Enemy is one of the most bizarre, confusing and frustrating movies I have ever had the privilege to watch. Ostensibly a thriller, this is an atmospheric slow burn that doesn’t provide any easy answers — it might not provide any answers at all.
While watching, your brain is constantly searching for clues and solutions that may not exist. It’s often said that a good thriller stays one step ahead of its audience; Enemy has already finished the race by the time you get to the starting line. Or perhaps it was never in the race and you imagined its participation. I felt like I might have hallucinated 80 per cent of the events in Enemy.
Loosely based on José Saramago’s novel, The Double, the plot involves a history professor named Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) watching a movie and noticing an actor looks exactly like him. As it turns out, this actor lives in the same city, Toronto, which is captured by cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc as a misty and cold place. The actor’s name is Anthony St. Claire, and the two men look and sound identical — both are played by Gyllenhaal, who gives each of them distinct personalities.
Adam embarks on a quest to locate his doppelganger. While Anthony initially wants nothing to do with him, eventually the two meet. There are only a couple of major events that happen after this point and the meeting occurs halfway through. As mentioned, this is an incredibly slow burn.
Not a lot happens in Enemy. This isn’t a plot-driven film. It builds a heavy atmosphere which constantly has us questioning what’s happening. Truth be told, what’s happening is often very little. There are a few key events, but they’re few and far between. Characters wander around with their thoughts or are looking for clues. It’s interesting to see that there are two identical individuals. Something eventually does come of that but mostly the film backs off and gives us ample time to consider how exactly this happened, as well as ponder almost everything that’s going on or has already occurred. We only see one mother, for example. Blueberries are mentioned multiple times — one of them likes the fruit; the other doesn’t. What does all this mean? Does it amount to anything? And what is with that penultimate shot?
Ultimately, the film ends at one of the least opportune moments possible. It feels like we’ve finally got a chance at finding out what we’ve been waiting to learn and then we see that this isn’t what’s going to happen. The final few seconds are haunting and add more ripples of confusion.
Is the film incomplete? Likely not. This was a calculated decision by Prisoners and Incendies director Denis Villeneuve, who has become one of Canada’s best directors. But why? And can it be determined upon a single viewing? I believe it requires at least two — assuming this is a mystery which can be solved.
That’s indicative of a good thriller. It leaves you guessing and wanting more. Perhaps it doesn’t amount to much and it’s all just confusion for confusion’s sake. It still provides you with a feeling and experience you don’t often get from the movies. For that, it comes recommended.