Review: Enemy – It came from Canada
David Lynch meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers. David Cronenberg does District 9. Stanley Kubrick remakes Tarantula. The new film, Enemy, by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is very hard to describe (especially without giving too much away), and the studio’s ambiguous summary of the picture – which basically says it’s about a man who sees his identical twin in a movie and then seeks to find him – doesn’t even begin to describe what this film is about or how strange it is.
I can’t say for sure I know (or that anyone knows – including the filmmakers) what the heck is going on in this movie, and yet I was still mesmerized by its story and mentally stimulated by its mystery. This is a quiet, slow-paced and erotic thriller that you will either love or hate; but either way it’s going to give you plenty to talk and think about, and in my book that’s a win.
Enemy is based on the book, The Double, by Portuguese writer José Saramago, with a screenplay by Javier Gullón, and the film starts with a title card quote from the novel, saying, “Chaos is order yet undeciphered”; and this is the first clue that you are in for one crazy ride. It will be up to you to decide whether anything is actually understood by the end of this journey, or if ‘chaos’ was the ultimate destination.
The story begins with Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), an unhappy college history teacher who is tired of the recurring loop of his life that has him lecturing on the totalitarian techniques of dictators, grading papers at home, and having bored sexual relations with his girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent). Pay attention to his classroom discourse (which sounds like it is lifted straight from The Rape of the Mind) during the early scenes of the film, as it may (or may not) hold the key to understanding what comes later.
Adam rents and views a movie recommended to him by an associate and is surprised to find that one of the actors, Anthony St. Claire (also played by Gyllenhaal), in the film looks exactly like him. Then after brooding on this for a bit, he investigates the actor’s background and initiates contact with him.
Anthony, the teacher’s look-a-like, is married and his wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), is six-months pregnant. At first the actor wants nothing to do with Adam, but eventually agrees to meet him in person after Helen tracks him down, thinking he is the jealous husband of a woman Anthony has had an affair with.
The two men develop a strange sort of paranoia and competition over the women in their respective lives and, as you might guess, nothing good comes of it. We also meet Adam’s or Anthony’s (I honestly don’t know which one or both) mother, who is appropriately played by weird-film veteran, Isabella Rossellini. And of course Mom doesn’t want to hear anything about her son’s alleged doppelganger.
So is Adam or Anthony dreaming all this? Have they lost their mind(s)? Does ‘Mother’ know what’s actually going on? What’s up with the weird sex show that Anthony and/or Adam attends? Are Adam and Anthony the same person? Are Helen and Mary the same person? And what is up with all the spiders and spider-web symbolism? Oh what a tangled web is weaved – but will you be deceived by the film’s ending?
Enemy is beautifully and creepily photographed by cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc, and its eerie cityscapes are a mystery as well. I’m not sure where this film takes place, although I believe it is Toronto, Ontario. Now that I think about it, like Villeneuve, Cronenberg is also from Canada, and Lynch is from Missoula, Montana (which is like the United States’ Canada.) Maybe the cold northern winters have something to do with these filmmakers’ strange proclivities.
The acting by everyone in this film is top notch and especially by Gyllenhaal, who gives two masterful performances for the price of one, pulling double duty as two very different characters playing against each other. But the actor still plays each persona similar enough to cause you to lose track of who is who in this cinematic shell game.
I liked Enemy a lot, but you are forewarned, this is one of those movies you’ll either get or not get, or not necessarily get but still enjoy the ride (which is the category I find myself in.) If you dig the other eclectic directors I’ve mentioned, then you are probably going to enjoy this film a great deal. Grade: 8/10
‘Enemy’ opens Friday, March 21, exclusively at Harkins Shea.