What Made Toronto The Perfect Setting For Denis Villeneuve's Enemy

While many Hollywood films and TV shows have been shot in Canada to take advantage of tax credits and other incentives, they usually use cities like Toronto to stand in for U.S. cities like New York. French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve bucked this trend with "Enemy," his first English-language movie and his first collaboration with Jake Gyllenhaal. (They would re-team for "Prisoners," released before "Enemy," though it was shot afterward.)

In "Enemy," Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a professor who discovers that he has a doppelgänger — an actor named Anthony Claire — after spotting him in the background of a movie. While it may be cliché to say Toronto is as much a character as Adam and Anthony are in "Enemy," Villeneuve and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc do fetishize the city's skyline with aerial shots of clogged freeways, towering apartment blocks, and the surreal sight of a giant spider walking among them. Shots of Toronto are also the last thing viewers see during the closing credits.

In a 2015 interview with VODzilla, Villeneuve discussed the appeal of shooting Toronto as Toronto for "Enemy," saying:

"The thing is the city had that kind of personality, the paranoid, oppressive feeling, and I was looking for that landscape, something with pressure. There's not a lot of cities with that kind of landscape. There's a lot of them in South America, but I wanted to shoot a movie in English and I was looking for a city that hadn't been shot a lot. New York and Chicago have been shot over and over again over our cinematic imagery, we have seen those cities a lot, but Toronto has not been loved a lot with the camera. [David] Cronenberg made several ones, like in 'Crash,' but not a lot of movies have been shot in Toronto as itself."

'The '80s are yellow for me'

"Enemy" is based on the 2002 Portuguese novel "The Double" by Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago, and Denis Villeneuve told VODzilla that as he was scouting Toronto, he found architecture and locations he "had been dreaming about" when he read the book. Speaking to Interview Magazine in 2014, he elaborated:

"In the book, Saramago describes the city as a huge monster — a megalopolis. There are not a lot of cities that are like this in the world, some in China and Japan and South America, but I wanted to do a movie in English. My neighbor city Toronto was there, and I went there scouting and I found out that Toronto had the perfect landscape for the movie — the never-ending suburbs and forest of skyscrapers that would be suitable to create that kind of tension, the paranoid environment, the anxiety."

Villeneuve also likened Toronto to a virgin city, cinematically, in that "it's not a city that reminds you of a lot of movies like New York, Chicago, or even Tokyo." "This virginity was great for us," he added, "because we felt free and had no references. We felt like we were the first ones, which was not true, but we did have that feeling."

"Enemy" is notable for its yellow, almost jaundiced color palette, which Villeneuve used to evoke the "phantasm" of Saramago's novel and (as he put it) "remind us of the atmosphere that was described in the book, the claustrophobic environment." This was also accomplished by shooting what he called "the funky side of Toronto — the more Latin, South American side of Toronto like the white buildings."

"The book is set in the '80s," he concluded. "I don't know why and it's tough to explain, but the '80s are yellow for me."