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TIFF Review: Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Enemy’ Starring Jake Gyllenhaal Is A Haunting Look At Our Dark Desires

by Rodrigo Perez
September 8, 2013 7:00 PM
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An Enemy Jake Gyllenhaal

At the risk of blatantly repeating ourselves, Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve are on the cusp of a banner 2013 that is about to hit its crest. Their first-unveiled collaboration, the harrowing, Fincher-with-more-emotional-resonance crime thriller “Prisoners” has already bruised audiences in Telluride and Toronto (read our review here). But if “Prisoners” is the grimmest studio film you’ve seen since “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” then “Enemy”—chronologically their first collaboration—is the equally dark but more experimental and arty cousin. And a terrifically haunting one at that.

Imagine the Paul Thomas Anderson of “There Will Be Blood” making a Brian De Palma movie, or Claire Denis directing Christopher Nolan’s “Memento.” While those superlatives do give you a taste of the striking, sensual disposition simmering in the French-Canadian filmmaker’s engrossing Kafka-eque mindfuck cum provocative psychological thriller, it actually does a disservice to Villeneuve’s superb craft and darkened vision that truly has coalesced into something extraordinary this year.

Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal

“Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered,” the opening titles menacingly state before the movie emerges from black and then burrows down into the dark subconscious. A faithful yet distinctive adaptation of José Saramago's "The Double," Villeneuve’s second festival drama stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a bewitching dual role as an increasingly paranoid teacher who believes he's found his exact doppelganger. The actor stars as Adam Bell, a disheveled and sullen university lecturer who is living in isolated, self-loathing despair. In a threadbare and inadequately lit Toronto apartment, Adam grades papers and only stops to have animalistic sex with the comely girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent) whom he otherwise seems disinterested in. A random conversation with a colleague leads Adam to rent a recommended movie and within, on the edges of the frames, in a bit part, he sees himself. Or at least what appears to be his perfect twin. Shocked and disturbed, Adam begins to frantically investigate who this lookalike might be, and through online searches discovers the identical man to be Anthony Clair (Gyllenhaal again), a struggling actor living in the badlands of Mississauga (a dispiriting ghetto suburb on the outskirts of Toronto). Curious, fearful and strangely excited, Adam begins to shadow Anthony from afar, and even comes in contact with his doppelganger's pregnant, estranged wife (a standout Sarah Gadon) while searching for clues. When Adam reaches out to his mother (Isabella Rossellini) with this disconcerting revelation, in hopes that she may have some light to shed or a family secret to finally unveil, she proves to be of little help.

Increasingly frayed and troubled by this discovery, Adam eventually attempts to engage Anthony and when they finally meet face to face, the two men—already suffering from the pains of their ailing relationships—become bizarrely connected and dangerously conjoined. Are they lost twins? Each other’s somehow-connected other half? As the picture digs deeper into the pair's uneasy mental turmoil, it hypnotically delves into the unconscious of the two men and how their sexual desires are more inexorably linked than they could ever imagine.

Thick with weighty themes, disquieting portent and anxious tension, Villeneuve—the Foreign Language Academy-Award nominated director of “Incendies”—crafts a gripping slow burn portrait of the male id/ego, our self-destructive tendencies and how they control us. Deeply in sync with his director’s tenebrous dream, Gyllenhaal obviously carries the entire film on his shoulders, and he delivers with a smoldering internalized performance of torment that is easily his finest work. The conflicted men are distinct, but it’s the nuanced, strange similarities between them and their own personal agonies that make for a remarkably committed turn by the young actor.

Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal

With apologies to David Cronenberg, never has Toronto looked so grand and yet so ill and claustrophobic. Transforming the city into an existential wasteland (clearly influenced by the depressing fringes of Mississauga), cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc’s sickly muted palette envelopes the movie in a distressing, cigarette-stain yellow (the film also boasts some of the most genuinely uncomfortable aerial cityscape shots seen in some time). Musically, the exciting on-the-rise composer duo of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans (“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Simon Killer") bring an atonal A-game of discordant cellos and oblique half notes that would make Jonny Greenwood proud, and keeps the movie tilted on its discomfiting axis.

