Enemy is a film that I have been waiting patiently to see for a long time. I liked Villeneuve’s last film, Prisoners, even if it was slightly flawed, and in Enemy he reteams with Gyllenhaal again so I was excited to see the results. Add to that the interesting conceit of having two Jake Gyllenhaal performances in one movie, and I was even more excited. The movie lived up to my expectations for the most part, only to the pull the rug out from them at the end by having the movie make about zero sense.
Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a bored history professor at a university in Toronto, who thinks he spots his doppelganger in a local independent film. He tracks down the actor, named Anthony Clair (Jake Gyllenhaal), and makes contact with him. This turns out to be a very bad idea, as Clair takes this opportunity to ingratiate himself into Adam’s life in disturbing ways. The two meet each other’s significant others, Adam’s girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent) and Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon), and it gets about as weird as you’d think. Also appearing is Isabella Rossellini as Adam’s mother, who assures him that the doubles are not brothers.
The film is so wonderfully set up that it’s a shame that the pieces don’t come together. We’re sort of chasing down two mysteries at once, one is (obviously) why are these two men exactly the same and what are they going to do about it (the film focuses more on the second than the first), and the other is what are these strange symbolic spiders doing in this movie. In the beginning we see some sort of creepy sex show involving a tarantula, which later seems to be run by Anthony, or he at least has some high involvement. Later we see a woman with a spider head and a giant spider moving about the city, though these seem to be in Adam’s dreams we can never really be sure. What’s less interesting than the possible physical reality of the spiders is what they are supposed to represent, and honestly I have no idea. What’s even worse is that it’s never really connected to the story of the doubles at all; it’s impossible to tell what the spiders are doing in this movie. This becomes super important considering the ending.
There is actually an interpretation on wikipedia that makes some amount of sense, but I defy anyone to actually get that from the movie without having some help. We hear Adam lecturing at the beginning about a pattern of totalitarian states erasing the identities of their subjects, but Adam is talking about this is such a preoccupied manner that it’s hard to hear these words as important the first time through the movie. Anyway, the idea of there being two Jake Gyllenhaals is supposed to clue us into the fact that Toronto is now taken over by some totalitarian government, erasing everyone’s individuality. Whether this is literal or figurative is of little importance. This unseen government is then compared to a spider’s web, and the characters all are caught in it as in an unfriendly regime. That’s all well and good, except good luck trying to figure all of that out based on some seemingly throw away lines Adam has at the beginning.
That said, the movie is incredibly involving until the very last frame. Even though the separate parts of the movie seemed to be very random, I was always thinking that they would tie together in the end. I was completely wrong, and that sort of negates everything that comes before, but nevertheless I was fully behind the movie until that moment. It’s very slow paced, but it doesn’t feel like it. The score is very effective; it creeps you out more than the visuals sometimes. Villeneuve manipulates the color scheme in a way reminiscent of David Fincher, everything is a grimy sort of yellow that makes the world look unclean and bleak. The film also employs jump cuts quite frequently, which add to the mystery and keep the audience on their toes.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s performances are undoubtedly the highlight of this movie. He is able to successfully create two completely different characters, despite looking so much alike. When they are both in a scene together, it’s not too hard to tell them apart. Adam is less sure of himself than Anthony is, and though they pursue similar things they do so for different reasons and in different ways. Gyllenhaal embodies his characters so effectively that you can tell which character he is playing even before he opens his mouth, and when he does, it just becomes that much more clear. Sarah Gadon also turns in an effective performance as Helen, but Melenie Laurent is underused.
I believe that Enemy could have been a great movie, and it only needed to do one thing to get there: make the connection with the totalitarian government more clear. Literally everything else falls into place. There’s a great first half of a movie here, and Villeneuve should have kept going. He needs to make his symbols actually stand for something, instead of just being there as symbols whose significance is so unclear that they become hindrances to the story and the points he’s making.
“Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
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