We’d like to imagine we’re all unique, beautiful butterflies fluttering around the chaos of modern life. But what if you met your exact self, physically identical but foreign, like a long-lost twin brother?
This is the question asked in Denis Villeneuve’s bizarre followup to 2012’s disturbing Prisoners, also starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
Here, Gyllenhaal is on double duty, playing both Adam Bell and Anthony St. Claire. Though both characters look identical, their personalities couldn’t be more different. Bell, a pushover history professor, is comfortable floating through his boring, normal life with his beautiful girlfriend, played by Inglourious Basterds' Mélanie Laurent, at his side.
When Bell watches a film recommended to him by a colleague, he sees a man who looks like him as the bellhop in the movie.
After doing some digging, he uncovers that it’s not himself but a seemingly identical actor named Anthony St. Claire. St. Claire proves a capable alpha to Bell’s beta. Confident and aggressive, St. Claire is equally confused and scared when Bell finally makes contact.
From here, the movie goes to some dark places, but they’re never quite what you’re anticipating. Themes of trust, monogamy, confidence and fear run rampant in the movie, and when it’s all over, we’re left with a lot to digest.
Enemy is, for better or worse, an arthouse indie movie. It’s gorgeous to look at, with a burnt orange color palette that adds to the overall unease that weighs heavy throughout the entire runtime.
Lacking the big-budget narrative that made Prisoners a mainstream success, Enemy relies almost exclusively on atmosphere to carry the story. There is a thick sense of dread that carries the story from the very first shot to the last. Few directors can install anxiety like this without resorting to tricks, and it’s not surprising that Enemy has been compared to many odd films of David Lynch, such as Lost Highway.
However, the blessing and curse of a movie like this is its obscurity. Enemy never quite has the budget or ambition to fulfill its lofty premise. We’re left scratching our heads when the movie is over, trying to piece together the various wires that are left undone. It’s tough to feel satisfied with how the film ends, simply because there’s so much left to ponder. Unexplained images, seemingly unrelated side stories and other various question marks are there for the taking as the title hits and the credits roll. To some, this will be a hook. To others, it's a complete turn-off.
Though based on José Saramago's 2002 novel The Double, Villeneuve has made this his own beast. One would imagine that Prisoners' critical and financial success opened up some doors for him, and it’s tough to imagine this movie being made without that success.
In its finest moments, Enemy is a panic attack on film, making us scared without necessarily explaining why and having us ask questions of ourselves long after the credits roll. It’s not perfect by any means, but for those seeking a wonderfully dark cinematic experience, no matter how small that audience may be, this just might be the ticket.
Enemy releases in theaters Friday, March 14, 2014.