Second Breakfast’s Worst ‘Enemy’


Today is the day that I graduate college. Yep, I’m leaving it all behind. Part of leaving it all behind is immediately moving on to new and better things. Well, new things, anyway. That’s why I’m not wasting much time talking about graduating. You don’t want to read about that. You want to read about a Canadian psycho-thriller with Jake Gyllenhaal. Right?

Enemy (2013)


A24 Films

The Plot: Adam Bell’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) life is unfulfilling. He lives alone in an apartment in Toronto, he teaches history at the university to students who couldn’t care less, and his relationship with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) has become empty and pointless. In short, he’s depressed. This weak emotional state continues to deteriorate when one evening, while attempting to unwind by watching a movie, Adam notices that one of the extras in the film is his exact double. He becomes obsessed with tracking down his double, a man named Anthony Claire (also Jake Gyllenhaal, obviously). As their mutual fascination for one another develop, their lives become more and more intertwined, but one or both of these men might have ulterior motives.

As I discussed in my review of the canonically similar Muppets Most Wanted, mistaken identity plots are rarely very interesting. Enemy manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of the trope because the “mistaken” part is not that paramount to the plot. There’s a fair amount of confusion from acquaintances and friends, and most disturbingly from Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon), but the story isn’t concerned with that. Its primary focus is the implications of duality for the two men. The story never offers a clear explanation for this doubling; Adam’s mother (for some reason played by Isabella Rossellini) dispels any thoughts of twins separated at birth; we don’t go in for cloning; there’s nothing supernatural; these men are, simply, the same.

Two Gyllenhaals!? Source

A24 Films
Two Gyllenhaals!?

At least they are ostensibly. The more Adam discovers about Anthony (like, for example, the fact that Anthony has been consistently disloyal to his pregnant wife), the less he wants to acknowledge similarities. His main character arc hinges on the question of how deep the similarities go. Just because they are identical on the surface, are they the same through and through? His other big existential crisis is, understandably, one of individuality. What does it mean to be an individual? If there is another Adam Bell out there, is his life really as meaningless as he’s come to believe it is?

Enemy asks all these really interesting questions and plunges into the depths of Adam/Anthony’s psyche, dissecting every little piece along the way. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite deliver by the time the end rolls around. I wasn’t craving any sort of explanation as to the doubling, but some resolutions to the character questions would have been nice. Rather than providing a round character arc for Adam, Enemy takes a stab at being bleak and disturbing, leaving most of the overarching questions to be answered by the audience upon reflection. Upon reflection, this audience member has yet to answer any of them, but hey.

What's going on? Source

A24 Films
What’s going on?

Now would be a really good time to talk about the direction, I suppose, especially because it is the only reason I watched this movie in the first place. The film is directed by Denis Villeneuve, who someone out there may very well recognize as the director of the critically lauded Prisoners. My own review of that film was overwhelming positive. It was a tight movie, and I had very few negative criticisms. It’s also incredibly bleak and disturbing. Enemy was made around the same time as Prisoners, I think a bit before, but Villeneuve’s style is just so much more refined in the latter. His attempts at being edgy here come off as a bit juvenile, opting for occasional gratuitous nudity, some really bizarre and heavy-handed spider imagery, and leaving all of the wrong questions unanswered. The product isn’t edgy and intriguing; it’s frustrating. Most frustrating of all is the fact that he comes so close to producing a great psycho-thriller. All the elements are there, but the ending is so unsatisfying as to undo most of what I liked along the way.

Of course, not all of this is his fault. Prisoners benefitted from having an incredibly strong screenplay, which Enemy somewhat lacked. The script by Javier Gullón boasts some precise and clever dialogue in the first half, but doesn’t maintain the pace through the whole film. In this case, most of the blame for creating unsatisfying and incomplete character arcs can be placed on him, I’m sure.

Surprisingly, Enemy just made me want to revisit Prisoners, which I assumed I wouldn’t be in a hurry to do. I’m still not. It’s a harrowing journey and it’s two-and-a-half hours long, so… Yeah. This week I wrote about a psychological thriller about identity crisis, last week I wrote about cannibals, so I’m thinking next week I should do something cheerful.

One thought on “Second Breakfast’s Worst ‘Enemy’

  1. Really looking forward to seeing this film, and even though it seems to have fallen on the negative side for you, you’ve still kept me interested. If for nothing else, but for the fact I may want to re-watch Prisoners!

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