Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”)
Written by: Javier Gullón (“Hierro”)
Following last year’s extremely tense thriller “Prisoners,” director Denis Villeneuve teams up once again with actor Jake Gyllenhaal for “Enemy,” a bizarrely atmospheric and often times metaphoric head scratcher featuring an open-ended narrative most mainstream audiences would probably scoff at. Villeneuve isn’t the type of director to serve up answers to his audience without making them think at a higher level than most filmmakers. We’re not talking quantum physics here, but even more so than “Prisoners,” Villeneuve demands viewers not to expect simple solutions for the puzzling scenarios he presents onscreen.
In “Enemy,” which was actually shot before “Prisoners,” Gyllenhaal stars as Adam Bell, an introverted history professor whose life has become very repetitious. Teaching the same lessons to his classes and coming home to the same dark apartment are events Adam has acclimated to over the years. His daily routine is broken, however, when Adam, on the recommendation from a colleague, rents an obscure movie and discovers that a bit-part actor in the film looks exactly like him. Curious to know more about this man who shares all his physical features (doppelganger? long lost twin brother?), Adam searches him out. Although the self-absorbed actor, Anthony St. Claire, is not very interested in the strange connection they have, he soon changes his mind and wants to meet Adam to see the similarities for himself.
Their initial meeting thrusts them into a mysterious mind game of skepticism and deceit wherein the two men decide they would like to try living as the other for a weekend. Villeneuve and screenwriter Javier Gullón (“Hierro”) are vague in their reasoning for this Machiavellian-like switch to take place other than for the story to move forward. Adam’s reaction to his discovery is also peculiarly written and not entirely believable. Would someone search out an individual in such a clandestine way? Sure, it adds to the intrigue of the story and to Villeneuve’s filmmaking style, but it doesn’t always feel true to life.
Despite its flaws, “Enemy,” based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, is sharp in its delivery and creates this underlying discomfort that is perfect for its subject matter. Gyllenhaal gives a pair of strong performances as Adam and Anthony, the latter of whom comes with a lot of unusual baggage, including a sexual fetish that plays into the storyline with some creepy imagery. Villeneuve’s vision, too, is unsettling. With the film washed out in a yellow hue, “Enemy” gives off this sense of repulse that is more than skin deep. Pick at the scabs long enough and something ugly is bound to seep out.