A Look into the Gothic Element of Doubling in Denis Villeneuve’s Film Enemy
Doubling is a psychological device used in Gothic text to explore conflicting viewpoints. This affect is achieved through the use of having a character physically identical to the protagonist, but the opposite in terms of personality, similar to an “evil twin.” According to Freud, “The ‘double’ was originally an insurance against destruction to the ego,” so one could look at their own faults without acknowledging they were wrong. Through doubling, a character can physically manifest himself or herself as another person in order to explore how their different personalities directly affect his/her day-to-day life. Much like The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 French Canadian film Enemy deals with its main character being symbolically split in half with countering personalities where one is “good” and the other is “bad.” In the Toronto set Enemy, the audience follows a history teacher named Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he spots his doppelganger, Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal), in a film and upon meeting him finds that they are identical in appearance but opposite in personality. As the film’s plot progresses, it becomes apparent that Adam and Anthony are in fact the same person and Adam represents who Anthony will become if he stays with his pregnant wife. During the film, it is never made clear that both characters are the same person, and it is only when looking back at the film that the audience’s confusion dissipates as they piece together the plot to reveal the characters’ identities. By using the concept of doubling, Villeneuve is able to set up two contrasting characters, one who has an unfulfilling life and one who is fulfilled, in order to assert the idea that, for men, marriage and building a family results in indulging in the mundane and giving up on personal desires.
To effectively use doubling, the two personalities and lifestyles of the two characters must be apparent. The first step Villeneuve takes in doing this is setting up who we see the film’s story through, the film’s protagonist, Adam. The audience is first introduced to Adam while he is giving a lecture to his college class. While teaching, Adam seems very knowledgeable about his subject, yet the lack of stimulus offered to him by the students in the class leaves him droning on with a lecture devoid of passion. One would understand Adam enduring such a tiresome profession if it meant the pay from it allowed him to enjoy his time off the clock, but that does not appear to be the case. Once the audience sees his apartment, it is apparent he is not financially compensated well for his job, as the place is covered with his trash and seemingly empty of anything of value. Even in terms of appearance, Adam dresses very sloppily, often wearing the same dirty suit day in and day out. Yet, perhaps the most important trait in regards to the film’s theme that the audience learns about Adam comes from the interaction he has with his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent). Routinely, Adam wishes to have sex with his girlfriend. However, she turns him down numerously, and in the times that they do have sex, he is not satisfied. After this interaction is observed, the character study of Adam is complete and the audience now understands that Adam does not have anything going for him in terms of profession, wealth, or sex life. Largely, Adam is a defeated man whose life has perhaps not lived up to the hopes and dreams that he has longed for. Most importantly, Adam is someone who no one wishes to be.
Anthony serves as a contrast to Adam. In the categories that make Adam a loser, Anthony is a winner. While Anthony does not appear to have had any big roles in films, the minor acting roles that he does have provides him with a sense of enjoyment. In addition, these roles reward Anthony exceptionally well, as his apartment is decorated very luxuriously with stainless steel appliances and modern leather furniture, indicating financial success. In the same vein, Anthony dresses excessively by wearing fitted, clean clothes in every scene, regardless of whether he is going out or just coming back from exercising. But, the real importance in the difference in Anthony’s life compared to Adam’s is his sex life. Unlike Adam, Anthony is not only married, but his wife is pregnant and adores him. Nevertheless, Anthony takes life to the extreme in order to fully live out his ambitions. Instead of remaining faithful to his wife, he openly cheats on her and frequents sex clubs where women masturbate with tarantulas while men in smoky rooms watch. Although his lifestyle may be morally questionable, viewers are lead to believe that Anthony’s lifestyle is more enjoyable than Adam’s.
Because of how much attention Villeneuve and the writer of Enemy, Javier Gullon, placed on showcasing the differences between Adam and Anthony, they can each stand in as physical manifestations for their respective ideologies. Now the only question that remains is, what exactly are their ideologies? While it could be understood that Adam represents being passive and Anthony aggressive, by looking one step further it is apparent that Enemy is about what causes men to become more passive in life, which is starting a family. By taking the traits we know about the film’s main characters and applying them with this viewpoint in mind, it can be understood that Adam is meant to be what Anthony will become if he continues down the road of building a family. Because of the responsibility of providing for his family, Anthony he will have no choice but to quit his dream of acting since at any moment he may not be able to find acting roles, and instead enter into the more stable nine to five world of being a history teacher. Also in line with having to act selflessly, Anthony will also have to give up the amount of money and energy he spends on his appearance, and instead devote it to making sure that his family has enough to eat, which will result in scraping by with limited possessions. But, perhaps the biggest change that will befall Anthony that he wants to fight against is the change in his sex life. Instead of being able to frequent sex clubs, he will have to result to begging his partner, who is now bored of him because he is not as full of life as he once was, to have sex with him. By equating the lifestyle of the loser with the one who is monogamous and by equating the lifestyle of the winner with the one who cheats on his wife, it is quite clear that the film is implying men have better lives when they are not focusing on building a family. Yet interestingly enough, the films resolution results in Anthony dying in a car accident and Adam choosing to live with Anthony’s wife, suggesting that even though Anthony understands the disadvantages of being married, he is still drawn to it.
Through the use of the Gothic element of doubling, Enemy is able to have a man battle with a version of himself who mirrors that of a family man. While it is clear to both the audience and the protagonist, Adam, that his life would be more luxurious and exciting if he did not settle down and start a family, the death of Anthony signifies that is not the path Adam has chosen to venture down. By creating a double, the internal struggle that Adam is dealing with is able to take place in the physical world allowing for the audience to see concrete representations of different schools of thought. In conclusion, the doubling that occurs in Enemy allows for the film to assert that, for men, marriage means throwing away your personal ambitions for the betterment of those around you, yet there is an inherent influence for men to continue down this road even though they know personal happiness means avoiding it.
Thank you for visiting Celluloid Cinema, please leave your thoughts in the comments below.