Movie Review - Enemy

Based on the book The Double by José Saramago, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a Canadian history professor in Toronto who realizes that he has an exact duplicate also living in Toronto. That duplicate is played by Gyllenhaal too, and that duplicate is a low-level actor.

Once Adam Bell, the professor, learns about the duplicate, he sets out to find Anthony Claire, the actor. Adam meets Anthony's pregnant wife Helen, played by Sarah Gadon. This upsets Anthony, so Anthony plots to swap places with Adam, so that Anthony can have Adam's girlfriend, Mary, played by Mélanie Laurent.

Adam's first encounter with Helen has her confuse him for Anthony. From that point forward, the movie seems to be more consumed with the idea of these two men switching places. For Anthony, it's not too complicated. He's basically a self-obsessed, horny bastard who sees an opportunity to have sex with a beautiful woman who isn't pregnant, so he jumps on it.

The question is why Adam allows Anthony to do so. There was an episode of Star Trek where Captain Kirk has a duplicate made of him. The duplicate is an aggressive and highly sexual version of Kirk, whereas the original Kirk is more timid, reserved and thoughtful. That appears to be the case here with Gyllenhaal playing Anthony as the horny aggressor and playing Adam as the shy guy.

Even though Adam is a professor and has to speak to a lecture hall full of students, he rarely engages any individuals or gives direct eye-to-eye contact. The rest of the time, outside work, he seems to live a rather lonely or isolated existence. He does have his girlfriend Mary, but there appears to be a great distance or barrier between them as well.

Anthony is threatening, but if he really wanted to do so, Adam could have stopped Anthony from taking Mary. There is a sense that Adam allows Anthony to take Mary because Adam feels as if he's not giving up much, if anything at all. Adam instead takes the opportunity to do the same thing as Anthony and Adam goes after Helen, the pregnant wife. Helen initially confused Adam for her actor husband, so Adam thinks he could do it again.

Yes, there is this sense that Adam is not satisfied with his life, so pretending to be someone else and getting an almost ready-made family is something that is probably appealing to him, since he seemed not to be able to do it himself. The problem is that the screenplay by Javier Gullón doesn't allow the exploration of that. The exploration actually stops before it takes more than two steps. What makes it compelling is that Helen might secretly realize, after Adam and Anthony swap places, that the man laying naked in her bed isn't her husband, and that might not be a problem for her but a solution. She might actually prefer the swap.

While Gadon who plays Helen gets this compelling beat to act out, Laurent who plays Mary is short-changed. Gullón's script doesn't give her much to let us get a well-rounded sense of who she is, besides being Adam's occasional, night-time companion.

Other than that, there are two curiosities that loom over this film. The first is the obvious. How is it that Adam and Anthony are duplicates, and not just copies but exact copies? Even if they were twin brothers, both have a scar on their torso in the precisely same place that looks precisely the same. How is that possible?

The filmmakers don't seem to care to explain how the duplicates came to be. It's a mystery that they don't wish or feel the need to solve, and it's fine to accept the duplicates without question. From what's gathered in the book, the duplicates exist as a metaphor for the circular nature of history and societies. Here, director Denis Villenueve uses the duplicates as a way of playing or examining these men inner psyche. This is good, but it just doesn't go far enough. The film is sadly too short and ends too abruptly.

The second curiosity is Villenueve's use of the image of the spider or possible tarantula. The pondering of what the image means is the overriding mystery that Villenueve wants to leave with the audience. The spider is always used in conjunction with the image of a woman. In three instances, Villenueve lures the eye with the beauty and sexiness of a woman and then shocks with the oddity or hideousness of the spider. In each instance, Gyllenhaal's two characters is lured by the promise of seeing a beautiful woman, even one that's pregnant, and then is shocked by the image of a large, ugly spider.

I don't think Villenueve is trying to say anything hateful or wary or pessimistic about women. He remains squarely in Gyllenhaal's head. Villenueve is perhaps commenting on the trap  that is men's desires or the contradiction that is male consciousness. Ending the movie so abruptly, Villenueve walks away after delivering a definite punch. It's just not enough to knockout. The music, however, is chillingly creepy and Gyllenhaal's performance is perfect.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.

For a more detailed explanation of the spider metaphor, check out this YouTube video.


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