Enemy – Film Review

Jake Gyllenhaal comes face to face with his doppelganger in this gripping psychological thriller

Adam Bell is stuck in a rut. The bearded history professor played by Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy gives the same lecture about totalitarianism every day, at the University Of Greater Toronto, then shuffles back to his shabby flat to have detached sex with Mary, a woman he doesn’t seem committed to. He has little interest in his work colleagues, but when one recommends a “cheerful” film he might enjoy, he rents the DVD and spots a bit-part actor who is his spitting image. Bell checks the credits, and finds that his name is Daniel St Claire.

Here comes the key dilemma that Enemy poses: how should someone react when confronted with someone identical to them? What follows is a puzzling, intense and frustrating film based on José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double that is, following 2013’s Prisoners, Gyllenhaal’s second collaboration with French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve.

Understandably freaked out, Adam discovers that Daniel St Claire is actually the stage name of Anthony Claire, a man also living in Villeneuve’s unsettlingly drab, almost dystopian vision of Toronto. Adam quickly gets obsessed with his apparent doppelganger, and after managing to pass for Anthony during a visit to the actor’s agent, decides to call his apartment. When Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon, who starred opposite Robert Pattinson in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis) answers, she thinks she’s talking to her husband, not a total stranger, so an increasingly manic Adam rings back and persuades his lookalike to meet him.

At this point Enemy becomes engrossing. It turns out the two men don’t just share a face and voice, but also have the same distinctive scar on their stomachs. Overwhelmed, Adam flees their meeting and seeks reassurance from his mother (Isabella Rossellini), who tells him to forget the doppelganger nonsense, but then confusingly scolds him for clinging to his career as a “third-rate actor”. Her telling off intertwines the identities of the two men, and is a truly uncomfortable moment of confusion.

The film’s final stretch contains its most compelling moments. Anthony forces Adam to swap clothes and informs him they’ll be going back to each other’s wives. The subsequent scenes depict tense encounters between each man and the other’s partner. Though Mary (Inglourious Basterds‘ Mélanie Laurent), doesn’t seem to realise she’s being duped, it looks like Helen could be turning a blind eye to the exchange. Having drawn us into this nerve-wracking predicament, Villeneuve then cuts off the film abruptly, with a totally unexpected and completely surreal final scene.

Anchored by Gyllenhaal’s superb performance drawing out the differences between anxious, bedraggled Adam and the slicker, more sadistic Anthony, Enemy builds from a slightly sluggish beginning towards a gripping climax. It’s a thought-provoking film that plays on the mind for days afterwards.

Details

Release date: 01 Jan, 2015