It is both creepy and fascinating to encounter someone who looks exactly like you, and that is the main source of intrigue and tension in Denis Vilenueve’s little moody film “Enemy”. We know that something bad is going to happen sooner or later, and the movie keeps us being nervous and confounded through its mystery with no clean-cut answers. This may feel interesting at first, but the movie ultimately looks like a thin existential exercise in elusiveness, and I am still wondering what it is about even while mildly appreciating how it is about.
The story begins with a young college history professor named Adam(Jake Gyllenhaal), an introverted, soft-spoken guy who has been going through drab, uneventful daily routines with no apparent joy of life. His lectures are not that bad, but he does not feel much rewarded as repeating his lectures, and his apartment feels lonely and isolated as decorated with sickly yellow-brown light and dark shadow. He usually spends his solitary evening on evaluating his students’ homeworks or exam papers, and his girlfriend Mary(Mélanie Laurent) does not bring any sense of excitement or happiness even when they have a sex together. As a matter of fact, they look so impersonal that you might think she is his usual call girl rather than his lover.
And then, on one day, there comes an unexpected discovery which is going to change his life forever. One of his colleagues casually recommends Adam to watch a movie he recently enjoyed, so Adam watches it at his home later. He is not particularly impressed by the movie at first, but then he remembers something strange from the movie. He checks it again, and, what do you know, there is an extra uncannily resembling him a lot during one brief shot.
Naturally unsettled by this discovery, Adam starts to do some investigation work to find out who the hell this guy is. He checks the end credits to get the name of his doppelganger, and then, thanks to the advance of Internet search engine, it does not take much time for him to acquire some basic information about this guy. Anthony, also played by Gyllenhaal, is an unknown actor with a few movies in his short acting career, and it also turns out that he happens to live in the same city Adam lives in.
Becoming more curious about Anthony than ever, Adam tentatively approaches to Anthony. He gets Anthony’s current address, and he even makes a clumsy phone call to Anthony’s apartment, and he is confirmed again and again by how much they resemble each other. He is mistaken for Anthony by a security guard at one point, and Anthony’s wife Helen(Sarah Gordon) also thinks she is speaking with her husband when she happens to receive Adam’s call.
After that attempt for contact by Adam, we also see this strange circumstance through the view of Anthony, who more looks like Adam than before thanks to the beard he has recently grown but is slightly different from Adam in several small aspects. Compared to Adam, he is direct and aggressive in his personality, and he is ready to take care of the matter as a dominant counterpart. He instructs Adam to meet him at a remote motel outside the city, and we get a tense moment in which both of them look directly into each other, while being perplexed and disturbed by their identical appearance.
Are they twin brothers? Are they just resembling each other? Or are they two sides of one personality like the twin brothers in David Cronenberg’s “Dead Ringers”(1988)? The movie does not give us any plausible explanation for this happening, and Adam’s mother, played by Isabella Rossellini, does not say anything helpful or revealing to her good son, while not believing any of what he says to her during their conversation. If he is indeed her only biological son, can we say this is just a genetic coincidence? But then what about a certain physical mark, which cannot possibly be explained by that?
Whatever we think about that, the director Denis Villeneuve makes it sure to constantly remind us that his film does not follow the logics of our real world. The cinematography and score in the film always signify something ominous behind the screen, and that accordingly brings nightmarish quality into its story. The city in the movie, which is not named in the film but is apparently Toronto, Canada, is fully shrouded in a gray, smoky ambience of alienation which takes me back to that baffling feeling I experienced as watching Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Red Desert”(1964). It seems at times that the main characters in the film are only human beings in the city which mostly feels empty and sterile, and that further emphasizes the disquiet surrounding them. While Anthony seems to be living in a more comfortable home environment, there is a certain degree of estrangement between him and his wife. Helen, who is currently pregnant, is naturally suspicious about what her husband is hiding from her, and that leads to another moment of subtle tension in the film.
Dual performance has been always an interesting and challenging opportunity for any talented actors, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who previously collaborated with Villeneuve in “Prisoners”(2013), gives a solid performance in his dual role. While giving some subtle touches to each of his two characters, Gyllenhaal makes the interaction between them believable and engaging, and it is interesting to watch how he controls his performance as the line between his characters begins to be blurred through their disturbing interactions during the second half of the film.
But still, I remain as baffled as when I watched the first scene of the film, and there is very little for me to grasp besides a few obvious things expected from its weird premise. It is not boring despite its slow pace and elusive narrative, and I understand that it does not intend to explain everything in its story, but I did not feel enough about what possibly exists behind its enigmatic surface. While its last scene throws another confounding surprise to us, it only baffled me further, and that was all in case of me.
I forgot to mention that the movie was adapted from “The Double”, a novel written by Nobel Prize laureate José Saramago. I have not read the novel yet, but I read Saramago’s other novel “Blindness”, and I also remember how unsuccessful its movie adaptation was for good reasons. Villeneuve, Gyllenhaal, and others in and behind the film did try, and that should be respected, but I must confess that my mind had already been set to read the novel as watching their efforts.