– Summary –
Director : Denis Villeneuve
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini, Sarah Gordon, Megan Mane, Stephen R Hart.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: A man becomes obsessed with his physical doppelganger after seeing him in a movie.
What we think : Hard to watch “thriller” delivers few actual thrills, depending instead on its visual aesthetic and a worthwhile leading performance from Gyllenhaal to generate any momentum whatsoever. In light of an opaque set of characters, no explanation to anything whasoever (something I find to be annoying) and an ending that will have many simply scratching their heads, Enemy is in no way recommended to anyone other than hard-core cinephiles.
Intsy Wincy Spider.
Folks who caught the Hugh Jackman-starrer Prisoners in 2013 would know the skill of Canadian director Denis Villeneuve to craft a terrific story from a hugely divisive premise, carried largely by some equally terrific acting. In a significant one-two punch for Villeneuve, his low-key thriller Enemy, which debuted during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, snagged the director a Canadian Screen Award (equivalent of the Oscars, only for Canadians!) for Best Director. Both films star Jake Gyllenhaal, and both films use a fairly downcast visual style that cements each story in a grim reality of our world, unmistakeably brimming with flavor and squalid social nuance. After my shocking encounter with Prisoners (seriously, it’s a ripping film, albeit a fairly depressing one) I went into Enemy with expectations suitably elevated – I hoped that Villeneuve could maintain his keen eye for human frailty, and hope in the face of utter ruin, and continue with putting films forward that had ambivalent moral messages entangled within desperate ethical dilemmas. Or, a good fight scene. I’d be happy with a good fight scene.
Plot synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a solitary college history professor, rents a movie, “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way,” on the recommendation of a colleague. Adam sees an actor in a bit role who looks exactly like him. After doing some research online, Adam identifies the actor as Daniel St. Claire, the stage name for one Anthony Claire. Adam rents the other two films in which Anthony has appeared and develops an obsession with the man, who appears to be his physical doppelganger. Adam’s girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) becomes troubled by the change in his behavior. Adam stalks Anthony, visiting his office and calling him at home. Everyone, including Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon), confuses the two; when Anthony requests a night with Adam’s wife (since she’ll never be able to tell the two apart), it sets in motion a chain of events which will spiral out of control into tragedy.
Okay, so Enemy is one of “those” films you stumble upon, a weird, strange little thing that will spend more time making you ask questions than it does delivering answers. By the end of Enemy, I was probably more confused about life than I was before I started. It’s hard to say whether I was “entertained” by this film in the best sense of the word, because Enemy is so depressing, so decidedly dull and so obviously masochistic, there was very little enjoyment to be hard watching this one at all. The bizarre premise and the desperately incomprehensible characters make for challenging viewing, I’ll give it that. Honestly, I doubt many folks will find this film appealing, or even accessible by way of decent story, which is a pity because the premise itself is inherently interesting.
Imagine finding an exact duplicate of yourself somewhere else in the world? Not a twin, but a complete duplicate, down to the hairs on your head, the moles on your back and the scars on your body. It’s an enticing story proposition, and although Villeneuve’s film is based on a novel, “The Double”, by Jose Saramango, and scripted by Javier Gullon, it’s apparent about twenty minutes in that as macabre and indifferent as the story is to the audience’s perceptions, there’s no real fantasy revelations or even exposition to explain a thing. The film’s languid approach to the story, and to the characters, as well as the omnipresent yellow-and-brown visual palette, make Enemy a really tough, hard-core watch.
The characters, particularly Adam and Anthony, are impossible to decipher as far as emotional content goes: Adam, who is a lecturer at a local college, looks like he’s about to kill himself the entire time, as if he’s burdened by some impossible weight under which his life is buckling. But there’s no development here, no backstory or explanation (or excuse) as to why he constantly looks like he’s going to jump in front of a train, and as incongruous as this is for the viewer, it makes less sense within the context of the film. Anthony, the somewhat arrogant and sexually charged one of the pair, comes off as both indecisive and an asshole, without so much as a reason why. It’s intimated by Anthony’s wife, played by a rather pregnant-looking Sarah Gadon (was she pregnant at the time? Because damn if that’s not an impressive visual effect or prosthetic!) that he’s had an affair previously, although again it’s never broached more than the once, and seems consigned as merely a brief glimpse into the past of any of these characters – indeed, nobody has any kind of relevance to the other aside from the fact that they exist in the same film.
While the characters offer little depth or meaning to the film, the cast do a great job in their performances, especially Jake Gyllenhaal doing double duty as both Adam and Anthony. While both characters are impossible to read as far as emotion or tone goes, Gyllenhall is intense and controlled in both roles. It’s actually rather confusing to see him play both roles with identical looks – both character sport facial growth, and have similar hairstyles, making telling them apart rather difficult. At one point, one of them goes to see “his mother”, played by a wasted Isabella Rossellini, and it’s not until the very end that we realize which of the men it actually is. Villeneuve plays with this unsettling style a lot, although the payoff is more about audience confusion than keeping us on our toes. Enemy spends more time trying to be mysterious than it does actually being mysterious.
I should also note, this is one of the brownest films I’ve ever seen. The entire visual spectrum of Enemy is either brown (or some derivation thereof), or yellow (typically of the urine-tinted variety); I had a thought while watching this that it reminded me a lot of David Fincher’s work on Se7en, that grimy, dirty, sewerage-honed aesthetic putting the viewer on edge and ill-at-ease. It’s a great use of this technique, but by God it makes the film look monotonous. As with Prisoners, Villeneuve uses his camera sparsely, an economy of editing and framing that makes the film feel more slowly paced than it really is. As annoyed as I was with the way the film turned out, I cannot fault it for technical prowess: Enemy at least looks and sounds amazing.
No, I really struggled to enjoy Enemy. Hell, I struggled to understand it, let alone enjoy it. The film is supposed to be a thriller, yet the only thing that seemed to make it so was the score by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, all screechy, off-key strings and subliminal Psycho motifs. Aside from that, the film was barely thrilling, more like it was lost within itself, trying to figure out exactly what kind of weirdo film it wanted to be. And it is weird, make no mistake. A bizarre scene in a strip club, which opens the film in such desolate fashion, features the appearance of a tarantula – a visual motif that only reprises itself in the film’s shocking, “gotcha” final moments. The sequence in which Adam and Anthony actually meet, a meeting with such subversive sexual undertones (the meet in a dark hotel room, for goodness sake! Not exactly trying to give off innocent vibes) and an inbuilt frisson, is largely hampered by idiotic character development throughout, and implausible behavioral wrangling.
Enemy stumbles with its bizarre tonality and opaque characters, offering little explanatory detail for what it espouses and garnering more confusion than anything else. At the end of it all, all I was wondering was exactly what the point was; I couldn’t honestly offer a positive statement about Enemy to anyone other than hard-core cinephiles who would cope with a film as obscure and mind-bending as this one. It’s hardly clever, it’s never clear, and aside from Gyllenhaal’s noteworthy performance (not the characters, just his performance of them) there’s little to recommend about Enemy. If you’re in the mood for weird, by all means give it a run. Otherwise, it’s a bit of a chump.
© 2014, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.