(ORIGINALLY POSTED ON LETTERBOXD - 15/08/2018)
CUT TO: Written reviews.
Enemy is arguably one of the most fascinating films of the 21st century. On its initial wide release in 2014, it divided audiences and critics; some praised it as a modern masterpiece, while others stated that it was the worst film they had ever seen. Even 4 years after its last cinematic screening, it still promotes in-depth analytical essays and lengthy discussions, which is not at all a surprise.
The film begins with our introduction to Adam, a subdued history teacher portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal, who discovers that he has an exact look-alike while watching a film; an actor named Anthony Claire. He obsessively begins to seek more information about his doppelgänger, leading him on a very unusual path. Though the plot itself sparks inevitable intrigue, the film leaves you with more questions than you may have anticipated.
Enemy is not for everyone. Viewers who anticipate a film similar to Villeneuve/Gyllenhaal’s other collaboration Prisoners will be sorely disappointed. That being said, anyone impressed by Prisoners who may be curious to see what director Denis Villeneuve can do with a dark tone and an artistic edge, may find themselves equally as enthralled.
I went into Enemy heavily anticipating that I would leave impressed (after being blown away by Prisoners myself); I first watched it after purchasing the Blu-Ray and by the end of the film I didn’t know what to make of what I had seen, though I knew for a fact that I liked it. A few months passed, and the film still stayed with me. Even after watching other films, both in the cinema and at home; Enemy was still very prominent in my mind.
Fast forward to the 15th August, this year. I decided to re-watch the film for the first time and as soon as I hit play, I was immediately immersed. It was as though I was viewing it for the first time all over again. I found myself transfixed by the beautifully bleak cinematography and the way in which director of photography, Nicolas Bolduc, manages to make the setting of Toronto look so stunningly eerie; it is incredibly difficult to take your eyes off of the screen. What compliments the cinematography wonderfully, is Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ score. While not loud and bombastic, it does the perfect job of conveying the exact emotions that both the characters and audience are feeling at that moment, which for the most part are curiosity, intensity and confusion.
Along with the technical aspects, another element that makes Enemy such a treat to watch is the acting. The cast is relatively small, with only four primary characters and three actors portraying them; this gives a lot of opportunity for the cast to be on the top of their game, and they are. By far the two stand-outs are Sarah Gadon and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Gadon plays Helen, Anthony’s wife, who is six-months pregnant. On the surface this role isn’t anything too special - important to the plot, yes, but not what you initially watched the film for - but Gadon’s portrayal of the character makes Helen a very integral part of the film. Gadon is an actress who is able to act purely through her eyes, giving her character a lot of depth, without much need for verbal or other physical explanation.
A shining example of her acting ability is the scene in which Helen visits Adam’s workplace. Gadon says very little, but the audience understands enough simply by how she looks at him; we can read a hundred emotions on her face that say a lot more than an entire page monologue ever could. When she does say anything, the delivery is heartbreaking, adding so much to an otherwise simple line of dialogue.
Sarah Gadon manages to appear extremely sympathetic in an incredibly memorable role that, quite frankly, could have been overshadowed by the mammoth Gyllenhaal performance; she provides a beautiful companion performance that is just as important as Gyllenhaal himself.
With that said, it is important to discuss the lead acting performance of Enemy, something many would agree is the main attraction. Jake Gyllenhaal depicts two characters. Adam is a lecturer living in a minimal apartment. He is frequently visited by his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent) - though their relationship appears to be purely sexual - and his days are very mundane and repetitive. Anthony, in comparison, is a small-time actor living in a high-end apartment with his wife Helen. He is well dressed and seems to be very happy, though it is clear that he has his own personal demons.
Ian Freer from Empire Magazine states that “Jake Gyllenhaal gives two spellbinding performances” and I wholeheartedly agree. Gyllenhaal is a tour de force as both Adam and Anthony, so much so that whenever both characters are in the same scene, it is easy to believe that they are two totally different people - and I don’t just mean two different characters, I mean two completely different actors.
As Adam, Gyllenhaal is restless, agitated and clearly uncomfortable in his life. This is translated beautifully in how Gyllenhaal carries himself; his body language tells us exactly how Adam is feeling. Comparatively, Anthony walks and talks with confidence and control, so much so that when these two are in the same room, the audience’s attention is magnetised to the screen. The film does such an incredible job of generating a myriad of emotions inside the viewer, that when these two finally meet, it is beyond unpredictable what could happen. The majority of this can be credited to Jake Gyllenhaal’s amazing performance.
The doppelgänger trope is nothing new in fiction, in fact it has been portrayed many times. Examples of this include William Wilson by Edgar Allen Poe, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain and The Double by Fydor Dosteovsky. The Double was adapted into a film in 2014 – coincidentally the same year of Enemy’s release - with Jesse Eisenberg portraying two different characters who look identical.
What makes Enemy stand out from other stories is that it is not just simply a case of “a man finds his look alike, hijinks ensue”; it is so much more than that. The film evolves into an existential battle of loyalty and honesty, to the point where you are on the edge of your seat, despite the film containing little to no action. Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Javier Gullón did a masterful job of bringing a story to the big screen that challenged the audience’s mentality, promoting conversations about something that no other doppelgänger story has ever done before.
Overall, Enemy is a bleak film laced with dread and curiosity; it can certainly leave the viewer with far more questions than answers, but with further viewing much more is revealed. It boasts gorgeous cinematography, a memorable score, phenomenal acting and an unforgettable atmosphere. Ultimately, I do believe negative attitudes towards the film will decrease and Enemy will come to be appreciated as a true classic, not dissimilar to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which initially garnered unfavourable reviews despite being heralded as one of the greatest cinematic achievements, 50 years later. Enemy will always have its critics - as all films that are heavy in metaphor do - but one thing is for certain; Enemy is an experience that will last much longer than the 91-minute runtime and it is certainly a film that I will continue to think about.