Part enigmatic existentialist thriller, part psychosexual drama, “Enemy,” like Villeneuve’s earlier festival film, is exceptionally dark, harrowing, and especially consuming. Those that have seen “Prisoners” can attest to the methodical, hyper-attuned clinician Villeneuve has become in his approach to genre, and “Enemy” has the same quivering pitch of masterful meticulousness. Not only is “Enemy” once again first-rate filmmaking, it’s profoundly unnerving. A challenging, sometimes abstract piece of work, “Enemy” doesn’t reveal itself easily, but its coiling ouroboros quality is fascinating and spellbindingly disturbing. A riveting examination of intimacy (and the lack thereof), identity, duality and the nether regions of our unconscious desires, “Enemy” is a transfixing grand slam that certifies Villeneuve as the real deal and one of the most exciting new voices in cinema today. [A] 

Browse through all our coverage of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival to date by clicking here.  
Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal
Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal
Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal
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  • Tyler | April 6, 2014 2:54 AMReply

    damnnit, sorry i'm drunk and its nearly 2 am

  • Tyler | April 6, 2014 2:53 AMReply

    In your review, you mention that its ADAM who confronts his mother but I believe in the movie it's ANTHONY who does this (based on the dialogue exchange they have which i won't say here for the sake of spoiling the movie). Although you could easily argue it was Adam saying as how they are exactly alike (and possibly just different aspects of the same persona?)

    Anyway, besides spoiling half the film, this is a great review of a great movie. One of 2014's cinematic highlights

  • John Anthony | September 9, 2013 5:45 PMReply

    If Mississauga is depressing then what would you call Toronto? I don't know how they show it in the film but that is the most bizarre take I've heard on one of Canada's fastest growing cities. Unless fields and green space are the new ghetto and the crackheads wondering downtown TO are what's in.

  • Ricardo | September 9, 2013 3:56 PMReply

    Looking forward to this film, but I don't like this site's anti-Mississauga agenda. It's not that bad!

  • RP | September 9, 2013 4:48 PM

    No, no, the movie just cast it that way, not to slight it, just as a thematic thing. I'm just trying to give off the tone.

  • Piotr | September 9, 2013 12:25 PMReply

    "the depressing fringes of Mississauga" = mean!

  • Mr Anonymous | September 9, 2013 8:57 AMReply

    Jake Gyllenhall seems to be on a roll this year. I see an Oscar nomination looming if he's as good as everyone says he is. Good to see him doing some great work.

  • Andres | September 9, 2013 12:29 AMReply

    from someone who saw it, it was amazing i won't go into much detail since i don't know when it will arrive in theaters but it's spectacular and i will leave it at that.

  • Alex Porter | September 8, 2013 10:58 PMReply

    Fuck , this sounds great.

  • BEF | September 8, 2013 7:55 PMReply

    Imagine the Paul Thomas Anderson of “There Will Be Blood” making a Brian De Palma movie, or Claire Denis directing Christopher Nolan’s “Memento.” --- holy moly, I'll be there.

  • bohmer | September 8, 2013 7:46 PMReply

    Damn, we're far from "un 32 aout sur terre" !! :P

  • ray | September 8, 2013 7:45 PMReply


  • oogle monster | September 8, 2013 7:23 PMReply

    Whoa that's awesome. I'm happy to hear Jakey boy has found a director who can bring out the best in him like Ang Lee and David Fincher. Denis sounds like the next Fincher himself.

  • Gyllenhaalic | September 17, 2013 9:51 AM

    I, too, will be glad to see what this director can pull out of Jake in this film. I have been a long-time fan and am looking very forward to this and "Prisoners". Tho both deal with dark subject matters, I am still anxiously awaiting seeing Jake on the big screen again. It's been too long since "END OF WATCH" !

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