by Philip Price
I'm not sure what to make of “Enemy.” It is unclear what exactly I'm meant to take away from the picture, but what is clear to me is that I can't stop going over certain scenes and trying to put together the significance of the actions of the characters, of the shot choices, the color palette, the deeply intentional mood and score and why it builds at certain points and simply sits and broods at others. I want to understand it completely, but I don't and I know even if I offered up a theory of what I thought the final scene means it would likely be completely different from the person who was sitting next to me in the same theater. It is a film and a story meant to elicit conversation, meant to stir up academic-like discussion and it is clear from the opening moments we are in for something extremely meditative that while equally as stark and emotionally haunting (if not more so) than director Denis Villeneuve's previous effort, “Prisoners,” is much more in tune with its scale and its compact story. Where “Prisoners” was a sweeping epic of large themes “Enemy” plays its hand close to the chest and is all the more intriguing for it. As each new scene plays out I couldn't help but to wonder what each little thing meant, what I was intended to take away and if it would result in some revelation I'd already imagined in my mind or if it might come completely out of left field and take me with real surprise. The film opens with a quote simply stating that "chaos is order yet to be deciphered" and as we watch the strange story unravel I couldn't help but to keep repeating this little phrase in my mind and wonder in what sense it was meant to apply to our main characters. The same could be said about any number of things that different people will pick out to latch onto, what is the deeper psychological meaning of the constant references to hands? I'm not sure still, but one thing that remains clear is that I found the film to be completely fascinating and I can't wait to watch it again, to dissect it further and to see just how many different conversations I can have about it.
If you are immediately intrigued by just how transfixed I seem to be with the film and you go to see the film on this recommendation alone you will sit down and be introduced to a film that seems more along the lines of “Only God Forgives” than that of Villeneuve's previous film where the twist and turns were aplenty, but as you settle into it and agree with the pacing you will soon grow to understand not only why you're unable to take your eyes off the screen, but also why they will be searching every inch of it for some kind of clue as to what might actually be going on. We first meet Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a professor of history, who seems less than enthusiastic about his college classes and the constant repetition of the same lessons in different classes day in and day out. He seems to be stuck in a routine with his job, the grading of papers and the seemingly emotionless sex that takes place with girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). He is bored with life, but one night on the recommendation of a colleague Adam rents a movie and catches a glimpse of an actor in a small supporting role that seems to share an incredible likeness with himself. Adam begins to do some research and finds out the actor’s name, David Saint Claire, among other things to the point he takes a piece of mail that has been sent to the talent agency that represents David. He finds out his real name is Anthony and finds his phone number and goes so far as to call it where Anthony's pregnant wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), answers the phone and mistakes Adam for her husband as even their voices sound identical. Adam becomes slightly obsessed, but soon retracts his enthusiasm as things begin to take stranger and stranger turns to the point his personal life and everything about his once open and barren world seem to be getting smaller. It is an odd sense that is heightened by the consistent feeling of dread that lingers ever more present as the film progresses. It is hard to place a finger on the exact methods that Villeneuve employs to convey what he needs to make the audience feel a specific way, but he is a master of suspense in such a way that Hitchcock would be proud and likely even jealous of such an expertly crafted psychological thriller.
When it comes to films such as “Enemy,” where it seems the verdict on whether the film is ultimately satisfying or not is based on whether the big, final reveal is worthy of all that proceeded it it seems I always have trouble determining whether those means actually justify the end. This is especially true when I am completely taken with the closing sequences and give the rest of the movie a slight pass because the conclusion elevated it so. The majority of the time though, conventional Hollywood films are exactly that and are unable to offer anything truly enlightening or mind-blowing and so we have been conditioned not to expect too much at all and at the very least something we've likely seen before that may happen to have a slight twist on it. The worst is when the "twist ending" makes little sense in regards to the events that have built up to it and only exists so it might be given the title that comes with a twist in it. Still, throughout “Enemy” I never felt like I was being cheated or that anything was purposefully being hidden from us, but instead that we are given as much as the film can offer and that in large is due to the skillful writing from a screenplay by Javier Gullón that is adapted from the novel, "The Double" by José Saramago. Things are so tightly structured and so perfectly build one scene after another that we feel privy to consistent new information that moves the plot along while still keeping us in the dark on many of the details as to what is actually occurring. The other reason the film, or more precisely the story, plays out with more of a naturalistic feel than it would in the hands of a lesser actor is due to the performances of Gyllenhaal. There could be an entire college paper written on the duality of the two completely different characters he portrays here, but in a nutshell Gyllenhaal is able to take the disheveled Adam and the more put-together, more presentable Anthony and give them these distinctive attitudes where one is more apprehensive, the other more direct and confident while still echoing the body language, the specific inflections that give hint to showing that while the obvious personas are drastically different, the way in which they might be brought to being by either person are eerily similar.
All of that said, the real question is does the payoff justify the extremely engaging journey it takes to get there? Either that or does the fact you find yourself so wrapped up in trying to figure out the truth of the matter that you are actually unable to enjoy the film for what it is? Both questions came to mind as the credits began to roll and I sat there, in the theater watching as the names of all those who worked on the film popped up on the screen just hoping for a little more, something extra that may either confirm or deny one of the multiple theories already floating around in my head. The simple answer for both of these would be yes. I was able to enjoy it and I know that because I wanted to watch it again as soon as those final credits flickered to nothing but black and I know the end did in fact justify the means because it is hours later after watching the film and I still can't help but think back and want to have as many conversations with as many other people that have seen it as I can; I want to tell people, force them even, to go see it just so we can talk about it and if I love one thing about film more than anything else it is those that give way to great, stimulating conversation and “Enemy” has accomplished this with thoughts and ideas to spare. There is something almost disorienting about the film because at first glance it almost seems to simple, that the events in which it is chronicling and the way those events shape the attitudes of the characters make it feel so familiar that when the weird twists and turns we expect are not in any way perceptible we are thrown off and are not sure where to plant our feet; in what world are we? In what genre are we playing with? What rules apply or don't? There are as many questions as there are possible answers when it comes to “Enemy.” More than this too, the film is gorgeous as shot by Nicolas Bolduc and features such a keen, graceful eye from Villeneuve that even if we weren't entranced by the story and plot we'd be swept up in the visual style and the resonance of what these images may fully represent. All of these elements combine to create a complete product that will always be subjective, even to yourself, because none of us exist as one single thing all of the time.