I was drawn to you at first because of the simplicity of your premise, which promised a basic but intriguing tale. Adam, a university history teacher, rents a local independent film and sees an actor in the background who looks exactly like him. Not just a little similarity in the nose or the face – exactly like him. Unable to recover from this uncanny entry into his life, Adam takes it upon himself to track down Anthony, his double (both played with nuanced independence by Jake Gyllenhaal), to at the very least see what kind of life his exact reflection is living.
From a purely cerebral standpoint this plot allows for all kinds of possibilities in terms of story and theme. How will Adam/Anthony’s life be altered now that he knows that his uniqueness isn’t just in question, but is thoroughly debunked? What kind of existential questions will be raised by seeing the life of a man who carries all of your aesthetic flaws and advantages but has still forged a different path? Is there a deeper mystery to be explored here, something regarding cloning or misplaced twins or temporal alteration of the very fabric of our reality?
The greater question, however, was related to your follow-through. When the credits roll and our time in your tale is done, would any of these questions truly been answered, and would the answers be worthy of our time and energy? Would they even make sense?
Surprisingly, I still have no idea, and yet I can say without qualification that you are one of the best movies I have seen in quite some time, and a film which I can see returning to again and again in search of more clues and pieces with which to continue constructing and refining my theory regarding your very nature.
How can I say I like a film despite not understanding it? Isn’t that pretty much the definition of a movie that has failed? It’s easy to see how someone could ask those questions, and yet I defy anyone who sees you, Enemy, to claim that you are actually without an answer. That is the key difference. A film that doesn’t supply you the answer is not the same as a film that never bothered to create one and point you in its direction. In terms of construction and execution, Enemy plays like a riddle that has been fed into a woodchipper and scattered on a tabletop, sans resolution, waiting only for the proper set of eyes to come along to recreate the circumstance and then discern their own final answer.
It helps that the packaging of this puzzle is itself compelling enough that at first a viewer might not even consider all the tab-keeping they will have to do to really dig into the central mystery. I’ve alternately found myself referring to the color palette of your tale as both “piss-and-nicotine” and “parchment,” both of which get the visual imprint correct, while only the former gets the feeling right. Striking shots of a bleakly dystopian-look Toronto would not be out of place in the work of Hitchcock, and the overall sense of oppression and diseased unease adds a frightening momentum to the tale of Adam’s search.
Your score likewise bolsters this old-time sense of paranoia and dread. It doesn’t try to create a more meaningful atmosphere than what is on the screen, but instead adds its own dose of knowing bluster. In truth, your whole composition seems to be a tonal exercise in overloading a mystery narrative with as many mystery cues as you can. I’m reminded of a New Yorker article in which farmers crossbred hot peppers to try to create the hottest yet most stable new breed of pepper possible. You are like the mad hybrid of every genre trope, elevated above a mere mélange through your seamless and wholly realized execution. Not an homage, but a whole new breed.
All of this strangeness and genre-infused tension would be nothing without the lead performance to hold it all together. Gyllenhaal imbues each of his characters with a subtle individuality. Since they have to look the same he can’t let the wig do the work, as it were, and instead depends on verbal tics, posture, and word choice to give us an insight into who is who. His very soul in each case becomes our greatest clue as to what might be happening here, and it is our investment in him as a character that keeps us tangled in this mystery up until the end.
But what about that ending, where all of these elements should come together? Suffice to say that you, Enemy, have an ending that will leave people infuriated, scared, shocked, and excitedly baffled in equal measure. Some movies end with an implausible twist, some with an obvious but unwanted twist, and some just don’t bother to try to tie anything together. You circumvent all of these possible outcomes and create something new, an inversion of reality and our concept of what we have been watching that demands further study and discussion to truly comprehend. It comes seemingly from out of nowhere, and yet even though I could not have been asked, even given a hundred years, to guess what it was, it makes complete and total sense to me.
I know this is all sounds crazy, but sometimes I sound a little crazy when I get excited. I’ve already seen you twice, and I cannot wait to see you again. I cannot wait to show you to my friends, old and new, and to test them and interrogate them regarding their own interpretation of your final moments. I want to pause you, write down notes, create a madman’s journal of theories and ideas. Not because I am easily obsessive – I most certainly am not – but because I have full faith that the answer is in you. Without a single misstep, how could I ever doubt that certainty?
So get ready, Enemy. This is the beginning of a long, intense relationship.
Your biggest fan,
Brian J. Roan