In a dark underground club, a crowd of men watch women perform various sex acts on stage. A woman walks on stage, naked except for high-heeled platform shoes and carrying a covered silver platter. She puts the platter on the floor, and lifts the cover to reveal a tarantula, which she slowly starts to crush under her heel….
Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a reserved college professor living in Toronto. His life revolves around presenting the same lectures again and again, and his relationship with his girlfriend cycles back endlessly to the same unsatisfying sex. On a whim, Adam rents a movie recommended by a colleague, and discovers a bit-part actor who appears to be his exact double. Adam looks him up, and discovers that his name is Anthony Claire and that he also lives in Toronto. Although initially resistant, Anthony (also played by Gyllenhaal) eventually agrees to meet with Adam in a hotel room. The two men discover that, though their lives and personalities are very different, they are exact physical copies of one another, including a scar each man has on his abdomen.
Meanwhile, an enormous spider with hideously elongated legs stalks above the Toronto skyline, seemingly invisible to the city’s occupants and women with spiders’ heads walk the underground passages beneath…
Enemy is probably the most consciously alienating movie I’ve watched this year. The whole colour palette is a drab urine-stained yellow that makes everything feel tired and wearing. Adam and Anthony are both difficult characters, awkward or vicious in their relationships with women (which is the primary way we get to see their emotions) and the film works hard to keep us out of their heads and guessing at what makes them tick. And yet, there’s clearly a meaning here (if not more than one) and it seems tantalizingly close to the surface at times.
The two great strengths of Enemy lie in Jake Gylenhaal’s excellent, weird, haunted performance in the two leading roles and in its steadfast resistance to easy unpacking. There are great symbolic depths here, but they defy straightforward explanation in a way which is both frustrating and compelling. That there are already dozens of analyses on the web, none of which precisely agree on what’s going on, speaks to the film’s power and resolute mystery.
Enemy is probably not a film for everyone – it’s certainly not an easy watch, but it’s probably one of the most powerful and enigmatic films I’ve watched this year. It’s certainly the one which has stuck in my head the most.