Review: Enemy (Dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2013)


Enemy sees French-Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve and the ubiquitous Jake Gyllenhaal re-team for their second filmic outing after Prisoners. Based upon Jose Saramago’s Nobel Prize-winning novel O Homem Duplicado (literal translation: The Duplicated Man), the film opens with a group of seemingly voyeuristic men in a Gentlemen’s Club. It looks exclusive as naked women parade around; cries of distress follow with a close up of a scuttling spider. Cut to University lecturer Adam Bell delivering a lecture amid words like ‘censorship’ ‘dictatorship’ ‘oppression’ and scrawled in chalk on the board behind him the phrase ‘chaos is order un-deciphered’.


That is the pleasurable thing about Enemy, trying to decipher the film long after viewing. It is an elliptical puzzle that fascinates from beginning to end. Bell is stuck, it seems, in his own Groundhog Day, destined to repeat the same daily mundanity of lecturing, marking coursework, engaging in passionless sex with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent), who promptly dresses and departs when they have finished. Then a colleague recommends a film, something he is loath to try but does anyway; something to break the cycle. He then notices that the Bell Boy, onscreen, looks oddly familiar, identical even… and that is when he seeks out Anthony St. Claire.

Enemy is weird, mysterious, and highly entertaining. Scenes are cast in a yellow hue which makes the world seem jaundiced, Adam’s visions – if that is what they are – are unwieldy and steeped in symbolism, is it reality or is he losing his mind? Anthony is the steady hand to Adam’s nervous wreck, leather wearing to tweed, straight-standing to stooped, lover of blueberries while Adam deplores them. However, they are not entirely different. Villeneuve likes the concept of duality – see his previous two films, the afore-mentioned Prisoners and Incendies – mirroring, mother-figures and the uncanny; the familiar and unfamiliar often meet and collide. Here it takes the form of the doppelgänger; two Jakes (or is there only one?), the seemingly alternative worlds they inhabit and the pretty blondes they each love, Laurent and Sarah Gradon who plays Anthony’s wife Helen are also visually strikingly similar. There are recurring motifs dotted throughout and the religious aspect of the characters’ names is intriguing.


Personally, I applied Freud to my reading to Enemy and this added coherence; as the male subconscious is exposed, questions of mothers, fear of fatherhood and existential crisis surround the contempt of the inner self but hey, that’s me. The film is complex (and entertaining) enough to withstand any reading and still be profound, and that ending will leave you astounded long after the credits roll. The only minor criticism is the vapid representation of the female characters especially the two main women, neither is explored fully and both tend to blend into the waxy yellow surroundings. Isabella Rossellini makes an impressionable cameo and then is gone all too fleetingly but then, perhaps they are meant to, and really one is not supposed to understand any of it…chaos un-deciphered.

At one point Adam turns to Anthony and asks “What’s happening?” To which Anthony replies, “I think you know…” Nope, haven’t got the foggiest but that is all part of the fun.

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