The Film: Enemy (2013)
The Principles: Written by José Saramago (based on the novel by) & Javier Gullón Directed by Denis Villeneuve Acted by Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon.
The Premise: While watching a film, Adam (Gyllenhaal) sees an actor who appears to be his exact double (Anthony, also Gyllenhaal). As Adam makes contact with Anthony, more questions arise as to their identical nature and things get nasty. Oh, and there are tarantulas.
Is It Good?: It’s a’ight. Last year’s Prisoners was a pleasant surprise from director Denis Villeneuve and this quickly became one of my most anticipated films of the year. Enemy is by no means a disappointment, but I’m beginning to see what it is that Villeneuve does well and what rubs me the wrong way about his work. As to the former, he gets great, nuanced performances out of Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake BLINKED his way through a personal-best performance in Prisoners, but he does something even more interesting here. As Adam, he’s a shoe-gazing neurotic with a fashion sense to match his history professor profession. As Anthony, he’s a preening, blueberry loving cheater who rehearses his threats in the mirror. Both are exceptionally well realized characters (despite my simplified summation of each) and, frankly, the best part of the movie.
But it’s unclear who these two people are to one another, since their identical-ness extends beyond shared scars to something psychologically deeper. One of Adam’s lectures goes over pacification tactics from regimes throughout history, which seems like an obvious key to the story’s bigger picture. Is there a farm of Gyllenhaals out there somewhere, waiting to bump into each other on the streets of Toronto? Well, yeah, there might be…
What does it all mean? Frankly, that’s not as important as what this might mean to the characters. The sci-fi is a motor to drive these two people into each others lives and to see what happens from there. Some of it is interesting, like Anthony’s wife (Sarah Gadon) meeting Adam for the first time. She knows who he is, but he’s clueless about her and watching the confused horror slowly spread across her face as he obliviously asks how far along she is in her pregnancy is a fantastic acting showcase for everyone involved. Those human moments sing when the film’s elliptical editing isn’t getting in the way. Though to be fair, some of that works too; particularly, in a moment where Adam runs into a character who thinks he’s Anthony, and it’s suddenly revealed that we as an audience were wrong about which of the two characters we’ve seen in an earlier scene. Confused yet?
You could easily get hung up on the final shot of the movie, which is one of the great “what the fuck?” moments of the year. I think it says a lot about Adam and Anthony—who they might be and whose interests they may serve—but it’s also just a great gag at the end of a deathly serious film. Out of nowhere we’re in They Live territory, which all but assures a re-watch to fully wrangle what Villaneuve and his team were up to. I’m up for that, but I’m also in no particular hurry.
Random Anecdotes: It is apparently illegal to film a movie in Toronto without Sarah Gadon. She’s been in David Cronenberg’s last couple of films, as well as his son Brandon’s directorial debut, Antiviral. I like her. She’s greyhound thin and slightly etherial.
Apparently there are no tarantulas in Saramago’s novel.
Melanie Laurent gets far too little to do here, with the exception of one moment, where, once again, the elliptical storytelling reveals a deeper meaning to an earlier scene. She acts the hell out of that moment, but it’s just a moment and Laurent is too talented to get sidelined like this.
Is It Worth A Look?: Yeah.
Cinematic Soulmates: Primer, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Dead Ringers