As beautiful as it is bizarre, as riveting as it is mystifying, as perplexing as it is symbolic, as surreal as it is cryptic & as ambitious as it is challenging, Enemy is one of the boldest & thought-provoking works of the year that keeps asking for your attention at all times, provides subtle clues in almost every sequence & still manages to leave you puzzled in the end. Inclining more towards art-house cinema than mainstream filmmaking, Enemy is another admirable outing from Denis Villeneuve (director of Incendies & Prisoners) that’s destined to leave its viewers either utterly bewildered or immensely fascinated with its carefully structured premise and is one of those films which tend to reveal more of its intricate themes on multiple viewings.
The story concerns a History professor named Adam Bell who’s been living a mundane daily life which also includes a relationship with his live-in girlfriend. After the recommendation of a colleague, Adam rents a movie & is surprised when he spots a small time actor in the picture who looks exactly like him. While curious at first in finding out more about this double of his, Adam ends up becoming obsessed with his doppelgänger & after tracking him down, manages to arrange a meeting between the two. However, the two lives soon start intertwining with each other as now his look-alike takes an equal interest in Adam’s life but in a slightly different manner, which sets in motion a chain of events that ultimately culminates with unexpected consequences.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve who in a short period of time has managed to make a steady rise in the film industry today as one of the most promising filmmakers to look out for, Enemy opens with a rather discomforting prelude which sets the tone for the rest of the film & is the director’s most ambitious film to date. Based on the 2002 novel, The Double, the screenplay makes a fine adaptation but also infuses more allegories & symbolisms, most explicitly in the form of spiders, to keep the viewers guessing from start to finish. The technical aspects are expertly carried out starting with the cinematography which blends its warm colour temperature with high contrasts & excellent lighting to provide a bleak yet hypnotic look to the entire picture.
Editing nicely puts together its layers after layers of visual motifs and paces the whole story in an unhurried & slowly revealing manner in order to make the events all the more absorbing but there are also few moments which feel far too slow-moving than required & thus could end up testing the patience of many. And even though the background score has a muted presence here, it nonetheless compliments & beautifully captures the mood this film was aiming for. Throughout its 90 minutes of runtime, Enemy deals with a number of themes like totalitarianism, duality, adultery or infidelity plus the very line that opens the film i.e. “Chaos is order yet undeciphered” is a cryptic key that might hold the answer to all the inexplicable events depicted here.
Featuring an impressive cast in Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon & Isabella Rossellini, the performances are adequately balanced with each cast member getting their deserved screentime although it focuses more of Gyllenhaal’s character(s) for the majority of its runtime. There’s no denying that Gyllenhaal is really improving as an actor but what’s more admirable is the challenging roles he’s been picking up of lately. And here, he illustrates Adam & his double with fine subtlety, thus adding another impressive performance under his belt. Mélanie Laurent is in as Mary; Adam’s girlfriend, while Sarah Gadon plays Helen; wife of Adam’s doppelgänger, and both are splendid in their given roles. And finally we have Isabella Rossellini in the role of Adam’s mother, at which she does a pretty neat job.
On an overall scale, Enemy is an enigmatic, audacious & carefully structured cinema from a talented filmmaker who isn’t afraid to experiment with his artistic ambitions & dares to risk failure in the process. Smartly directed, cleverly scripted, strongly performed, immaculately photographed, methodically edited, calmly scored & dropping little cues every now n then with its symbolic imagery without ever giving away too much, Denis Villeneuve’s latest is one of those mind-puzzling narratives that requires a certain degree of patience from its viewers for one must allow it to simmer down before coming up with an opinion. If you’re looking for an enjoyable & entertaining ride, this isn’t the place to be. As for those who love digging deeper than the surface, it’s a perfect site for their next excavation. Watch it twice, at least.