A psychological thriller about identity with unnatural plot elements. Professor Adam Bell leads a rather empty life and has a rather held-back personality. One day, he discovers some strange clues about his existence.
Some minor spoilers. Enemy opens with a view of Toronto in a dour green-yellow hue, droning music and then silent, sinister scenes of Jake Gyllenhaal visiting some sort of secret erotic gathering. It is confusing, but the film quickly moves on and we see him in front of a classroom.
Any scene in any movie that features a professor explaining something elemental to students makes my alarm bells go off immediately. The bells say: here is a character explaining the point of the movie. It is not a subtle way for a director to get the message across, but in general this is a well-directed movie, so I don’t want to hold this against it. The theme seems to be about control and chaos, and how control of information is key to maintain that control.
The visuals are so very important in Enemy. Gyllenhaal the nameless professor talks about patterns that repeat themselves and in the background we see endless apartment buildings that all look the same, one of which he lives in. He talks about how the elite limit people’s self-expression and at the same time we see him having a rather empty expression-less life and a relationship with almost no conversations. The movie paints him as living under an invisible dictatorship, but the clues are all indirect. The camerawork too plays an important role. The camera moves about as if we are spying on the characters, as if we are maintaining control. It hovers outside the windows. It pans around people’s faces while they are just sitting and writing.
I won’t go into the rest of story, but I’ll say that something inexplicable happens that turns his world upside down, and it has something to do with what he has been teaching, of course. It’s best to go into it without knowing anything.
Director Denis Villeneuve has an extremely tight control over the visuals in this movie, and that is one of his trademarks, considering the excellent use of colors and shots in Prisoners (2013) and the recent Sicario (2015). Mood is everything in Enemy. He paints Toronto as a bleak world of monotone high-rises and cables, which are put forth as signs of imposed control. The lights evoke a cold, stark world. You just know that things are wrong, and that there is a mystery to be solved, and it creates this background tension in every scene. The movie is uncomfortable and mostly silent, but intriguing from start to finish.
Villeneuve plays with ideas of struggles of identity and how unsettling that is. Gyllenhaal’s main character (almost) never mentions his name, and neither does his partner. The shots of all the identical apartments underscore the sense of people being exchangeable. There are hints that he is a shell of a person, and as the story continues, this becomes more than a feeling.
There is a psychological mystery underlying the story; an almost Jungian mystery about self and self-actualization, that never really gets an explicit answer in the film, or is at least open to multiple interpretations. Especially the ending is devious and I am still not sure that I understand what that was all about but it has something to do with trying to get rid of a shadow. That may frustrate you in the end, but as a whole Enemy succeeds very well. It is like a sustained nightmare, and the droning music and colors create a fusion of image, sound and tension that is almost hypnotic. Quite an impressive movie that will surely stay with you.