Review: Enemy

Enemy

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Javier Gullón (Based on a novel by José Saramago)
Producers: M.A. Faura, Niv Fichman
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 90 min.


Denis Villeneuve is a national tresure. The Canadian director who has garnered acclaim around the festival circuit for years, landed in Hollywood with a bang, delivering the great 2013 thriller Prisoners, that didn’t rip him of his artistic integrity. Unsatisfied with simply one movie, Villeneuve was also in post production on a second feature which co-produces with France instead of Hollywood. Far smaller, Enemy is also proving to be the more ambitious of the two projects in both subject matter and scope; a tall feat considering Prisoners went to some pretty deep places.

The basics of the story are fairly simple: while watching a movie, a history professor named Adam spots a man who appears to be his identical twin. Adam becomes obsessed with the idea of meeting his double and after some stealthy manoeuvring, discovers his double’s name (Anthony) and address. The pair eventually meet and it’s immediately clear that beyond looking identical, they share nothing in common. Adam is mousy and bumbling while Anthony is confident, womanizing and conniving.

As one might expect, the pair eventually trade places but the events surrounding the switch are far more nuanced and complicated than anything Hollywood has ever offered up from mistaken identity stories. Mind you, Enemy is adapted from a José Saramago novel so exploration of deep, philosophical ideas are to be expected and screenwriter Javier Gullón doesn’t shy away from any of them.

Adam is completely engulfed and haunted by the discovery of his double, almost as if he’s discovered some secret that will change his world. Helen, Anthony’s pregnant wife, is just as shaken by the discovery of her husband’s double but for Anthony, the emergence of Adam simply provides him with an excuse to be even more self centered. I can’t help but think that maybe Gullón and Villeneuve are making a statement on the perils of self involvement because things don’t progress very well for Anthony.

As with Villeneuve’s previous works, Enemy is very much a thriller but one that plays out more like Kafka than Saramago. It’s a perfect fit for cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc who previously shot Villeneuve’s fantastical and equally odd short Next Floor (full short) and there’s a similar kind of creepiness throughout Enemy though this time the palette is deceptively warmer with hues of yellow. The entire thing has an almost dreamlike quality which could make for an interesting interpretation of the events that unfold though this reading doesn’t sit particularly well with me. The message Enemy imparts of of living in the moment and how we are all interconnected (sometimes more closely than we imagined, others imaginably distant) feels far too important to be chalked up to a dream.

Gyllenhaal has always been well recognized for his leading man qualities but in the past he’s also proven to be a talented actor with great range. He was excellent in Prisoners and here he takes on a dual role and brilliantly encapsulates the two personalities with body language. When the hunched over professor dawns the actor’s wardrobe, he stands a little taller and there’s a different weight to his step but he’s not quite the same as Anthony who carries himself in a completely different manner. There’s never any mistaking who is who and though the change is subtle, it’s not difficult to spot and beautifully separates the two very different characters.

Enemy is dense with ideas, touching on everything from self worth to cheating, but it doesn’t drown the audience with them. It’s a simple story, interestingly told by a director who has a full grasp of the medium and who uses it to draw his audience in and keep them engrossed; those that want a bit more don’t have anything to fear; there is plenty to decipher here and the multi layered story is one that you’ll want to watch again and which will keep you thinking and talking for days.


Trailer:

Marina Antunes
Fassbender for life.

17 Comments

  1. ENEMY is my favourite film of 2014 so far.

    It is significantly better (far, far more engaging) than Richard Aoyade’s THE DOUBLE, which hasn’t came out in regular release, but obviously I picked the wrong doppelgänger movie to watch at TIFF last year.

    I was also a big fan of BLINDNESS, like ENEMY it is also an Canadian co-production/adaptation of a José Saramago novel.

    Reply
    • Well Kurt, you convinced me to rewatch ENEMY and, after doing so, I can now say that I like the film.

      It’s definitely a much more cerebral film than THE DOUBLE, though I like that film too.

      Reply
  2. Saw it again last night. Convinced that the opening quote is the key. I’ve been trying to piece together the scenes to make sense of the story and when you start playing with the order of events, things start to drop into place. I can’t wait to have this thing on DVD to really piece it together. LOVE.

    Reply
    • I love the opening quote. It’s taken directly from the novel, although the film attributes it to nobody or source, just fires it up there and off we go.

      I don’t think you need too much of a ‘key’ – much of what the film is about is staring you in the face, they’re not being too obtuse about it…

      Reply
      • I disagree. I don’t think it’s purposefully obtuse but I don’t think it’s obvious either. I consider myself a literate movie goer and it wasn’t obvious to me on first viewing but on second it definitely makes more sense. And yet, I didn’t really get it the first time around and I still loved it. It almost feels like I’ve seen two different movies.

