In a dimly lit room in front of an audience of stern men, a woman disrobes and walks down a black, slick runway placing her high heel on top of a crawling tarantula. So begins “Enemy,” an erotic thriller that manages to feel terrible and enthralling all at once.
The indie film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as history professor Adam Bell. He wears the same disheveled brown suit and gives the same lecture daily as part of his dreary, sepia-toned life in Toronto until he notices an extra in a movie that looks exactly like him. Bell meets the actor, Anthony St. Claire, and what follows is a battle of psyches as both men try to process the possibility of living with a body double.
Based on “The Double,” Nobel-winning writer Jose Saramago’s 2002 novel, the film respects only the essence of the book: Two men identical to each other meet and disrupt each other’s lives. Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Javier Gullón make some changes in executing this slightly unsettling look at intimacy and identity.
Bell has a rocky relationship with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) that seems heavily grounded in the physical, as we watch her storm out of his apartment several times after they have sex.
St. Claire’s own relationship is disrupted when Bell contacts him as it’s insinuated that his wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) is distrustful of St. Claire’s fidelity.
At only 90 minutes, the film is heavily stylized — hindered by a slow pace and dressed in a glaring yellow palette. Seriously, the film is really yellow.
Villeneuve even intersperses scenes that drive the plot with dream sequences that place Gyllenhaal’s character in nightmares made of giant spiders trekking the Toronto skyline and nude women with spider heads.
The film is fun in terms of the hypothetical questions it poses: What would you do if you had a body double, or what if you could replace your partner with a version you like better?
Now, the sudden ending is either the best or worst part of “Enemy,” and it all depends on whether you’re ready to crap your pants. It’s a frightening scene that last only seconds, but it leaves you confused and clamoring for answers. It feels a little traumatic, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that was part of Villeneuve’s intention.
Many of Villeneuve’s films deal with very cerebral situations and “Enemy” is no exception. It’s swift and mercilessly executed. It offers no answers for the questions it poses, but, instead, leaves everything open to interpretation. For a film with such a thin plot, its ambiguity is a crutch, and there are too many questions left unanswered for it to be a rewarding experience for audiences.