Enemy is a film directed by Denis Villeneuve which is loosely adapted from the novel The Double by Jose Saramago. I’ve been wanting to watch this for ages, and now that I finally have, there’s only one thing that’s clear; Its good. Alright folks from here on out, take my analysis with a pinch of salt, as we unearth this hugely mesmerizing and unsettling phantasmagoria.
Enemy can almost be considered art-house with it’s unflinching desire to prove a deep point. Shot in a yellow-tinged atmosphere, we get an overbearing sense of the character’s insidious subconscious. Imagery spans from spiders to the sprawling yet vacuous cityscape. Villeneuve has created a brilliant piece of art that’s weirdly engaging and unsettling. It’s possibly one very significant film that will not only be studied for years to come but also be debated on in terms of interpretation. It is with such reasons that I won’t spoil the crux of the story and instead reccommend this as a film everyone should watch without any pre-conceived ideas on its themes.
What I really love about Enemy is it’s metaphorical element. From the very start, we see Jake Gyllenhaal, possibly as Adam, in a racy club of sorts, watching a naked woman crush a spider. It’s shot in a dreamy manner which you’ll come to realize that it’s a common technique used in the movie. Our first proper introduction to Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is that he’s a history teacher that has a shallow and unfufilling relationship with his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). He soon discovers that he has a double, an actor that looks and sounds exactly like him and decides to meet him. What seems like an innocent meet-up soon throws both men into a world of disorder and distortion. Villeneuve’s ability to turn up the tension is remarkable as we see how the seeds of fear and doubt eat away into the character’s psyche. The yellowish tone and chaotic soundtrack are metaphors that not only reflect the charater’s confusion and ruin, but also brings layers upon layers of uneasiness to the viewers. It was literally a scary movie exactly because it wasn’t a horror movie. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Adam and Anthony were embodying something terrifying as the two were locked in dangerous interaction.
Some might interpret the movie as a psychological battle between the conscious and the subconscious within the same person. It is valid, but I’d like to think it as more of how the ‘double’ effect and the ideal of symmetry in nature is subverted into something that’s damaging to the psyche of characters involved.
There are interesting references and metaphors like history teacher Adam’s lectures on dictatorships and control and spiders respectively. In my view, his lack of control over his life and similarity in all of the characters is the ironic effect that makes Adam’s fate even more poignant. About spiders…hmm. It’s a tricky metaphor that could mean many different things depending on how you look at it, but to me it represents chaos. It’s such a recurring metaphor, but one that the movie has successfully obscured just enough to keep us thinking. It’s one of the best use of a metaphor in a film because it’s used in such a visceral and stark manner; Arachnids will haunt you!
The concept of the double isn’t new. But few have turned the theme into something that’s actually meaningful. To me, Enemy is about how something superficial like physical appearance and similarity can lead to something so psychologically affecting. There could possibly be something inherent in the doppelganger theme, as it plays with the idea that no two people can be the ‘same’. Both Adam and Anthony get hit by the reality that they are no longer special and their worth and value in the world is no longer significant. Of course, the effects are exaggerated, but then again the idea that there’s someone out there who could replace you at any time, chews away at your sanity. “It was Hagel who said that the greatest world events happen twice, it was Karl Marx that added, the first time it was a tragedy, the second’s a farce.” This quote foreshadows the pathetic nature of the character’s situation, as if it’s a joke that nature has made two almost identical characters. The result however is something tragic. Enemy presents a very complex character relationship that exists only because the two characters are identical. It’s a highly implausible situation that Villeneuve proposes, but the integration of themes like fear, doubt, identity and displacement makes Enemy a moving picture.
“Chaos is order yet undeciphered” sets the theme of chaos from supposed order, order that’s inverted and subverted in the cruelest of ways. Be prepared for a tale that’ll stick with you long after it has finished.