Judge Michael Nazarewycz once held his own private Doppelgänger Convention in the Hall of Mirrors.
You can't escape yourself.
The Great Dictator (1940) with Charlie Chaplin. Dave (1993) with Kevin Kline. The Parent Trap with Hayley Mills (1961) or Lindsay Lohan (1998). Vertigo (1958) with Kim Novak (and a film ranked by Sight and Sound to be the greatest film of all time).
Regardless of era or genre or gravitas, Hollywood has loved a good doppelgänger tale, and 2014 has already seen its share of them. This years twin-ish titles include kid-fare Muppets Most Wanted, grown-up rom-dram The Face of Love, and Richard Ayoade's fantastic Dostoyevsky interpretation The Double. In such a doubly-crowded field, is there room for one…er, two more?
Facts of the Case
Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal, Zodiac) is a Toronto-based college history professor whose life is in something of a rut. It's not a bad rut, per se, but a rut nonetheless. Each day he teaches class, each evening he has dinner with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent, Now You See Me), and each night he and Mary have sex. One day at school, though, a colleague recommends a film to Adam. Adam, who rarely watches movies, decides to rent it. In the film, playing a bit part, is Adam's exact double, Daniel Saint Claire (also Gyllenhaal).
Adam becomes obsessed with meeting Saint Claire (whose real name is Anthony), but Anthony is at first worried Adam is a threat, particularly to his pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon , Cosmopolis). When the two finally meet, though, the tables of obsession turn.
"Chaos is order yet undeciphered," or so goes the quote presented at the start of Enemy. That quote, taken from José Saramago's novel The Double (on which this film is based) seems to suggest chaos is the starting point until things are brought to order. That might normally be the case, but in this film, life is orderly to the point of monotony…until it devolves into chaos. Watching a man's life devolve into chaos, and watching him pull, and be pushed by, another man is what this film is about, and its success hinges on patience, subtlety, and performance.
Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) shows exquisite storytelling patience and subtlety here. He takes the time to illustrate the monotony (read: order) of Adam's life, and he is keen to show both the good and the bad—dull, really—of that monotony. Villeneuve then gradually turns up the psychological heat as Adam's obsession with his lookalike grows, while at the same time illustrates the impact on his life this behavioral change is having—not big things, but subtle things: his classroom experience, his sex life at home. As for Anthony, his life seems cold. Yes, he loves his pregnant wife, but there is not a closeness between them. Anthony's job is less monotonous, too, if only by its own nature.
It's also effective that neither man is an extreme example. Adam is a college professor in a relationship—not some lonesome loser who sees this doppelgänger actor as some sort of chance at cash or glory. As for that actor, Anthony has only had bit parts in a couple of films; he isn't some superstar whose dream life could crumble. Adam's motivation is nothing more than pure fascination with the circumstance, and Anthony's is nothing more than opportunistic.
There is also the curious inclusion of Adam's mom, credited only as Mother (Isabella Rossellini, Blue Velvet). She is a matriarchal presence in Adam's life, but she has some lines in the film that might make you wonder if you really have it all worked out or not.
Of course none of it means anything without Gyllenhaal, whose performance as Adam is the best of his career. That's not to suggest he mailed it in as Anthony, but this is ultimately Adam's story—his reluctance is greater, his fascination deeper, his journey longer. Gyllenhaal leaves all of that and more on the screen. He plays his struggle and fascination and loss with the emotional weight of a person who knows it can't possibly end well, yet cannot stop himself from from going on anyway. He's addicted to his own dark fascination with his look-alike.
The film, transferred to DVD in an Anamorphic 2.40:1 aspect ratio, looks superb. Nicolas Bolduc's cinematography, awash in a palate of yellows, golds, and oranges, is an exercise in subtle contrast. It is simultaneously warm and discomforting, offering an excellent balance of crisp but hazy images, finely walking that line between sharp and stark. Other than perhaps reds, I can't imagine another color scheme working as well. The transfer itself offers the imagery with distinct and well-defined edges in all settings and lighting levels. The audio is also excellent. There are few competing sounds in this film, but Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans's score is critical to setting the mood. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track delivers when it needs to without ever getting in the way.
There is one extra on the Enemy DVD. It is a 17:21 Making Of entitled Lucid Dreams and it is very good. It features the usual film clips and behind-the-scenes footage, but it is also stuffed with interviews of the cast and crew, all of whom offer thoughts on the story, the characters, the symbolism, the aesthetics, the technical execution, and the Gyllenhaal/Villeneuve relationship. That cast/crew lineup: Producer Niv Fichman, First Assistant Director Reid Dunlop, Screenwriter Javier Gullón, Production Designer Patrice Vermette, Director Villeneuve, Cinematographer Bolduc, and stars Gyllenhaal, Laurent, Gadon, and Rossellini.
Be warned: this extra seems to do some spoiling, but it also creates the desire to revisit the film and look for things missed upon first viewing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is symbolism at work in this film involving spiders, the details of which you can discover for yourself. There are four noticeable you-cannot-miss-them scenes involving spiders—one realistic (a contextual statement), the other three fantastical. While one can postulate the significance of the spiders, they are entirely unnecessary to the film. They do not advance the plot, nor do they lend any significant insight into any character's state of mind or motivations. The inclusion of the spiders feels forced, like Villeneuve wanted to make the narrative more cerebral. Enemy is plenty cerebral as it is and does not benefit from this facet. (To be fair, the film doesn't suffer from it, either.)
Is there room on the shelf for another doppelgänger film? Oh yeah, and for one as good as this, you make the room. Enemy sets itself apart from the rest with a compelling premise, excellent directorial execution from Villeneuve, and an intense performance—two, really—from Gyllenhaal. This is the second collaboration between Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal, (the first was 2013's excellent Prisoners). Based on these two entries, I hope there are more to come.
Doubly Not Guilty.
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