Lost Identity

Film Review: Enemy (2013)

Lost Identity

Enemy is a film which debuted at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. It is directed by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, and it stars Jake Gyllenhaal. The screenplay for the film was adapted from Jose Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double.

The film is about Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a sullen, distraught history professor. Upon his apparent sad demeanor, a colleague recommends Adam watch a movie. While watching the movie Adam spots a person who looks exactly like him. The resemblance is uncanny so, Adam begins to investigate and track down this actor. He discovers that this person is named Anthony Clair (Jake Gyllenhaal). Upon instigating a meeting with this person, their lives become strangely and irrevocably intertwined.

At the start of the film, we are presented with a quote, “Chaos is order yet undeciphered.” On a personal note, I find that films opening with a quote are often pretentious and ingratiating. However, I have a warm affinity with Denis Villeneuve. I have loved and adored all of his previous works so, I am willing to forego my bias.

To understand this film, we must begin to understand the source of inspiration. Saramago was a proponent of libertarian communism. He was an advocate of the abolition of the state, capitalism, wages, and private property. Some forms of this belief call for radical individualism, and a social system which realizes individual freedom. Taking this into consideration, one can start to see that individuality comes to the forefront of this doppelganger film.

At the beginning of the film, Adam Bell is an individual. He is a history teacher that preaches and lectures his students of the forms of control exercised by totalitarian governments. He further emphasizes his point by stating that history repeats itself. Afterwards, the filmmaker repeats this lecture sequence and connotes a feeling of dejavu. This repeated sequence is of critical importance. History repeats itself and so, could we be experiencing a new form of totalitarian control?

The Romans used entertainment and the gladiators to divert the public’s attention. Other totalitarian governments used education, or the lack thereof to control the populace. When Adam discovers he has a doppelganger, he is no longer an individual. He discovers this other person who looks exactly like him. In contrast, however, this person is an entertainer. Adam represents education and enlightenment, whereas Anthony represents entertainment and transgression.

Anthony is shown at the beginning of the film watching a woman dancing seductively. Moreover, he is the one who suggests taking Adam’s girlfriend on a romantic weekend retreat. This retreat is the suggestion of infidelity. Anthony, the entertainer, is the one who instigates impropriety.

The Individual

Another recurring element within the film is the spider, or the spider’s web. When we see a tangle of wire’s over the streetcar, it seems to resemble a spider’s web. Or after the car crash, the camera zooms in on the shattered glass and reveals a pattern much like a web. Subtle clues littered throughout the film are what make Enemy such a treat to watch.

In this film, I believe the spider symbolizes a threat. This venomous creature ensnares its prey and causes a slow death. Denis Villeneuve blatantly demonstrates this point when the spider looms over the city of Toronto. A threat ensues our society. Just like Adam Bell, we are entangled in a web.

The final scene in this film is an ode to the source material. The unexpected twist is an ode to surrealism. The threat is now more prevalent than ever; it has invaded Adam’s home. I believe that this signifies the end of Adam and as such, our society. Adam’s wife will give birth to the new Adam, and history will repeat itself.  In my opinion, Enemy is a cautionary tale. I’ve heard many interpretations of this film and that’s the beauty of it. A film that starts a conversation and blurs the boundaries of reality are always my favourite. With that being said, I can safely say that I still haven’t been disappointed by Villeneuve. I can’t wait to see his next film.


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