“At this year’s Toronto Film Festival, Jake Gyllenhaal gives three strong performances in two movies for one director,” wrote Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan a couple of weeks ago now. “If you’re confused—or wondering whether this is the fortunate byproduct of all those infinitely spawning Gyllenhaals in 2011’s Source Code—then just know that your confusion is exactly what Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve intended.” In Prisoners, Gyllenhaal is Detective Loki; in Enemy, he “stars as Adam, a college professor whose days and nights seem awfully routine: Adam lectures his class about repetition, heads home to grade papers, doffs his clothes, and boffs girlfriend Mélanie Laurent. Lather, rinse, repeat… until Adam happens to watch a movie starring his doppelgänger in a bit part. Soon enough, Adam has tracked down this carbon copy—a part-time actor named Anthony (also played by Gyllenhaal, natch)—and before long, Adam and Anthony have become obsessed with one another, though the film frequently implies that this might actually be an elaborate, schizophrenic case of self-obsession.”
“Rather than play the scenario for black humor or Hitchcockian intrigue, Villeneuve mines it for tedious pathological navel-gazing and banal sexual fantasy,” grumbles A.A. Dowd at the AV Club. “Given that none of this is meant to be taken on a strictly literal level, it’s forgivable that both of Gyllenhaal’s characters rarely act in a manner that resembles human behavior. But as a nightmare of suppressed desires, the film is tiresomely bombastic, its horror-movie strings never letting up. Dead Ringers this ain’t.”
So that’s a D+ from Dowd; but at Film.com, David Ehrlich gives Enemy a score of 8.2/10, arguing that “the Cronenbergian exercise in splintered personas and metamorphosing bodies is ultimately more concerned with neuroses than plot, its strange but simple narrative almost exclusively devoted to pitting male fear against male desire in a horrifying war of attrition. Likely to prove far more compelling for thirtysomething men than any other demographic, Enemy is first and foremost an extended allegory for male infidelity and the permanent residue of guilt that it can leave in its wake.”
For Kenji Fujishima at In Review Online, Enemy, an adaptation of Jose Saramago’s The Double, is “an ultimately ridiculous attempt at a mind-bending psychological fever dream, one that thrusts us into a foreboding environment of dread without ever really establishing its main character as a flesh-and-blood human being.”
But at the Playlist, Rodrigo Perez gives it an A: “Imagine the Paul Thomas Anderson of There Will Be Blood making a Brian De Palma movie, or Claire Denis directing Christopher Nolan’s Memento. While those superlatives do give you a taste of the striking, sensual disposition simmering in the French-Canadian filmmaker’s engrossing Kafka-eque mindfuck cum provocative psychological thriller, it actually does a disservice to Villeneuve’s superb craft and darkened vision that truly has coalesced into something extraordinary this year.”
“Enemy builds toward an intense existential boxing match between the two Jakes, then veers into complete absurdity with a befuddling surprise ending that seems to suggest, if weakly, a connection between male identity and the trap of domesticity and female power,” writes Tina Hassannia at the House Next Door, where she notes that Toronto also played host this year to doppelgänger novel adaptation, Richard Ayoade’s The Double. “With Enemy,” Hassannia argues, “Villeneuve confidently proves he’s contemporary filmmaking’s ultimate troll.”
“I kinda dug it but I have no idea if it’s any good or what happened or where I am anymore and what aiiiiiiiieeeeeeee that last sound/shot,” writes Nathaniel Rogers. His grade: WTF.
More from Peter Debruge (Variety), Jason Gorber (Twitch), and Deborah Young (Hollywood Reporter). Nigel M. Smith interviews Villeneuve for Indiewire. Enemy was a Special Presentation in Toronto and is screening in San Sebastian.