(15) Running time: 90 minutes
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Jose Saramago, Javier Gullon
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon, Melanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve burst onto the scene with the critically acclaimed drama Incendies in 2010, following his little known but both highly acclaimed films Polytechnique (2009) and Maelstrom (2000). However, it was his box office hit Prisoners which pushed him into the big leagues, and lifted the gifted director to levels of brilliance. Considering how early he is into his career (six films with two more on the way), to pull off something as stunning as Prisoners (also starring Jake Gyllenhaal) is quite an achievement. What I find even more incredible is that just before making Prisoners, his first big budget Hollywood thriller, he made a much smaller film called Enemy. Enemy is a film of a much smaller budget and a smaller cast but comes with bags of ideas, a brain twisting finale, and leaves one hell of a lasting impression.
In short, Enemy is just as effective as Prisoners, but in a totally different way, and proves once more that Villeneuve is a director to keep track of. It also proves, yet again, that Jake Gyllenhaal is a superb actor, and with the right director, he can pull off greatness. While not quite a masterpiece like Prisoners, Enemy is an altogether different kind of beast, and one which demands repeat viewings if you are to solve the puzzle.
Coming off like a cross between David Lynch and David Cronenberg, with some Stanley Kubrick thrown in for good measure, Enemy is an unnerving, unsettling and unbelievably disorientating headfuck of a movie, and Villeneuve, the sneaky slithering scumbag, refuses to explain his films meaning. Hurray to that I say, and I love the fact that there are still directors out there that are happy to leave the audience hanging at the end, open up a can of worms and say “go figure”. These traits were important to the director, who himself said this was his homage to the above masters of messing with your brain. Kubrick would have been proud, and I am sure Lynch and Cronenberg will have given Enemy the thumbs up.
The plot, for the most part, is kept very simple as Villeneuve slowly unravels layers upon layers of teases, information and ideas that throw you off the scent (if indeed you knew what you were actually looking for). Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a boring teacher who works all day, and has routine sex with his girlfriend at night after a glass of wine and marking papers. He doesn’t get out much, and this is his routine, day after day. However, one day while on lunch break at work, another teacher asks if he likes films, to which Adam responds “I don’t really watch a lot of films”. The man recommends a local movie, Adam rents it and spots an actor who is identical to him in the film. The man is called Anthony, he is married with a baby on the way, and Adam begins a search to find out who Anthony is.
To say much more would spoil the story, but on face value that is the basic premise of the film, and Villeneuve has kept the story simple enough, to allow the more intelligent ideas to slowly trickle through. However, there is so much more to try and get your head around, and one watch is really not enough. For starters you can enjoy the film for Villeneuve’s masterful filmmaking style: faded colours create a dreamlike state, symmetrical buildings (some of them fascinating to behold), lots of pairs (two identical doors, two phone boxes, windows etc), the camera often shooting from the ground up, wide shots of the city of Toronto hinting at the horrors within (plus a bizarre shot of a giant spider crawling over the city). Villeneuve’s filming style reminds of films from master directors like Kubrick and Roman Polanski, keeping his camera still, and offering plenty of clues by cleverly bringing important aspects of the story into focus. Wide shots, normal shots (none of this shaky-cam nonsense), and other weirder shots using close-ups and claustrophobic angles (much like Lynch) make Enemy feel like a homage to the great directors with inventive ideas, but also like nothing else you have ever seen before. The music does wonders to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat too (a sudden jolt from normal life to being in a film is guaranteed to induce panic), and Enemy really builds a sense of unease.
Throughout the film you will not have a clue what it is you are looking for, and this is the beauty of Enemy, you will have absolutely no idea where it is heading. My advice is to just go with it, enjoy it and do the hard work once the final shot has hit you like a sledgehammer. Don’t even try to figure this out before the film finishes, because you will not decipher it, I promise you that.
Gyllenhaal does a superb job as Adam and Anthony, and brings both a tortured soul and a cocky rock star like actor to the screen brilliantly. You believe in his performance, and you actually believe he is two different people, and that is the mark of his truly wonderful acting abilities here. The supporting cast, including the sultry and quiet Sarah Gadon, the seductive and aggressive Melanie Laurent and a great cameo from Isabella Rossellini, all add characters who are vital to the story, but this is Gyllenhaal’s show, and yes he absolutely nails it.
(possible spoilers ahead)
There are images here that will deeply unsettle as spiders appear more and more throughout the film, and their meanings could be any number of things. They could be Adam’s conscience from cheating on his wife, to a fear of commitment while other theories have said the spiders are actually aliens controlling humans, like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. There are many wild theories about this film, but my advice is to try and figure it out yourself because there does not appear to be any definitive answers. And this, my friends, is a good thing, so long live the discussion of Enemy, and long may Villeneuve keep the secrets of his film hidden. Enemy is very clever, maybe too clever, but it is a rewarding ride, even if you can’t figure it out. It certainly provokes the brain actually having to do some work, and will generate great discussions among fans who all have their own theories to the films meaning. Intense stuff indeed.