The concept of a doppelganger – more prosaically known as a perfect double – has been a literary trope for centuries, with authors as diverse as Poe and Dostoevsky exploring this theme. Portugal’s Nobel Prize-winning author Jose Saramago ventured onto this tricky terrain in The Double, and his novel has now been renamed Enemy and brought to the screen by talented Quebec director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners). It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam, a morose history professor who is watching a DVD one night and spots an actor who could be his twin. Attracted and disturbed in equal measure, Adam starts stalking “Anthony,” and eventually makes contact. The actor (also played by Gyllenhaal) is confident and even aggressive, and begins to dominate Adam. Eventually, the two men briefly swap lives, as Adam’s psyche increasingly crumbles under the onslaught of his inexplicable existential dilemma.
The film is set in Toronto, and that city’s skyline is draped by a featureless grey smogscape, while the high-rises seem like warrens for dull little lives. Villeneuve is having a lot of fun repeatedly referencing David Cronenberg (Shivers, Videodrome, Spider, and Dead Ringers all get a homage), as Enemy generates increasing feelings of unease.
As psychological thrillers go, this one is sophisticated in the way that its unpredictability and ambiguities add to viewer uncertainty. Between its nightmarish dreams and extreme subjectivity, the film’s deliberate lack of logic and blurring of reality challenge the viewer. There is a strong core of truth here – Adam has “mother issues” and both men have trouble relating to their attractive blonde girlfriends – but coherence fractures into disorientation as the story unfolds. And making it all work is Gyllenhaal, who does a fine job of playing both characters such that you can tell immediately who is the confident actor and who the diffident professor.
Enemy is an impressive addition to the surprisingly large number of Canadian art films that have given our cinema its international reputation for being sexually weird and emotionally creepy. There is plenty of that to go round here. And as a special bonus for arachnaphobes, the film begins and ends with rather shocking spider moments. Not to all tastes, but fans of serious cinema should check this one out.
ENEMY *** 1/2
Stars Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
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Captain America: The Winter Soldier
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Petit Verdot is most famous in Bordeaux where, in small splashes, its spiciness and near-black colour add pizzazz to blended reds composed mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Shift to Australia, though, and their hot climate yields such a juicy Petit Verdot that it succeeds as a stand-alone varietal. Famed producer Pirramimma has been bottling a great one for 20 years, and their 2010 vintage is richly flavoured and full-bodied, with brambly black fruits and hints of vanilla and pepper. This is a sophisticated wine, despite being a full-on fruit bomb. At $30, maybe open it for a birthday party – wine fans will cheer!