Enemy is oppressively heavy – far heavier than its narrative can bear. The movie takes a simple, familiar premise – a man encounters his exact double – and overloads it with atmospheric and existential import. It’s a picture that’s far too eager to carry the weight of the world.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Adam – a frumpy, clammy history professor – and Anthony, a slick, fringe actor whose wife (Sarah Gadon) is pregnant. When Adam spots what appears to be himself in the background of a movie, he tracks Anthony down.
For its opening third, Enemy is fairly inert, charting as it does Adam’s glum routine of teaching, sitting alone in his largely bare apartment and meeting up with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) for uninspired bouts of sex. Everything about this first section is dour and tired, even the color scheme. The cinematography, by Nicolas Bolduc, appears to have had some vague aspirations towards sepia but ran out of energy before it was finished.
The cinematography appears to have had some vague aspirations towards sepia but ran out of energy before it was finished.
It wasn’t until Adam and Anthony finally meet that Enemy really began to lose me, however. What struck me as a curiosity – the reality of an unknown twin – director Denis Villeneuve treats like a momentous rip in the time-space continuum. The lighting turns garishly theatrical, the soundtrack fills with ominous, percussive rumbles and Gyllenhaal spends an inordinate amount of time staring at the floor and rubbing his temple. Unremarkable scenes are oddly elongated in hopes of squeezing out some sort of drama, while those that should be inherently dramatic – the men’s first meeting, for example – plod along as if their significance was self-evident.
Perhaps a moment of lightness here or there would have helped, but Enemy lacks even a single throwaway joke. It does offer a bizarre early scene in an underground sex club involving a tarantula, as well as later bursts of surrealism that also include spiders. These bits – as well as a jarring final shot – provide a framework on which those already taken with the film can hang possible theories. For my part, I was too distanced by the picture’s ponderousness to begin any sort of serious investigation. My best guess, without exploring too many of the movie’s nooks and crannies, is that Enemy belongs to the genre known as pregnancy dread (Rosemary’s Baby, Species), only this time from the psychological viewpoint of the expectant father.
Even that half-hearted interpretation makes Enemy sound far more intriguing than it actually is, however. After all, puzzle movies aren’t successful because of the picture they eventually form. They work depending on how engrossing it is to put them together. And on that front Enemy is an overbearing chore.