What an awesome poster.
It’s 2 am currently. I have just witnessed the film Enemy, directed by Denis Villeneuve, and I’m absolutely perplexed. This is a small consuming film that’ll imprint itself in your psyche. I hesitate to even describe what this film is about…because I’m not entirely sure what it all means at this point. The film opens with the words:
“Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered”
The film opens with a mysterious scene of men staring up at a woman who begins to step on a spider. I will say no more but it’s one of the more memorable opening scenes in quite some time and is a key to the film’s meaning. The film then glides through dream-like aerial shots of Toronto. The sepia and yellow tinted color makes everything look sick. It’s a city that’s decaying, and so are the people. Nicola Bolduc’s cinematography is straight out of a B monster movie. Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of his best performances ever as Adam Bell, a paranoid history teacher who has a decaying relationship with his girlfriend, played by Melanie Laurent. He drones on about dictators and philosophy in his class and then comes home to his girlfriend who he’s only interested in physically. After Adam sees what he thinks is a person exactly like him in a movie, he begins to investigate. The man’s name is Anthony. Adam begins to shadow Anthony and eventually contacts his wife, Helen.
Sarah Gadon is a standout as Helen. It’s emotionally nuanced work from her with only a small amount of screen time. She’s the only character whose point of view we slightly get to see other than Adam and Anthony, and there’s reason for that. Her moments on screen allow us to briefly question their POV’s. Are Adam and Anthony twins? Are they the same person? Adam is logical, restrained and calm while Anthony is artistic, animalistic and impulsive.
The film gets weirder as it plunges into the minds of these two men’s sexual desires and identity. It pits male despair against male desire. Gyllenhaal’s performance is nuanced enough to spot differences between them, but he remains rooted enough to make us question all that we see. Divulging any more info would be a crime. It’s best to go into it knowing nothing about the actual plot or imagery. Just know the result is puzzling, engaging, and strangely cathartic. Largely this film will appeal to 20-30 something males that enjoy dark existential and psychological flicks. So, yes I’m exactly who this film was made for.
The best way to describe the film is that it’s like a David Lynch/Hitchcock hybrid. Not quite at their level, but it’s similar in tone and structure. I guess my larger point is that there’s a strong new voice in cinema. Denis Villenueve has arrived. Incendies and Prisoners showed promise, but this is a substantial leap up the ladder. His previous films have great senses of mood but lack the script strength to hold the piece together. Enemy’s abstractions and B-movie preminse allow him to full flex his filmmaking muscles without having to rely on a convetnional script. The B-movie esque premise takes itself serious, but has the self awareness to not become a joke. There’s a full commitment to the absurdity of the situation that drags us as viewers into it. He manages to have fun with what he’s doing to us but it also feels strikingly personal. Only a few times does the material feel undercooked and end up a bit out of reach for him.
It might be too “out there” or different for some viewers that aren’t used to more abstract arthouse flicks. I do believe this film is accessible enough for most viewers though. There’s a clear story here that we follow but it delivers symbolism and clear themes along the way. This film has ideas and symbolism on its mind more than it does plot, which I found to be refreshing. The symbolism works as a counterpart to parallel what’s happening with the characters. It’s sort of visual exposition to what’s actually going on. It attempts David Lynch’s singular style of surrealism but lacks the intangible quality which makes it feel “solvable,” and that’s perhaps the only notable flaw here.
The smaller story centered on a few locations and characters with lots of tight close up shots proves to be engaging and claustrophobic for the viewer. It’s an enclosed vision of this man’s darkest desires with images presented to you that tap into philosophical and psychological ideas. It’s the pairing of images with an eerie score and unsettling sounds that creates an eerie atmosphere. In terms of what the film is getting at…… It lets you put the pieces together. Trust me, it all fits together and after thinking about the symbols and motifs it becomes apparent what the film is exploring. Male Id vs. Ego. Masculinity vs. Femininity. The symbolic representation of spiders, webs, and the lost key that opens the locked room of one’s deepest desires…. Villeneuve puts on an entertaining clinic exploring these ideas.
The ideas are slightly constrained because of its run time. Give this film a thicker script with more reliance on visuals and you’re looking at Eraserhead 2.0. You won’t encounter many films with this much powerful ammo in such a small gun. Few times have I ever been as scared as I was during a certain point in this film. It has echoes of Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.
Enemy is at times an abstract horror film and leaves the clues for you to solve while also treading into the depths of marriage and psychology. The film is a mysterious puzzle and you hold the key to it. I haven’t been so consumed by a small film in a while. The script is is ripe with hidden meaning and the characters are written well, but it’s Gyllenhaal’s great performance and Villeneuve’s atmospheric direction that elevates this to a high level. Without the spiders and symbolism it’d perhaps be a less interesting movie, but this all feels of a piece and like a personal vision.
All at once it’s confusing, absurd, and scary. It’s a bastard child of Alfred Hitchcock’s that was locked in the basement. It’s one of the better analysis’ of mans nature this decade (The Master and Drive are great as well). It’s a B horror movie that entertains viewers while also challenging them by exploring identity and intimacy. It also boasts one of the most shocking and bizarre endings to a film in years. Enemy plays like a long Twilight Zone episode, and like most Twilight Zone episodes, there’s something dark at the end of it.