Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered.
A giant spider slowly walks across a bleak Toronto skyline. A history teacher sees a man that looks just like him in a random movie. A pregnant woman thinks her husband may be cheating on her. A mother is just happy her son is no longer satisfied being a third-rate actor. These are a few of the facts that make up Denis Villeneuve‘s Lynchian new film Enemy, a film I’m still processing and perhaps forever will.
Based on “The Double” by Nobel Laureate JosÃ© Saramago, Enemy drowns the mood in darkness as the film opens with a man walking down a long, dark corridor. We’ll later recognize him as D-level actor Anthony Clair (Jake Gyllenhaal), but here he is just one of many men, gazing wide-eyed as women dance naked for their pleasure. The dance ends and two more women make an appearance, carrying a sterling silver tray, placing it on the floor and lifting the lid. A tarantula is revealed and it slowly crawls off the tray as one of the women moves to squash the arachnid under her heel. Cut to black…
A university professor, Adam Bell (also Gyllenhaal), is lecturing on chaos and dictators, their want for control and the repetitious nature of history itself. He goes home where he finds his girlfriend, Mary (MÃ©lanie Laurent), waiting for him. They fuck*. He sleeps. He wakes. She’s gone. He lectures on dictators. Rinse and repeat until one day at lunch a co-worker recommends a movie, something “cheerful”. He goes home, sends Mary to bed alone and stays up to watch. The movie ends. He goes to bed. Forces himself on Mary who pushes him off. She leaves. He sleeps and wakes with a start.
A scene from the movie he’d just seen replayed in his dreams features the man he’ll soon come to know as Anthony Clair, his exact look-a-like, and he can’t get it out of his head. He must contact him. He does and the actor’s wife (Sarah Gadon) answers. Recognizing his voice, she mistakes him for her husband, but as a result of Adam’s stumbling she soon believes he’s a jealous husband/boyfriend, calling to contact the man whose been sleeping with his wife/girlfriend. What is going on?
The tangled web gets increasingly complex as one scene bleeds into another and the text that opens the film (and this review) continues to come to mind. The film itself is chaos and, seemingly, without order. Once the film ends it’s as if Villeneuve has given you a puzzle and you must move the scenes around to decipher the narrative. Clues are peppered throughout, but even they are ambiguous to a point there actually might not be one true answer as much as there may be several.
What’s clear, and in no way a spoiler, is that Adam and Anthony aren’t doppelgÃ¤ngers, they’re the same person. Which one is real and which one is a figment of this man’s fractured psyche is unclear, and in fact it’s likely neither wholly represent the conscience they share. Thus is the beauty of Enemy.
Along with the films of David Lynch, Fight Club will be a continuous go-to when trying to find a narrative comparison, but even David Fincher‘s film is far more straight-forward than what you’re getting into here. Enemy is pure menace and manipulation, a look at the objectification of women, an examination of the male ego and the want for control, all accompanied by a steady, rumbling score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans and the dark and dreary cinematography of Nicolas Bolduc, painting a grey and amber aura over the city of Toronto and the life of this troubled man.
Enemy is a film you won’t want to watch on your own. You’ll want to absorb as much as you can and take what you’ve learned and order the chaos with others. When it came down to trying to figure out if I liked it or not I had to ask myself if I liked films such as Mulholland Dr. or Blue Velvet the first time I saw them. The answer is clear, if a director can manage to manipulate our interpretation of a film while also engaging us with a confounding piece of cinema he/she most certainly has created something I’ve enjoyed.
* I apologize for the vulgarity, but to merely suggest they have “sex” would be to downplay the act and its effect on the film. It’s not an act of love as much as it’s a show of power.