Vail Film Festival Review: Enemy

Enemy
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EnemyDirected by Denis Villeneuve
Written by Javier Gullón, José Saramago

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini

Legend has it that you cannot meet your doppelganger without one or the other ultimately perishing. And yet it is with deadly curiosity that we are helplessly compelled to seek out our twin. It is in this unnerving, abstract world of Enemy that the compulsion to pursue our other to our inexorable doom and our desire to know another life, another self, is examined. Director Denis Villeneuve investigates all the darker desires and fears lying in the very foundation of his characters and brings them out into the open world in imagery that strikes at our basest, most ingrained fears and secret yearnings. There is something immediately off-putting and yet fascinating about this world, and as much as we want to turn away, we can’t help but look on.

Enemy is the story of a neurotic and shambling history teacher named Adam Bell. He is an awkward and lifeless being, shuffling from one bullet point to another, repeating the same daily routine – even with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent). It is a chance deviation from this routine that brings Adam’s attention to his doppelganger, Anthony Claire, a third rate actor in a movie recommended to him by a co-worker. From this point on, Adam is agitated but fanatically obsessed by his doppelganger. He takes steps to make contact with him, unconsciously performing one task after another as if he were going about his daily routine, not really seeming to know what is compelling him or why he is compelled. It is when he finally makes contact with Anthony, however, that things take a frightening turn and Adam finds that he is now being pursued by Anthony.

Toronto is the perfect city for a bleak, abstract, and twisted thriller like this and Villeneuve uses his location to its full advantage. It’s no coincidence that Toronto is the filming location for so many of David Cronenberg’s movies, and there is something subtly and deliciously Cronenbergian about the environment in which Enemy is set. The cityscape somehow seems distorted; the towering buildings imposing and alien, the Marilyn Monroe towers standing against the modernist backdrop seem pulsing and threateningly organic. When Adam dreams of a giant spindly spider walking among the city buildings, it fits in so nicely that we nearly miss it, accepting it as a natural part of the horizon. A simple aerial shot gives the impression that the buildings are somehow floating on top of the concrete below. It all feels so unstable and terrifyingly alive that any city scape – of which there are many – makes us feel just as uncomfortable and anxious as anything else in the movie. It is deliciously provoking.

Gyllenhaal’s performance as Adam/Anthony is unreal, in more than one sense of the word. He creates two distinct and yet connected characters, two sides of a single personality. There is very little difference between them physically aside from wardrobe and personal finesse, but it is almost always clear which one is which. The scene in which the doppelgangers finally meet is an amazing piece of acting because you get to directly compare the two characters. Not only is there a multitude of behavioral differences between them, but Adam finds himself inexplicably terrified by his twin – almost paralyzed with fear – while Anthony finds himself unabashedly fascinated to the point where you think he’d like to open Adam up just to see how alike they really are.

Enemy is a bizarre and twisted ride of a movie that probably won’t make complete sense on any conscious level. There is, however, something very primal and fundamental about it that we understand on an intuitive, subconscious level that is extremely satisfying. There is something very basic about having a second self, with attributes that we might like to have, with a different life, a different significant other – and there’s something very attractive about being able to choose that life over our own and become someone else entirely – but without giving up what makes us fundamentally ourselves. Because how are Adam and Anthony actually different? Are they in reality different people at all? Or are they really just two sides of the same person?

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About the Author

Bethany Lewis
My cinema education started when, at three years old, Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" became my earliest memory of cinema. Since then, I've been obsessed with film and television, learning more about it, analyzing it, researching it, and experiencing different kinds of it. After getting my BA in Theater, I went on to get my MFA in Film Studies. I now spend my free time watching and writing about movies.
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