Towards the beginning of Denis Villeneuve’s clever and experimental doppelganger thriller clouded in mystery, Jake Gyllenhaal, playing college professor Adam, espouses to his university class about the trends of dictatorships to crush individual expression and the cyclical pattern they adhere to. This innocuous scene proves central to Enemy‘s subsequent action, which is a playful and disorientating thriller that explores the overwhelming power of the subconscious to control an individual as if a dictatorship onto yourself, fueled by unresolved inner anger and fear. Is Villeneuve commenting on the nature of humans fallibility to continually suppress fears, with spider and arachnophobia symbolism penetrating the film both subtly and glaringly? I have no idea, and that is precisely the charm of Enemy and many others of its ilk. It exists well beyond its 90 minute running time, uncompromisingly probing for days afterwards.
The doppelganger is a well-tread vehicle in cinema, recently with Richard Ayoade’s superb The Double, but Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal manage to bring something not only welcome but necessary to the genre as collaborators. Gyllenhaal continues to make a statement to the world on his credentials, a bonafide Hollywood movie star putting in two impressive and strikingly oppositional performances in this bizarre arthouse indie. The tensely sharp score rests upon foggy, beige and coldly painted scenes devoid of zest. It’s a world that looks chronically ill, reminiscent of David Fincher tonally and visually with obvious odes to David Cronenberg (not just via Sarah Gadon), and David Lynch in its psychological mystery and thematic surrealism. Quite a collection of David’s!
Focused on thematic movements and psychological intrigue that prompts theory more than resolution, it gives us just enough clues to form our own idiosyncratic formulas and bring order to the chaos Villeneuve delivers us. It’s less interested in plot development so its slow pace can be misinterpreted as narrative slightness, but how it languishes in the mood of the moments offers an interesting and memorable viewing experience.
For more of my in-depth analysis and thoughts on Enemy, listen to episode 1 of the Project Projection podcast.