not everyone is grasping the same meaning out of this movie. The ending of the novel and the ending of the film are entirely different, but I honestly don’t know which one I would prefer more. I was predicting the ending that the novel had, but the ending of the film caught me completely off-guard and is the one left haunting me more. ENEMY is far from perfect, but it does make for a mind-blowing experience that will leave your brain in shreds. If that’s your thing (of which I certainly enjoy it), then ENEMY is an undeniably creepy delight!