I hate Enemy. Both what the film is and what the film is trying to say is abhorrent and appalling. It’s an offense to my intelligence and a waste of a concept that has been treated much better many times over. It’s a toxic film with an unremarkable story, heavy-handed symbolism and bad execution. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a film I despise as much as I despise Enemy.
Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unremarkable professor living an unremarkable life until a slightly unusual thing happens to him. He witnesses an extra in the film that looks a lot like him, a failed actor named Anthony (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who just happens to also live in the same city as him. He quickly becomes obsessed with this man and begins tracking him down but what he encounters is not quite what he expects.
There are a number of doppelgangers or lookalike stories out there but for some reason this film seems astounded by this idea as if there’s some deep, metaphysical reason two people might look the same or that maybe something sinister is going on. This is not something like The Double Life of Veronique that looks at how two people who look the same are connected on some unspoken spiritual level, this is a haunting paranoia thriller about how two men happen to look the same.
Two men looking the same is the hook of the film but what the film is actually about is the women in their lives and this is where the film becomes repulsive. Adam lives with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) and Anthony is married to Helen (Sarah Gadon) who is pregnant. Both of these women are portrayed as a drag on these men and generally negative forces. They also exist entirely in the context of the male leads and express no true identity beyond being naggy and moody.
As if piercing into some deep truth, the film uses symbolism to further reinforce this idea by associating women with spiders. I’m sure someone thought this was terribly clever, either the author of the story or maybe director Denis Villeneuve, but it’s ham-fisted and heavy-handed. These men are caught in the “web” of these women, trapped and sucked dry by the horrors of domestic life and a monogamous relationship.
Depicting women as traps is such a selfish, trite and spiteful message. This idea that men are somehow the victims of women and trapped in a mundane life they don’t want because of the women in their lives is garbage. Neither of these women are particularly bad people, they aren’t doing awful things to their partners, but the film conveys that the very existence of a domestic relationship is trapping these men.
The idea that domestic life is oppressive to men is complete hogwash. These relationships aren’t abusive or bad, they’re simply everyday and normal and yet the film applies this layer of existential dread as if having a normal relationship with a normal human being and leading a normal life is somehow horrific. The title seems to suggest that the doppelganger is the enemy, but by the end the film clearly seems to be saying that women are the enemy.
In the patriarchal world we live in, this is the kind of horror story men write for themselves because the horror they must endure is to be supremely average. Given every advantage and opportunity, the worst they can envision is a life where they get by and aren’t particularly remarkable, they aren’t even unique. Many of us have lived here for years. You will probably live an average life, with an average wife, and have average kids, and do average things. That’s not horrific, that’s human.
© James Blake Ewing 2020