Friday 24 August 2018

Movie Review: Enemy (2013)

A psychological drama, Enemy is the layered story of a man who discovers his exact duplicate, and the unintended consequences that follow.

In the prologue, an unnamed man attends an underground erotic show, featuring a woman in heels crushing a tarantula.

Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a meek history professor, living on his own and keeping to himself, although he regularly has mechanical sex with Mary (Mélanie Laurent), who never stays the night. While watching a movie one day Adam is stunned to spot a minor supporting actor who looks exactly like him. He identifies the actor as Daniel Saint Claire, the stage name of Anthony Claire (also Jake Gyllenhaal), who lives in the same city.

Anthony is cool and arrogant, but not getting any traction in his acting career. Adam phones and suggests that they meet, but Anthony's pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) is suspicious of the phone call and still not over Anthony's previous infidelity episode. Adam and Anthony do finally arrange an awkward meeting at a hotel room, after which Adam decides he wants nothing to do with Anthony. But the roles are reversed, Anthony's interest is piqued, and he starts surveilling Adam's world, his eyes set on seducing Mary.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Javier Gullón, Enemy is an adaptation of the book The Double by José Saramago. This is an unnerving film that creeps up on the psyche, with symbolism aplenty, several jarring imaginative moments featuring spiders, and an unnerving aura of bland reality colliding with twisted psychology.

While the story is superficially about two men who are physically alike but emotionally quite different tangling with each other, Villeneuve drops a steady stream of hints that something else is going on. Without ever forcing an interpretation, Villeneuve weaves an elegant story about truncated ambition, career dead-ends, relationships as places of both refuge and entrapment, and the shifting responsibilities of life's sequential stages.

Filming in Toronto, Villeneuve creates a stark and unwelcoming landscape, dominated by featureless but domineering buildings drenched in sickly browns, greys and yellows. Spiders and their ilk, some more real than others, appear at regular intervals as symbols of what must be going on in the heads of Adam and Anthony. A seemingly mundane but in reality pivotal scene between Adam and his mother (Isabella Rossellini) is pregnant with clues about the story behind the story.

Jake Gyllenhaal is stellar as both Adam and Anthony, effortlessly inhabiting both men and hinting at their subtle behavioural differences. Gyllenhaal's haunted eyes reveal plenty of internal anxiety, and he masterfully pulls off the scenes featuring both men.

Enemy is a masterpiece of understated human trauma, a film that reveals its secrets quietly, with just the occasional impeccable jolt.

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