        Reply
  3. Endured a Varsity cinema 7 experience complete with snoring and loud eating in front of me and still loved it. I haven’t read any theories online, on first watch have a lot of questions. Spoilers ahead I guess… Feel that the car crash zoom in on the window is significant beyond just the surface symbolism, perhaps the key to spider motif throughout. That and the idea that he would choose to meet himself in a seedy hotel, feels like this is all a guilt-ridden last gasp dream staring out the broken window of an affair gone awry.

    I like this better than Ayoade’s The Double, but still enjoyed the hell out of it too.

    Did you read the Saramago novel, Kurt?

    Reply
  4. My letterboxd review, same thing I said just a bit clearer:

    My kind of movie: obtuse, atmospheric, ponderous. I think the line “chaos is but order undeciphered” is a gauntlet tossing challenge to the viewer. On only one viewing here’s my meager attempt at making sense of what was onscreen (spoilers): the close-up zoom on the cobwebbed broken glass window of the car crash (buried in the movie) is the key to unlocking the spider motif. What if the entire movie is a guilt-ridden, last gasp dream of a man dying in a car beside his mistress, every so often lucidly staring out through the spiderweb glass. His last fantasy is to be a different version of himself, a gentler version worthy of his wife and unborn child. The presence of the spider is to remind him both of his lust (the anatomical horror imagery) and of his tragic reality. The movie ends with the gentler version of himself succumbing to his curiosity and following the dark passions of his old ways thus ending the fantasy and bringing him face-to-face with the spider. The first encounter of the dopplegangers is made in a seedy hotel, again insinuating that this is about guilt manifesting itself.

    5/5

    Reply
    • Maybe the geographical error in reporting the car crash is because it is not hte same car crash, and the car crash never really happened.

      Much of my interpretations on the film can be found on my facebook page from a couple weeks ago when I saw the film.

      Reply
      • also if there is a particular yellow light in that scene could justify the use of it throughout.

        will check for your interpretation.

        The crash is under the Gardiner, I thought the report said that too

        Reply
        • I was thinking Eraserhead too. and I see your angle with the spider but it doesn’t explain the “ordered chaos” of the movie. If you see the crash as the point of departure for everything else, motivations throughout make sense. The spider as anxiety of having a baby doesn’t explain the doppleganger. I see the movie as more about guilt than fear of being a father. The place they choose to meet is a seedy hotel.

          Reply
  5. ****spoilers**** ****spoilers**** ****spoilers**** ****spoilers********spoilers**** ****spoilers********spoilers**** ****spoilers********spoilers**** ****spoilers****

    also “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way” suggests an attempt to overcome an obstacle… the father angle is not played at all in the movie whereas as guilt of cheating is all over it. The obstacle to overcome is his adultery on the cusp of being a family man.

    Reply
  6. ****spoilers**** ****spoilers**** ****spoilers**** ****spoilers********spoilers**** ****spoilers********spoilers**** ****spoilers********spoilers**** ****spoilers****

    Also if you recall, it is the cheating scene that you get crossover experience between the two Jakes, like he senses the wrong of what is happening, overcome with guilt. The whole ringfinger thing could have been a real memory, something that started a fight that lead to the accident (if the real Jake was hiding his marriage from his mistress).

    Reply
  7. I still see my theory fitting, but this video explanation does a great job of connecting the dots

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9AWkqRwd1I

    repost my theory:

    I came up with a different interpretation that plays off of the original line “chaos is order yet undeciphered” that still plays into the same thematic points the video brings up. The only difference is the entire movie is a fantasy in Jake’s head. The “order” refers to the sequence of events being out of order, with the catalyst to it all buried inside the film, the car crash. What if there was a cheating movie actor Jake and there was a pregnant wife at home and there was a scene where the girlfriend figured out he was married and it all went down like that and Jake found himself dying inside a crashed car beside his mistress, and as he lay dying seeing how he has ruined his life, staring out the window cracked like a spiderweb, he fantasizes about being a better version of himself, the professor Jake. The movie is the manifestation of those two personalities playing out in a dying man’s mind. The spider can still play as metaphorical for women with all the clever associations it contains, but it is also a trigger for reality, the reality of his true self, his true situation. When the better version of himself eventually succumbs to the darker passions, the reality hits him full force, the giant spider appears, and he looks defeated realizing what really happened and the fantasy is over.

    So I don’t see it as split-personality, but more a wish fulfillment fantasy that gets mired by the realities of his true self. The order of events needs to be rearranged to see it, the long lingering shot on the broken window, the exact moment the other Jake has a telepathic connection with the other events and starts crying. The only time they are emotionally in sync.

    Reply
    • This theory makes more sense than the other ones I’ve seen. I have a rewatch ahead. Interested to see if it makes the movie any better for me. I found it so plodding and without personality on a base entertainment level that I don’t know if a clearer plot or new theories will make a difference.

      Reply

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