In anticipation of Dune, I rewatched Denis Villenueve’s 2013 film, Enemy. Enemy is a confusing creature. It is well made and intelligent and features two superb performances by Jake Gyllenhaal. It seems to have a lot to say, but what it is trying to communicate is largely up to the viewer’s interpretation. It’s confounding ending spurred numerous analysis articles when it first came out, including two different, but equally great interpretations from Slate and Vulture.
I won’t delve too much into my own theories about the meaning of the film, though I tend to lean toward Vulture’s psychoanalytic interpretation. Enemy follows the repetitious routine of a glum college professor, Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who lectures about totalitarian regimes throughout history and spends his evenings having sex with his girlfriend, Mary (Melanie Laurent). When he notices that an extra in a film he watches looks identical to him, he tracks down the actor, Daniel Saint-Clare, whose real name is Anthony and who is also played by Gyllenhaal. Adam goes to the talent agency that represents Anthony and pretends to be him, stealing a piece of Anthony’s mail. He then calls Anthony multiple times, first speaking to his wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), then talking to Anthony and telling him how much they look and sound alike. At first, Anthony rejects Adam and tells him never to call again, but soon after, he contacts Adam back, suggesting that they meet at a seedy motel an hour outside of Toronto. When they meet, they compare hands, and then it is revealed that the two men have an identical scar on their chest. Clearly, something is going on here. Are they the same man? Later, Anthony becomes paranoid that Adam slept with his wife, since he spoke with her on the phone, and confronts Adam again, telling him that he’s going to pretend to be him in order to have a romantic getaway with Adam’s girlfriend. Surprisingly, Adam doesn’t put up much of a fight toward Anthony’s sleazy plan, but perhaps he has ideas of his own. He goes to Anthony’s home and has the doorman let him in, pretending he’s forgotten his keys, and waits there for Anthony’s wife to return. The two men, each impersonating the other, design to sleep with said girlfriend/wife, but the plans don’t turn out as they might expect, leaving each character with their own surprising conclusion.
Enemy received mixed reviews when it came out, and it’s easy to understand why. It is a frustrating film. It is chalk-full of metaphors and subtext and spiders, and while it can be fun trying to decipher all of the images that Villenueve shows us, to decipher its chaos into some kind of order and to create meaning, it also leaves you wishing that there had been more direction or clarity to better piece together that meaning. In addition, the film feels very repetitious, showing the monotonous routine of Adam at the beginning, and this is by design, but on my second viewing, it made Enemy feel much longer than its 91 minute runtime. Fans of Villenueve should absolutely watch Enemy, as it has a lot to offer including some great performances and a music score that creates a sense of foreboding dread and suspense throughout. Fans of more surrealist filmmakers such as Lynch and Bunuel should also check out Enemy for its surrealist moments that leave much open to interpretation. While I didn’t love it as much upon second viewing, Villenueve’s most experimental film to date still weaves an intricate web.