Movie Review: ‘Enemy’
By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s an odd title for an oddity of a movie that begins with the legend, “Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”
Enemy is a head-scratching psychological erotic thriller, a dread-drenched drama that revolves around the age-old narrative device of someone meeting his double.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a professor of history at a Toronto university.
When we look in on his daily life, it seems to consist of him robotically commuting from his dreary apartment, where he lives with his girlfriend, Mary, played by Melanie Laurent, to the campus and its drab lecture halls, where he addresses obviously disinterested students, who are there because they paid for the privilege, and then he goes home to grade their uninspired papers.
When a colleague recommends a movie that he thinks might entertain him, Adam watches it at home and is flabbergasted to find an actor standing in the background of one scene who appears to be his exact double.
A combination of curiosity and paranoia eventuates into obsessiveness as Adam investigates -– starting with the film’s credits –- in an attempt to find out about and track down this startling doppelgänger.
Soon Adam is acting like a resourceful stalker and finds himself face to face with a struggling actor named Anthony St. Claire, also played by Gyllenhaal. They are so strikingly similar in just about every physical way, as lookalikes and soundalikes, that Adam is stunned.
So he stops by to see his mother, played by Isabella Rossellini, to inquire as to whether it’s possible that he’s a twin and was never informed of the truth.
Of course not, she says.
But obsessiveness can work in two directions: Anthony, a much more aggressive sort than Adam, has a pregnant wife at home, played by Sarah Gadon, who suspects her spouse of continuing an ongoing affair. But that doesn’t stop him from bullying Adam and then finding a way to switch identities with him in a way that fools Mary, whose bed Anthony soon finds himself in.
Is this actually happening, we find ourselves thinking and asking? Just how literally should we be taking all this? Are these occurrences perhaps just the projections of a disturbed mind? Is one of them simply imagining the other? And, if we are actually trapped inside someone’s head, whose head would that be?
Director Denis Villeneuve — who was at the helm of last year’s brilliantly suspenseful and underappreciated thriller about suburban vigilantes, Prisoners (which was shot after Enemy), as well as the powerful Incendies in 2010 –- opens and closes his film with images that are dreamlike and ambiguous and disorienting. But the pull of the film’s middle section is so powerful, it can’t but be disappointing when the resolution is as fuzzy as it is.
Yet it’s dream logic that is being employed here instead of pure logic, and the effect is both fascinating and bothersome.
The enigmatic screenplay by Javier Gullon (let’s carefully describe it as Kafkaesque with a spider standing in for the cockroach) is based on The Double (which would be a much better and more apt title), the 2002 novel by José Saramago.
Gyllenhaal, always an interesting actor, handles the double role adroitly, creating two distinct characters without working up much of a thespian sweat.
But the ending, the film’s very last shot -– which for obvious reasons cannot be discussed here -– is so abrupt, so unexpected, and for some viewers (including this one) so infuriating, it makes you begrudgingly replay the entire movie in your mind while resenting the time you put in on an otherwise worthwhile viewing experience.
Put it this way: the puzzling last piece of this puzzle makes you want to throw the whole puzzle away.
So we’ll look exactly like 2 stars out of 4 for the stimulating but annoying and frustrating surrealistic drama featuring the two Jakes in double trouble, Enemy. This particular helping of chaos will apparently remain undeciphered.