Words: Rob DeStefano
A library with no late fees encourages movie hoarding: sometimes five movies for five months. There was this one particular dust-collector, an unknown titled The Exploding Girl that came with a nested surprise. About halfway through, the camera briefly, though almost deliberately, isolated an actress. She was a friend of mine. Granted, it was a non-speaking role, but what was she doing here? She wasn’t “in the business” nor had she any aspirations to become a performer, at least not to my knowledge. Bumping into someone at the grocery store? A common phenomenon. Picking up a movie you’ve never heard of and finding a friend in it? Startling, confusing, and comical.
Now what if I saw myself on the screen? That would probably remove the humor from it. What might be more unnerving than the multitude of questions I would have is the singular answer behind it all. This is the set-up for Denis Villeneuve’s latest feature, Enemy, which puts his character through a psychological nightmare in search of some maybe unattainable truth. The sinister external world, reflective of a character’s inner turmoil, has been a common thread in his previous films. But unlike the strict plot structure that gave support to frayed morals in Prisoners, for example, Villeneuve now takes a strong dive into encompassing ambiguity, making Enemy more of an experiment than a taught and full-fledged mystery.
The collaboration between Jake Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve continues, with the actor playing Adam Bell, a history teacher who seems to have no real connection to his students, and an even more distant rapport with his girlfriend Mary (Meleanie Laurent). A coworker, who apparently has no regard for Adam’s film queue, recommends Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way – a cleverly ominous title. Lo and behold, Adam breaks from his mundane schedule (a quiet dinner with Mary followed by routine sex that always seems to end with interruption) and rents the movie. Right before the credits hit, he notices a bellhop character who is identical in appearance. Adam snags the actor’s name, Anthony St. Claire, and a parallel story begins to unfold. Anthony lacks Adam’s staggering stride and broken confidence; he drives a motorcycle, is married to his expecting wife Helen (Sarah Gadon), and loves blueberries, not the conventional ones, but the organic ones that he can use in his post-workout smoothie. “Damn it, Helen! You bought the wrong blueberries!” Adam resorts to amateur sleuthing to track down this doppelgänger and find an answer to this cosmically unexplained event.
Enemy is so enigmatic that I can’t help but to recall two similarly modern films that navigate this cerebral, pseudo-horror landscape. The first, Only God Forgives, played more like a dark fever-dream, with such a strong eye toward style that it forced its characters and story out of the picture. Far more effective was the British film Kill List, which retained both a unique aesthetic and grotesque symbolism, while still packaging clear ideas into the monstrous fairy-tale it is. Enemy lands somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
Its choice of imagery is the spider – arachnophobics steer clear. The opening sequence involves a tarantula walking off a gold serving dish as a nude woman seductively threatens to crush it beneath her feet. There is no shortage of the creature’s imprints: trolleys glide beneath webs of suspended cable, cracks run through windows in entangling lattices, and even the photography of buildings evokes ensnaring webs rather than the laws of physics that uphold them. In a hallucination, we see a spider-woman slink down a seedy club’s hallway, Villeneuve’s biggest clue in denoting femininity to this insect. Lust and its subsequent partner, infidelity, are written all over the film. Perhaps it is this adulterous duality that rouses and sickens Adam or Anthony. Or maybe the director just had a penchant for spiders this time around.
For such a muddled work, there is something far too simplistic at the core: the nudging inclination that this might have been better served as a short film. The two male characters are boldly dull. I reiterate, one scoffs at disadvantaged blueberries and sits atop a motorcycle – what broad strokes. Unfortunately the women, both played by talented actresses, are even more underserved. And as if to distract from these scripted shortcomings, most scenes are accompanied by a deafening score, which reminds us that once you have formulated your thoughts on plot logistics, the noise will fade, and you will be free from the echoes and callbacks that a filmmaker like David Lynch infuses in nearly all of his mystifying projects. This is not to say that Enemy is a failure, but it does feel less like a fully realized concept than something Villeneuve had to expel from his system.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Javier Gullon; Novel: Jose Saramago
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
Production Co: Rhombus Media, Roxbury Pictures, Mecanismo Films
US Distribution: A24
Release Date: March 14 2014
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