Torontonian professor Adam (Gyllenhaal) expounds in civil but dry eloquence on Hegel’s repetition of history during the day. In the evening, he and his girlfriend (Laurent) barely talk but have sex that verges on rough. Watching a rental one evening in the reflected glare of his laptop screen, Adam sees his doppelgänger, actor Anthony (also played by Gyllenhaal) in a three-bit role. Fascinated and horrified, Adam insists on meeting his flashier counterpart and is drawn into a scenario of fears and needs. But whose?
Using a novel by José Saramago more as inspiration than literal template, Villeneuve’s exploration of emotional mechanisms is profoundly rattling. In earlier films such as Incendie and Prisoners Villeneuve embedded violence and love in plot. They are twinned here with an instinctual pursuit of basic, basest instinct.
Set in a Toronto of mucous, polluted yellow with flashes of red bouncing off Anthony’s Spiderman-style motorcycle helmet, Villeneuve’s use of the ancient doppelgänger motif juggles imagined demons and psychological realities, finding a language for the subconsciously inarticulate that’s perhaps too longwinded – but uniquely compelling.
Enemy | Directed Denis Villeneuve (Canada, Spain 2013) with Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Starts May 22
Originally published in issue #127, May 2014.