Attention, Negative Nellies of the world: Have I got a film for you (and Positive Pauls should probably look for kicks elsewhere). Enemy is a creepy flick, and I can't stop thinking about it. It's also quite terrific, or at the least, terrifically effective.
Enemy stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, a history teacher in Toronto who leads a fairly monotonous life floating through life: at school, driving home, and domesticity with his girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent). A normal question from a colleague shakes his routine: Do you ever watch movies? Adam's perturbed response makes the question seem more sinister that it ostensibly is.
Upon his teacher colleague's recommendation, Adam watches a cheerful-seeming, locally made film. It all takes a turn, though, when Adam realizes an actor in a small part looks exactly like him. It freaks him out and fascinates him. A little bit of Internet sleuthing and craftily playing off the fact that he's trying to find a man who's his spitting image, Adam tracks down the actor, Anthony St. Claire (Jake Gyllenhaal, too) and talks to Anthony's wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon). Adam and Anthony meet, and, pretty quickly, Adam decides this was all a very bad idea.
Enemy does a lot with a little. There's not much narrative meat on the bone, and even clocking in at a scant 90 minutes, the film progresses slowly. It's a deliberate choice, though, and the director (Denis Villeneuve), writer (Javier Gullón, adapting the novel The Double by José Saramago), editor (Matthew Hannam), and cinematographer (Nicolas Bolduc) opt for atmospherics over happenings.
The film opens with a series of moody sequences set to a dread score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans: a yellow skyline, a nude pregnant woman, men in a dark room watching a woman have an orgasm, and a tarantula on a gold platter. These are evocative images enhanced by the unknown of how they fit together, underlined by the film's opening tag: "Chaos is order yet undeciphered."
The film is designed as a riddle, with the motifs of bizarre reveries punctuating the progress of the plot. Everything might be a crucial clue to solving the mystery. Offering tantalizing hints are Adam's lectures on oppressive regimes where control is the only concern and the individual is snuffed out; about patterns and the Marxist thought that history repeats itself, "first as tragedy, second as farce." Other clues: A body scar, a windshield cracked just so, a net of trolley wires, a key, graffiti, and lyrics to a songs by Faine Jade and the Walker Brothers. Or: maybe none of them matter.
Villeneuve (who also made Prisoners) is in control of this material. Like fellow Canadian David Cronenberg (who once made a movie about madness called Spider, I recall), Villeneuve creates such a feeling of dread and paranoia in his films that it encroaches on even the mundane. He gives the story space to breath and the audience time to get their bearings on the emotional map and to identify all of the relationship vectors in play. Sinister ideas are born and grow to massive size.
Gyllenhaal is roundly excellent. He finds little ways to express the ways Adam and Anthony are different and the ways they are inseparable, but not so much that you'd really notice or detract from the film's flow. Overall, he forms a notion of dominance and submissiveness in the connection between the pair, as if they're alleles of a gene. Adam carries his tortured weight as a physical toll on his body. Anthony is more menacing and secretive.
Enemy is a perfect film to see with a group and debate just exactly what happened over drinks or coffee. Theories can run lots of ways: Is it all psychosexual madness in the mindscape of one person, Adam, with a split personality, Anthony? Is it all Adam's life, but told non-chronologically? Is it a tale of twin brothers, Adam and Anthony, unknown to one another, that examines the emotional ramifications of their meeting? There is a rack of monsters in the film: Are they metaphors for Adam/Anthony's guilt or anger, lust or horror, repression or oppression? Or, most disturbing of all, can everything in Enemy be taken literally? (I can't shake this theory.) The only thing certain is, the ending is ... unforgettable.
Puzzles lose their power once they are solved, and since I haven't yet demystified the film, Enemy retains its hold over me.
Opens Friday, March 28th
Studio on the Square