Part psychological thriller, part political allegory and part science fiction horror, Enemy is suitably mind-bending.
But unsuitably over-ambitious in the way it tries to juggle multiple genres, a mistake that culminates in an obscure, science-fiction based coda, one which feels less like a carefully foreshadowed twist and more like an attempt to (clumsily) shock the viewer.
Which is a shame. As this Slate article explains, director Denis Villanueve and writer Javier Gulon lay the groundwork for their jarring resolution; unfortunately, the clues are mostly visual and not tightly strung together, which means they’re obtuse, indeed too much so.
Villanueve and Gulon more adeptly illustrate the Anthony Clair/Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) dichotomy, creating characters with distinct personalities but also considerable similarities.
In that way, the director and writer create psychological tension, not least because we are never certain whether Anthony is Adam’s enemy, or Adam is Anthony’s. Both characters are flawed but likable, morally questionable but sympathetic.
Gyllenhaal deserves accolades for juggling these distinct individuals, often as they interact with one another. It is an impressive dual performance.
(SPOILER ALERT: The evidence, in my opinion, suggests that Anthony and Adam are the same person, that Anthony is in crisis and Adam is the vehicle through which we see it, an interpretation that means Gyllenhaal deserves extra praise. He makes Anthony and Adam different enough that they work as unique people, but also similar enough that they function as different elements of the same person. END SPOILER)
As a psychological thriller, Enemy could have been excellent, so much so that it might have had a chance to be my favorite film from 2014.
If only it weren’t trying to be so much more. Consider Helen (Sarah Gadon, enchanting) and Mary (Melonie Laurent), both of whom propel the early story, understandably so. We care about both women, perhaps even more than the male leads.
But as the film progresses, the director and writer advance their political and science fiction elements, at which point the female characters are no longer distinct personalities; they are plot devices. Mary all but disappears from the action, and Helen’s personality seemingly shifts.
As part of the political allegory, Villanueve and Gulon’s treatment of Helen and Mary is sensible enough, but within the context of their more linear psychological thriller, it is less so.
Therein is one reason I call Enemy overambitious. It tries to fuse so many identities that it stumbles, at various points, in each of them.
Which isn’t to say the film fails. Enemy remains engaging, suspenseful, and intellectually stimulating.