Everyone loves a good "suddenly found a twin" story. Whether it's a classic like The Parent Trap or Netflix's series Living With Yourself, doublecasting an actor to play two alter egos is always a fun exercise in mistaken identity hijinks. However, these are usually played for laughs.
In Denis Villaneuve's Enemy, the tone is something much darker. The film's leaving Netflix on July 11, here's why it's worth the watch.
Enemy succeeds in its refusal to explain. The opening scene, for example, shows Jake Gyllenhaal brandishing a key, opening a door to a dark sex club, where a woman is shown stepping on a tarantula. That's the movie's cold open, and it barely gets touched on again until the literal last shot of the film.
Gyllenhaal plays both mild-mannered history professor Adam Bell and hot-shot actor Anthony Claire, but it's never explained how these two doppelgängers came to be. You simply buckle up and enjoy the ride, without stopping to ask questions.
The film is based on Portuguese author José Saramago's novel The Double, but changes several aspects of plot and worldbuilding. A quote from the novel serves as the thesis statement of the film, shown in a title card after the first scene: "Chaos is order yet undeciphered." This begs the viewer to analyze and pick apart the chaos of the film how they see fit. Is it about control, as Adam lectures to his students, or relationships, as could be surmised by the final reveal?
The meta-ness continues — another film about doppelgängers came out the same year, Richard Ayoade's The Double, based on the Dostoyevsky novella. Even in the real world, each of these films are doubles of each other but exist as double stories by themselves.
The plot seems simple at first glance: a young professor rents a movie, sees an actor who looks just like him, tries to contact him, and their lives become irreparably entangled. If you poke deeper, there's something more sinister at play. In one shot, about two-thirds into the film, a giant spider looms over Toronto, but it's never revisited. This spider imagery comes to a head in the last scene, and adds a magical realism sheen to the already surreal story.
One can't simply explain the film, only interpret it how they see it. Each of these readings provides, in its own way, another doppelgänger film: identical, but with a wildly different personality. It's the perfect movie to watch with other people and then debate what it could possibly mean.
Fans of Dune should definitely give this a watch, as it's directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Incendies, and the 2020 Dune remake). If his history of worldbuilding is anything to go by, this is a good omen for the new adaptation.
In a way, it works as a study for the upcoming Dune: telling a big story in microcosm, with sparingly placed monster effects backing an all-too-human story, one that relies on the images to speak for themselves.