As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t usually a comment on their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.
After many years of having it recommended to me, finally watching Enemy was a singular experience. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of Corner of Film’s most underrated actors – despite being widely acknowledged for his talent, he still doesn’t get the credit he deserves – and his dual role in the film is undeniably its major hook. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Enemy reunites the director and Gyllenhaal after 2013’s Prisoners.
For most of its runtime, Enemy feels wilfully confusing. Having no distinguishing marks between Gyllenhaal’s two characters helps build the mind-bending tension, but this in turn makes watching Enemy feel like an exercise in reading body language and vocal tics. Though this certainly speaks to Gyllenhaal’s ability as an actor and Villeneueve’s as a director, it does become a little tiresome in the first half of the film, which is paced a little slowly for a film so deliberately confusing.
The film is very much Gyllenhaal’s, although Sarah Gadon and Mélanie Laurent do deliver sound performances. The supporting characters’ relative lack of screen time and importance speaks to Enemy‘s deeper themes, make it a choice that feels both necessary and insulting. However, Gyllenhaal steals the show in his dual role.
Enemy‘s ending is infamously confusing, but even coming into the film prepared doesn’t make it any less abrupt. However, when considered carefully, it does begin to make sense: Gyllenhaal’s two characters may have been one person all along, or they may not have been. The key point is that it doesn’t necessarily matter: ultimately, Enemy is about the way that Adam falls into Anthony’s cycle, and how history is doomed to repeat itself. Curiosity leads to temptation, and temptation leads him to disregard his wife, creating a pattern of neglect that makes both of Gyllenhaal’s characters monsters of the same measure.
Helen transforming into a spider represents her worth to Adam/Anthony – once he gives in to his selfish temptations, she becomes something lesser, something to avoid. The disappointment or vague distaste on Adam/Anthony’s face at the end proves that Helen is something he’d rather not consider – not unlike a large spider in his home. The film’s ending calls back to the opening scene, in which a spider is crushed in a show at Anthony’s sex club, and that cements the connection that Enemy makes about Anthony/Adam’s view of Helen (and Mary). Ultimately, women are seen by him to be objects that don’t require care or attention, because his own desires are more important.
Enemy is subtle – in places, probably too much so – and in that lies its power. It’s a thought-provoking film with an unforgettable ending, although it does seemingly try a little too hard to be intelligent, making it come off as a little pretentious. Still, an excellent performance from Gyllenhaal and solid direction from Villeneuve make it a profundly interesting watch that’s practically impossible not to consider on a deeper level.
Summary: Enemy is a singular film that revels in its own amigbuity. It mostly carries this off, but it’s a film that demands to be analyzed, and it forgoes all nuance as a result.
Highlight: Gyllenhaal’s performance makes use of almost imperceptible shifts in psychical and vocal patterns in a way that highlights his talent as an actor.