Adaptation Enemy

Metaphysically Mind-Bending Film Review: Enemy

March 14, 2014Ben MK

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The two Jakes

By Ben Mk

Identity — it guides our morality, drives our everyday actions and informs our every decision. But what happens if our sense of identity is taken away? That's but one of the questions lurking in the long shadows of director Denis Villeneuve's psychological thriller, Enemy. In it, a man finds himself in the throes of an identity crisis of existential proportions — when he discovers that he isn't, as he thought, unique in the world — sending him on a journey into the depths of despair and darkness, and forcing him to confront his own worst enemy — himself.

Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal, who also gave a solid performance in Villeneuve's Prisoners) is an associate history professor who spends his days in the classroom and his nights grading papers, while his girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent), paces around his spartan and dimly lit apartment. Sometimes they make love, but other times he can barely be bothered to feign interest in her. In class, his lectures cover repeating patterns in history and reference Karl Marx's oft-quoted observation about history repeating itself "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." But life for Adam seems to have a way of imitating his work, as he himself seems fated to repeating the same pattern of drudgery, day in and day out, ad nauseam. One evening, the cycle of monotony is abruptly broken when, on the recommendation of a co-worker, Adam rents a movie called "Where there's a Will, there's a Way" and spots his doppelgänger — a man named Anthony Claire — in one of its scenes. Intrigued by his mysterious (and heretofore unknown) twin, he begins to pry into the details of Anthony's life, even going so far as to impersonate his double as a means of uncovering more information about him. But when his curiosity develops into obsession — leading him to try meeting with his identical twin in person — Adam quickly realizes that he's gone beyond the point of no return. When Anthony's pregnant wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), becomes involved, arousing his suspicions, he too becomes transfixed on bringing some form of closure to their shared mystery; and soon the two men become locked in an unwinnable struggle to establish dominance over one another.

Based on the 2002 novel, The Double, by Nobel Prize-winning scribe José Saramago, Enemy — which was shot in and around Toronto — is precisely the type of film that would find itself in good company among the ouevre of David Lynch or David Cronenberg. Villeneuve features the city and the ubiquity of its sprawling urban landscape prominently — from the geometric patterns found in the criss-crossing streetcar wires above King Street to the monolithic indifference of the many highrise developments — all seen through a lens that paints the bustling city as anything but, with a feeling of something alien and a brooding sense of isolation. By doing so, he leaves the door wide open for paranoia to creep into every frame of the film, which is constantly buzzing with a palpable tension that swirls around its core existential conundrum. Perhaps nothing is more telling of Villeneuve's intent to challenge viewers than the ominous statement (or is it a warning?) that prefaces the film — "Chaos is order undeciphered" — which essentially asks viewers to prepare for a tale that raises more questions than it answers.

And indeed, what follows from the film's opening frames is as brilliantly confounding and as thematically unnerving as anything that either Lynch or Cronenberg have ever committed to celluloid (take for instance, Mullholland Drive and Dead Ringers). Villeneuve and screenwriter Javier Gullón have planted clues throughout Enemy (some more abstract than others), hinting at something more sinister afoot, and leave many aspects of the plot open to interpretation. Of the two of them, is Adam the tragedy and is Anthony the farce, or is it the other way around? Do they share more in common than just their physical appearance? Is Adam's mother (Isabella Rossellini) somehow a part of a larger conspiracy? And what exactly is the metaphysical significance of the arachnid, in all its many forms? Perhaps a second viewing of the film will reveal the answers to some of these questions, or just give rise to more. Irregardless, viewers will leave the theater with enough fodder to haunt their dreams for days.

The Bottom Line

Not very many films can lay claim to this type of reaction, but Enemy's ending will surely leave viewers slack-jawed in their seats, wondering, "What just happened?" It's the kind of film that gets into your head and stays there for days, burrowing into your skull and depositing its mysteries deep in your subconscious. Those who wish to disregard all of the puzzling clues that it leaves behind to be deciphered can certainly enjoy it, based on its merits as a brooding and sexy thriller — but for those willing to go beyond the surface, Enemy has much more to offer than meets the eye. [★★★★]

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