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May 30, 2014

Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s dreamlike book-adaptation thriller featuring Jake Gyllenhaal’s beard

— Posted by Bud Boomer

Earning director Villeneuve (Incendies (2010), Prisoners (2013)) a Canadian Screen Award, adaptation of Portuguese author and Nobel Prize recipient José de Sousa Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double; Enemy is an eerie doppelganger flick with a Kafka-esque vibe and a Khaki-esque colour palette.

Put simply (and ignorantly) the film is about college History professor, Adam Bell, his attempts to track down and figure out his connection to Daniel St. Claire, and spiders. But Saramago, known for his talent for allegories, intended the story read from a different perspective.

After Bell is recommended a film by a colleague, he is shocked to discover in it an actor that resembles him too closely to ignore. As we’re introduced to the actor, St. Claire, via Bell’s attempts to contact him we become acquainted also with the men’s significant others, played by Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon. Then after the doubles meet, the situation becomes more complicated as ladies’ man St. Claire develops an interest in Bell’s wife…

A true artist in subtlety and nuance, Gyllenhaal manages to play both main characters equally complex and convincing. There’ve been similar but easier challenges met well by other actors; Edward Norton in Leaves of Grass, Christian Bale in The Prestige (sorry for the spoiler, but it did come out nearly 8 years ago now), even Sam Rockwell in Moon- but playing two fundamentally distinct yet mysteriously analogous characters is made to appear much easier by J.G-Haalz than it must be.


There is recurring spider themed symbolism paced nicely throughout and, without colouring your interpretation of some of the metaphorical imagery in the film too much, I’d say that for me personally it represented the temptation Bell feels to fall back into traps he fights against giving in to. I think it was a nice touch by Villeneuve, and helps the film circumnavigate cliché Jekyll Hyde tropes. For people who’ve seen it, you’ll know which of the scenes truly hypnotised me from my not modest home cinema screen.

I have to admit that for me, a viewer hellbent on second-guessing thriller plots, on first watching I was left slightly confused by certain details. But even if you don’t require a second watch then I’d recommend one; on some subconscious level, you’re trying to figure out the reality of it all during the first viewing. The next sitting leaves you free to draw more figurative and poetic conclusions.

A blackly funny interpretation of (and new spin on) the timeless nightmarish concept of the doppelganger, as well as a creative take on the inner struggle of some with polygamous impulses, Enemy is a supremely stylish and bleakly piquant work ambiguous enough to not only have a different message for everyone but mean something new with every re-watch.

I can’t give Enemy less than 8.5/10

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