Written by Javier Gullón
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Adam Bell is a college history professor that live a very routine and mundane existence. He teaches in the day, comes home to his dingy apartment, where he has sex with a non-committal lover, and sleeps. The monotony is broken when a colleague suggests he rent a movie he had seen, “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way.” Adam watches the film but that night has a dream about one of the scenes and there, in the background, playing a hotel bellhop is a man who looks exactly like him. He watches the film again, and yes, that wasn’t a dream, it was a memory. Through internet sleuthing, he discovers the actor’s name, Daniel St. Claire and begins searching out his home and learning about his life. As Adam descends down this path of madness, he comes to a point where everything he thought he knew about his reality begins to crumble.
Enemy was the film that made me fall in love with Denis Villeneuve’s work. I had seen Prisoners previously and really liked it. That was enough to make me seek this out. The surreal visuals Villeneuve employs are what hooked me in. The long-limbed spider stalking over Toronto. The woman with a spider’s head walking upside down on the ceiling. That chilling final shot that reveals so much about Adam Bell’s internal thoughts. The director has definitely expanded on some elements of these visuals, particularly the sense of scope and size of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. He presents us with towering objects that cause our protagonists to seem minuscule and unimportant in their shadow.
That sense of insignificance is critical in Enemy. Early on, Bell gives a monologue as a lecture to his students about the nature of dictatorships. They are at their core an obsession with total control. The consequences of this control are never taken into account, merely the desire to have all under your heel. Bell learns that St. Claire has a wife who is six months pregnant and soon after that begins having daydreams and hallucinations involving spiders. Adam Bell is trapped in a web as we see through constant shots of the cable car wires crisscrossing against the yellowed sky. These creatures most definitely represent the wife. Most female spiders will consume the male after impregnation and beneath the surface of the story of doppelgangers is this theme. Much like Eraserhead, Villeneuve is exploring the psychological breakdown brought on by impending responsibility.
The film keeps us in suspense as to what the real relationship between these two men is. St. Claire’s wife goes to secretly visit Bell at his school and holds back tears when the professor doesn’t recognize her. He walks away, off screen, and only then does St. Claire answer the phone call of his heartbroken wife. It’s so cleverly shot to keep the audience in a state of mystery and suspense. Are Bell and St. Claire the same person? Or is this some story of brothers separated at birth. The critical first meeting of the two men is also cleverly shot. We hear the door open of the hotel room where they agreed to meet. Bell is staring directly down the camera and speaks to St. Claire whom we cannot see. The audience is intended to be in a state of extreme uncertainty for a beat until the shot-reverse, and we see St. Claire the door. Eventually, the men come together, the camera centered, with either on each side of the frame.
Enemy is a suspense film that involves no murder, no crime. It is purely psychological. While it may appear obscure after a first watch, second and subsequent viewings will begin to peel back the layers. It cements the powerful working relationship between Villeneuve and Jake Gyllenhaal who, sadly, have not worked together since. Here’s hoping this duo reunites for something shortly.