Mar 16, 2014


The night I saw this film by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Incendies), he was at the theater warning people not to get upset and not to think they're crazy. In fact, at the end of the movie some people were upset and thought he was crazy. This may be a problem of audience expectations. If you are expecting a conventional thriller, you may feel your chain was yanked. But Enemy, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as two identical men, belongs to a rare genre of surreal movies. Think of this movie, based on a novel by José Saramago, as a cousin to Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. This will give you a better idea of genre.
Adam Bell, a brooding professor of philosophy, finds out he has a double, living near him in Toronto, which Villeneuve covers with a yellowish haze. Gyllenhaal is quite good, but as one of him freaks out about his double, one wonders what's the big deal. Why is he so tortured? Villeneuve answers our questions incrementally. One thing is to find someone who looks exactly like you; apparently we're all supposed to have a doppelganger. But who sounds like you? Who is you but not you? That's creepy.  As evidenced by what these guys do for a living, one teaches philosophy and his double is an actor, we are in the realm of existential questions. Neither of the guys is very defined as a character. There is not a lot of detail to their lives: metaphor central.
However, the reality of plot threatens the mystery that Villeneuve tries to sustain. Audiences will always ask logical questions: Why make an appointment to meet your double at a remote motel, instead of a well lit Starbucks?  Because this is more the world of dreams and Freudian symbols; not a playful movie about the mischievous possibilities of mistaken identity, but one shrouded in existential dread. Kudos go to the director for attempting to sustain the difficult trick of balancing the concrete logic of plot and the mystery of metaphor with a coherent, if humorless hand. On occasion, Enemy threatens to fall into ridiculousness, but Villeneuve saves it by suffusing it with a steady sense of dread. This is aided by beautiful and disturbing music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Juriaans, and by the way the camera seems to creep slowly into everything, including a somehow empty, yet always gridlocked Toronto.

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