Screening Room: Jake Gyllenhaal Is His Own Worst ‘Enemy’
THE CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
THE DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
THE DEETS: Let me preface this by saying it was 10:00 a.m. on a gloomy Manhattan morning when the loose adaptation of José Saramago’s The Double unfolded in Villeneuve’s psychosexual Enemy. I wasn’t quite mentally prepared for the surreal saga where sense of time, self, and dimension were warped within a sepia-toned Toronto. And, while the fangirl within me mused that two Gyllenhaal’s would be better than one, as the film ticked forward, I became less sure.
Gyllenhaal’s performance is unsettlingly strong in his post-Prisoners collaboration with Villeneuve. In the opening scene, we see him as a married member of an underground lair where women commit unspeakable erotic acts before a group of men. Shortly thereafter, he’s the insular, detached college professor Adam Bell who, after seeing a film recommended by a colleague, finds something to attach himself to: his doppelgänger, Anthony St. Claire, who just so happens to be the married man (an aspiring actor) we saw not too long before. Or so we think.
Adam becomes increasingly paranoid about Anthony, and after several attempts to make contact—including a phone conversation with Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Gadon)—both men agree to meet. Upon their initial encounter, we see that there is, in fact one Adam Bell and one Anthony St. Claire. We process that they are two separate entities, with two separate lives, two separate personalities, and two separate romantic relationships… except they look and sound exactly alike, down to a distinct scar below both of their chests. While the passive Adam regrets his quest of (self?) discovery, the aggressive Anthony sees it as an opportunity to fulfill his deep-seated sexual desires (remember, the invite-only sex club?) and embark on a weekend tryst with Adam’s unknowing girlfriend Mary (Laurent). Thereafter, an already obscure, dreamlike film takes an even darker turn.
There are several instances when we believe Adam or Anthony may be a projection of the original’s complex subconscious. Adam’s mother insists that Adam is her only child and is perplexed when he refuses blueberries, which she claims he loves. Then, we see Anthony, coming home from an evening run and asking his wife Helen why she didn’t pick up blueberries from the grocery store. Earlier on, Helen questions Anthony about an extramarital affair, which brings Mary to mind; is she his mistress? No, we see toward the end of the film, when it becomes clear that Mary doesn’t know Anthony after discovering a wedding band imprint on his ring finger. And we’re right back to thinking Adam and Anthony are not one in the same.
One’s mental tenacity is certainly put to the test for the film’s hour-and-a-half stretch. It’s a film that audiences will have to see more than once to make sense, if any, of its intricate twists and turns. Which, perhaps, is Villeneuve’s goal all along.
Enemy premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, and will enter U.S. theaters on March 14th. Rated R. 90 minutes.