I don’t think I liked it, but I appreciated the effort. Enemy succeeds in creating a mind-frame of psychological hell. Jake Gyllenhaal is a morose history professor named Adam Bell who lives in a shabby impersonal apartment, has few hobbies, and lives for the lecture hall orations he gives. And lives to screw his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent), also cold as stone. He rents a movie one day and notices a doppelganger of himself. The actor in the video is Anthony Clair (also Gyllenhaal), and he sounds just like him, too. Adam thinks he should meet his doppelganger, what is to be gained of it, the film does not say. It’s just one of those weird life mysteries that should be figured out, I guess. Meeting someone else who is nearly identical, and yet supposedly not a lost brother, is disarming. All this set-up is intriguing, and cinematically it is oozing a kind of dread of the unknown.
Based on the novel “The Double” by Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago (“Blindness” was an award winner and film adaptation), “Enemy” is certainly a director’s piece more than a literary appreciation. Denis Villeneuve has previously made the intimate war crimes drama “Incendies” and kidnapping drama “Prisoners,” films that will undoubtedly hold up over time. And so here is “Enemy,” which confirms that Villeneuve is an astonishingly talented filmmaker, the craft is there, but ultimately – is this really a story worth telling?
The communications between doubles have a David Lynch “Lost Highway” kind of quality – distrusting and spooky-surreal. Adam and Anthony share cryptic phone calls with each other, the response is less friendly than a threat, they are unsettled by each other when they meet in an encounter, and then, one blackmails the other: Anthony wants sex with Adam’s girlfriend of all things. Anthony is not having much sex with his pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon, “Cosmopolis”), and it’s with her character that I began to realize what’s wrong with the film. This character, and other secondary characters, don’t act as if they belong in the real world. It’s okay to make a film where Adam and Anthony both have minds unraveling before us, but does everybody else have to talk like some kind of detached zombie, too?
“Enemy” is so very much like another film that I can’t help but compare it. That would be David Cronenberg’s 2002 film “Spider” in which the entire film had entered the hermetically troubled mind of Ralph Fiennes, a mumbling schizophrenic, and we see everything through his point-of-view. Villeneuve has a point-of-view as well for his film, but I don’t think it is consistent. He also seems to regard Cronenberg’s film as well, even symbolically using spiders on several occasions. Villeneuve ends film on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment that undercuts everything we have just seen, and help me if I hadn’t wished I had instant replay in the theater when I saw it since it happens so fast.
There is a cult audience for challenging, mesmeric, esoteric art films like this. Movie audiences that read Kafka at home, that read David Cronenberg interviews in their spare time, that know of Villenueve’s previous two films. I don’t think “Enemy” adds up completely, but for one looking for something to boggle the mind, this will do.
90 Minutes. Rated R.
PSYCHOLOGICAL HORROR / CEREBRAL / LATE NIGHT FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “Spider” (2002); “The Machinist” (2004); “Keane” (2004); “Blindness” (2008).