Unpleased to Meet Me: Enemy

03/12/2014 4:00 AM |

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

This film about doubles was itself born joined at the hip with another film: director Denis Villeneuve reportedly completed the final cut a mere day before beginning work on Prisoners, finishing off both features in time to premiere at the Toronto film festival. But where the 153-minute torture-revenge weepie Prisoners is like a B-movie puffed up into an Oscar picture, Villeneuve, screenwriter Javier Gullón, and DP Nicolas Bolduc prudently scale down Enemy to an effective, seductively shot exercise in suspended unease.

Adapted from José Saramago’s novel The Double but altered to become its own visual artifact, Villeneuve’s film centers on a history professor, Adam, encased in routine, from his philosophy lectures to his love life. His chance discovery of his physical duplicate while watching a DVD seizes him with the desire to track down the actor, Anthony, and effectively meet himself (as Villeneuve put it in a recent interview). Supremely awkward encounters and exchanges ensue. Jake Gyllenhaal comfortably plays both Adam and his aggressive counterpart Anthony, putting to use his air of boyish discomfort, thickly built physique, and lemur-wide eyes.

Rather than latching onto an is-he-or-isn’t-he game of sanity, Enemy traverses the contours of Adam-Anthony’s ambiguities—their dual state indicates both self-awareness and disassociation. Set in Toronto, the film’s exteriors have a sickly light; indoors, Anthony’s pale, unsettled girlfriend (Sarah Gadon) looks more lustrously alive than Adam’s (Melanie Laurent). Despite an opening scene of obscure libidinal menace (and the presence of Isabella Rossellini as Adam’s dismissive mother), this feels less like a sidling into Lynchian interstices of the unconscious than a textured expression of anxiety in exquisite slow-motion. What’s maybe most poignant is why Adam is so stammeringly excited in the first place about confirming Anthony’s existence—an inkling that it could explain everything and yet nothing about his own personal human enigma.

Opens March 14