Starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Rated 14A.
From the many matched antagonists of noveldom to the “identical cousins” of The Patty Duke Show, doppelgängers have helped us explore the mysteries of selfhood through exaggerated artifice. In melodrama, the “evil twin” concept allows actors to compress the extreme ends of their résumés into a single screen (and lets soap-opera producers bring back actors whose characters they’ve bumped off).
All those factors are at play here, although “play” is a stretch when describing this serious-as-cancer take on finding one’s mirror image. You know those movies in which one character calls a long-unseen family member from a payphone and doesn’t know quite what to say? There’s about an hour of that dynamic here, which definitely builds tension, but if you’re Spain’s Javier Gullón, writing for Incendies director Denis Villeneuve—the Quebec veteran who also made Prisoners—it can be a cop-out when it comes to creating meaningful dialogue.
For Prisoners star Jake Gyllenhaal, a paucity of language isn’t that crucial, since he gets to be two seemingly identical persons wandering across a yellow-skied Toronto. One is an easily flustered college instructor biblically named Adam and the other is Anthony St. Claire, an actor looking for a role he can really disappear into, as they say.
In The Double, the José Saramago book on which this is based, the prof is a bored, divorced Brazilian whose chance encounter with a minor actor in a five-year-old movie makes him confront himself at an earlier, more energetic phase. Here, the filmmakers go for a more straightforward symmetry, with both sides having the same features, including beards, limited communication skills, and sprightly blond wives; Adam’s mate is played by Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), Anthony’s by the ethereal Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis), each conveniently dissatisfied with her partner’s obsessive personality.
In Frenemy—I mean, Enemy, the filmmakers have fashioned a purposely blank, slow, and style-heavy puzzle that will appeal to the 20-year-old Kafka fan in us all: “The Metamorphosis” meets Eyes Wide Shut, you could say. The movie is too cold-blooded to make the case for eros being man’s masked and kinky motivator, but the shock ending certainly leaves you with questions worth looking at twice, or more.