Enemy is a film that is not bothered about the ‘anxiety of influence.’ Director Villeneuve and writer Gullón display such a fondness for other films that it is difficult not to feel it rubbing off. Before the film is even ten minutes in, we are solidly in the world of both Cronenberg and Lynch. The rest of the film is a puzzle that is left for you to decipher at your own leisure.
Adam is a history lecturer, who teaches about the controls of dictatorship and yet lives a fairly bare existence himself, rotating between teaching, commuting and having joyless sex with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent). Having rented and watched a film that a colleague has recommended, Adam suddenly jerks awake, convinced that he has seen his double in a bit part actor in the film. He becomes obsessed with finding this person, a search which sparks, to say the least, an identity crisis.
Enemy feels like a film from that brief period of time after Donnie Darko that saw a surfeit in similar puzzle films, from The Machinist to Primer. Largely eschewing traditional plotting and characterisation in favour of plotting, some of these films were maddening and some were quite good fun – Primer was particularly enjoyable. Enemy is instead all about the mood. It is a grim, greens-and-yellows detective story that withholds enough to make a puzzle out of itself without ever distracting from its overall vaguely Hitchcockian tone. There are several interpretations about what the whole thing is about (and a good few of them sound rather silly), but the real value of the film is that it gets an edgy, searching, eerie feel without ever having to sacrifice it to some series of revelations and a villain to be beaten. It is a film about asking questions, not one about finding answers, and it is all the more interesting for that. It is told with an invention and élan, which keeps you interested, even if the film’s examinations of identity, uniqueness and fidelity appear to boil down to an episode of Wife Swap.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives a great performance, playing two characters with slight differences. Most of the eeriness of the film comes from the fact that Adam and Anthony are so similar in small ways, as opposed to total opposites who usually encounter each other in films of this sort. Gyllenhaal then is tasked with playing two different characters who have to be both different and the same. He pulls it off well. Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon have less to do (these kinds of films all too often favour men), but turn in convincing performances as women watching the men (or man) in their live falling apart.
In summary, good, unsettling fun – up until the ending, which is, unfortunately, a touch too smugly odd. This complexity, more stylistic than anything, will be disappointingly missing from Villeneuve’s other 2015 release, Sicario.