Reuniting with his Prisoners star Jake Gyllenhaal for an equally moody but much less accessible project, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve exquisitely weaves a disquieting web of mysteries and anxieties in this adaptation of the late Nobel winning writer José Saramago's novel The Double. In it, a morose, lonely teacher accidentally discovers the existence of a perfect doppelgänger of his, living on the other side of town, and accelerating a collision course between them. Under the sign of the book's epigraph - "chaos is order as yet undeciphered" - Mr. Villeneuve and screenwriter Javier Gullón guide the material toward a nightmarish tale of the Twilight Zone, the existence of these two identical people who lead different lives and seem the exact anthesis of each other remaining an unsolved puzzle that can suggest parallel realities crashing together, a ripple on the fabric of reality, or maybe even a pure hallucination presented as reality.
For all intents and purposes, Enemy remains a formally remarkable thought experiment playing out in a permanently foggy, sickly lighted metropolis that could be a Matrix-like simulacrum, such is its functional lack of identity and personality. Inside this claustrophobic, swamp-like universe, Mr. Gyllenhaal crafts two expertly modulated performances; his adroitness at evoking the personalities of Alex, the slouched, uneasy history teacher, and Anthony, the self-confident, well-off actor vastly contributes to the underlying danger and constant questioning of the film's suggestive mood. That Enemy really offers no solution to its central narrative puzzle (how can the co-existence of these "doubles" be explained) isn't necessarily a problem, but the key issue that has hindered previous adaptations of Saramago works is the need to reconfigure for the big screen a surreal, fantastical tone that seems to grow of its own accord out of the routine of reality.
Instead, both the director and the writer underline the eerieness and the strangeness of the events in a reality where everything feels slightly off and unreal, stripping the tale of its existential, regular-joe questioning to move it towards genre brain-teaser. And it's certainly an intriguing enough brain-teaser for most of its length, eventually ending up running on an empty tank, unsure how or why to get out of the cul-de-sac it has closed itself into. Whether by default or by design ends up being irrelevant for the viewer, who will undoubtedly find his brain being far too much teased by the film's unconventional and, ultimately, unsatisfying ending.
Canada, Spain 2013
Cast Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
Director Denis Villeneuve; screenwriter Javier Gullón; based on the novel by José Saramago The Double; cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc (colour, widescreen); composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans; designer Patrice Vermette; costumes Renée April; editor Matthew Hannam; producers Niv Fichman and Miguel A. Faura; production companies Rhombus Media and Roxbury Pictures in co-production with Microscope and Mecanismo Films
Screened June 5th 2014, UCI El Corte Inglés 12, Lisbon (distributor press screening)