Adapted from José Saramago’s book The Double, the film tells the tale of ‘Professor Adam Bell’ (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is a rather dull character, stuck in a mundane existence. While watching a rental movie, he spots someone who is his complete doppelganger, and after discovering that the doppelganger is an actor named ‘Daniel Saint Claire’ (also Gyllenhaal), he becomes obsessed with meeting him. In some regards, their two lives are opposites, with ‘Daniel’ appearing to be more emotionally connected to life, with a pregnant wife ‘Helen’ (Sarah Gadon), while ‘Adam’ is far colder and lost, struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with his girlfriend ‘Mary’ (Mélanie Laurent). After they finally meet, their lives become inextricably linked.
I can almost guarantee that Enemy will be one of the most confusing films you have seen for a while, especially on a first watch, and that any viewer will find the end remarkably shocking and very surprising. What is interesting is that on the face of it, there is a safe, linear structure, but the ground is always shifting a little and a sense of unease is brought in through jarring or unexpected elements.
Like a David Lynch film, there are layers upon layers of meaning here, not necessarily presented in a straight forward manner, each giving clues to more thought provoking ideas. At the beginning of the film, there is a quote that reads “Chaos is order yet undeciphered” and this starts the whole experience perfectly, giving a clue of what is to come.
Jake Gyllenhaal does a great job in portraying the two characters, maintaining subtle differences and making it relatively clear throughout the film which is which. Without this distinct portrayal, the film would have failed and left us no way to fully explore the myriad metaphors and allegories presented through the two lives and their environment. Villeneuve has really trusted Gyllenhaal to capture the nuances the film needs, and he was wise to do so.
Visually, the film is an intriguing mix of surreal imagery and colour palettes, with some sections being vibrant and others more like washed out pastels. Throughout, there are references to spiders, either directly or in a subtle, almost imperceptible manner, as well as other symbolism scattered through the scenes. Villeneuve has created both a bland world where necessary, but also a rich one, full of hidden ideas and meanings, in keeping with the thematic content. The spiders on their own will make you think for a while.
There are numerous ways that this film will be analysed and no doubt it will take some time for each viewer to come to some conclusion of what it all means. I definitely think that it will take a month or two for the full effect of this film to work its way around my brain. This has been very well crafted and is a tremendously thought provoking piece that, quite simply, will not be explained away by a straight forward twist. This fact is to its credit, as such films don’t appear in the relative mainstream all that often.
Although some people may well be put off by the confusing nature of this film, I would recommend giving it your time, but be prepared to spend the next couple of months working it all out. Ultimately, it will be rewarding.