Chances are in the neighborhood of 100 percent that you won’t find anything stranger than Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy in theaters any time soon. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a matter of taste. I saw the film with two other critics. One liked it more than I did, and one liked it a lot less. It is safe to say that none of us were indifferent to it or its “what the hell?” ending. Though just now released, Enemy appears to have been filmed before Villeneuve’s Prisoners (2013). Both films star Jake Gyllenhaal, and the similarities pretty much end there. Unlike the rather clunky, overly serious Prisoners, in Enemy the primary objective appears to be messing with the viewer’s mind. I suppose some might liken it to a David Lynch film, but it feels more like a David Cronenberg head trip to me.Villeneuve has claimed that everything you need to know to understand the film is on the screen. Maybe. Maybe that’s true if you’re Denis Villeneuve, or maybe that’s true if you watch the film multiple times. As an outsider on a single viewing, I’m skeptical of the claim. When I first saw Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), I could only make marginal sense of it, but I loved it. On a second viewing, it seemed a lot more straightforward — and its appeal was diminished. That may be the case with Enemy.
The premise is that Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a fairly boring and bored history professor. He gives the same lectures over and over, resides in a personality-free apartment, maybe has sex with his girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent), and that’s about it. But one day a fellow teacher suggests a movie he thinks Adam might enjoy. (Whether or nor this is an innocent suggestion is unclear.) Adam watches the movie and sees a bit actor in it who looks exactly like him. A little research leads him to discover that this man, Anthony (also Gyllenhaal), is his exact double. When Anthony and Adam finally meet, it turns out that they even have identical scars. There are differences between the two men — not the least of which is that Anthony is rather the Mr. Hyde to Adam’s Dr. Jekyll. The question is: Are they really two different people? (According to Adam’s mother (Isabella Rosselini), they certainly aren’t separated twins.) Or are they different expressions of the same person? Up to a point, that second choice seems viable, but it doesn’t quite hold up over the course of the film.
Whenever you think you know — or might know — what’s going on, Enemy takes another turn that suggests you’re probably wrong. This is built into the film from the very onset with the posh but seriously creepy private sex club that Anthony belongs to — a place of unspoken depravity and spiders. The film is rife with spiders, giant spiders and spider imagery — the exact meaning of which may lie in the film’s abrupt final scene. Then again, it may not. The film is first and foremost a disconcerting meditation on the nature of identity in the oppressive, ugly world of the film (never has Toronto looked so unappealing). In the end, Enemy is more about how it feels than what it says. Is it creepy? Yes. Is it puzzling? Yes. Is it disturbing? Yes. Will it appeal to you? That’s a hard call, but it will have an appeal to those looking for something out of the ordinary. Rated R for some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas.