Dubiously Discovering His Double
Jake Gyllenhaal has mastered the art of the frown. It’s become one of his defining performance traits throughout his career. His depth of negative expression offers “clinical depression” and “mildly perturbed” as easily accessible ends of his facial spectrum. In Enemy, directed by Dennis Villeneuve (Prisoners) and adapted from a novella by Jose Saramago, this emotional range stretches to both bleak polarities. He gets to sag his face twice as much and let it linger on into enigmatic proportion.
That’s because he plays two men who look exactly alike, physically differentiated only in their subtle posturing and hairdos. Their personalities however are noticeably opposed, and the men’s indistinct Canadian city apartments are extensions of their divergent characters. Are they twins? Are they just doppelgangers? At points their two lives feel like eerily mirrored refractions. Something mysterious connects the two and in this slow, atmospheric thriller, these questions grow finer with time.
Underneath Villeneuve’s imposing desolate buildings and toxic yellow lens we meet Adam, the first Gyllenhaal, who habitually slumps through life. He lectures about dictatorships and Hegel as a history professor and comes home exhausted, occasionally garnering visits from his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). One night he rents a DVD and sees his second self in the movie. After some Google searching and talent agency scouting, he tracks down his struggling actor identical and cautiously, creepily introduces his presence.
The second Gyllenhaal plays Anthony, a sharper looking embodiment tethered to a pretty and pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon). She is hesitant about a stranger calling but Anthony is intrigued. Villeneuve is clever with his visual discernment, but he also enjoys toying with information. We have just enough omniscience to follow writer Javier Guillon’s plot construction, but never enough to feel comfortable. Anthony evokes an awareness in front of Adam that rarely feels warranted. Anthony stores organic blueberries in his fridge. Adam’s mother describes how much her son loves blueberries over the phone. Both are attached to blonde women. Enemy is a puzzle whose complexities would benefit from multiple viewings and interpretations.
The double is a fascinating psychologically debated and frequently mined literary and filmic theme. Enemy combines some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde” with Dostoevsky’s “The Double” tapping into Freudian philosophies of duality. Helen often sits at a reflective table and apartment building architecture mimics itself. At points, this is an acid trip meditation on narcissism.
A potentially more haunting and uncanny motif exists in David Lynch-ian form. As film author Pilar Andrade writes, Lynch conjures a suspenseful surrealism by associating “two images, apparently disconnected, that can be inserted in an ominous world parallel to the real one. It is not exactly the equivalent of a literary metaphor but of an irrational analogy used with a clearly fantastic aim.”
Here, Villeneuve’s analogy involves a tarantula, whose presence slowly penetrates and infects the atmospheric, subdued city haze. Cable car wires are strands of spider silk and broken windows resemble webs. As first person perspectives slowly turn corners, and bass drums boom sporadically, lethargy transforms into curiosity. Enemy tests your patience and will reward you for it in a ridiculous, unspeakable final shot. It might be the weirdest, scariest, most fitting ending to a movie like this you’ll ever experience.