“I hope I confused you even more” is an odd way for a subject to end a 15-minute junket interview, but it makes sense if you take into account the subject (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the movie he’s promoting (“Enemy”).
At its most basic, “Enemy” is about a man having an affair. Then again, nothing about “Enemy” should be described as “basic.” Denis Villeneuve’s film, which premiered last September at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a psychological thriller, a psychosexual dream, an exploration in duality, and an arachnophobic’s worst nightmare (that last one will make more sense once you actually see the movie). It’s about a man, Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal), who discovers he has a doppelganger living on the other side of town. Is it the same person? Is it his long lost twin? Is it a figment of his imagination? It all sounds a bit perplexing, but these are the questions the movie forces you to answer (here's our review).
The strangest part, however, is that Gyllenhaal wants the film to confound you. Why? Because actors are used to hearing praise. To render a viewer speechless, while they attempt to make sense of the mystery and horror they just saw on screen, shows that the film has actually dug its nails into their side and refused to let go.
The Playlist sat down with Gyllenhaal to discuss the nuts and bolts of “Enemy,” why he prefers audiences to be shocked by his films, and why the relationship between he and Villeneuve (the two also worked together on 2013’s “Prisoners”) is so special.
I feel like this is one of those films that you need to see twice in order to piece together the entire narrative. For a movie that presents itself as a puzzle, do you find you have to read the script more in order to understand what’s going on?
To me it starts with a concept. And it correlated sort of perfectly with where I was in life at the time. I had moved cities and moved to a new place and was trying to figure out my life and what I wanted to do and how I wanted to approach my work. I think there were things in me that were definitely split in terms of where I had been, where I wanted to go.
So when Denis sent me the script, he told me what he wanted it to be about, which is about a man’s search for his identity, his place in the world, his commitment––romantically, personally––and the struggle with intimacy––emotionally, sexually. All of those things just really spoke to me, and he wanted to explore it in a very psychological way. And I liked that. Very simply put, it was a story about a guy who was able to commit to a relationship and eventually does. There are so many stories like that and it was told in a very abstract way. So he gave me a very solid place to start from and we always went back there, and then we got to play around in the unconscious world, if that makes any sense.
That does make sense, and I think that’s what sets the movie apart. It’s a simple idea at its core, but it moves the puzzle pieces around.
Yes. [The character] is having an affair, his wife is pregnant, they separate, he’s a professor but performing some idea of who he is, he’s living a different life in a different apartment, and then eventually realizes that it’s not who he really is and has to go through a number of stages to go back and commit and apologize and beg for forgiveness from the woman who he truly loves and wants to be with. And that to me is what the movie is about. It always was. Everything in between is just [pause] an experience. [smirk]
You’ve said that before, that the movie is more of an experience.
It is, and it was for me. It wasn’t like we were filming it going like, This is what the scene has to be. Denis would just roll the camera for 20 minutes and we would go and indulge ourselves in the moments that were happening and really try to explore something. Sometimes it didn’t work at all and then sometimes it did. That process lent itself to something really interesting.