Denis Villenueve’s “ENEMY” (Movie Review)
Lynchian, as a term, is often used as synonymous with something that’s simply weird. Specifically though, the director’s surreal visuals balloon not out of randomness or an overly complex plot, but a basic idea; a core emotion. It’s the frightening pictures and strange scenarios that manifest in your subconscious as a result of our fundamental anxieties that Lynch and Lynchian works are tapping into. To that end, Denis Villenueve’s ENEMY is entirely so (and that’s aside from the presence of Isabella Rossellini). A story of undeserved malaise and the old adage, “once a cheater, always so,” the film uncomfortably hangs above the audience just as a massive spider looms above Toronto in its main character’s nightmares.
Note: This review contains revealing details about the film.
It’s strange that Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal, in one of two stunning performances) is plagued by dreadful dreams when ENEMY’s world is so nightmarish to begin with, but what about this movie isn’t? What’s wonderful though is that this ill at ease, dreamlike atmosphere in which Toronto is awash in a sickly yellow and Adam’s life is upended by the discovery of a doppelganger, isn’t readily tethered to any sort of real world explanation. ENEMY’s end doesn’t line up a sudden reveal of what “really” happened. No, the final, horrifying shot of which all audiences will undoubtedly be buzzing from is what really happened.
It may be up to the viewer to pore through all of the odd which permeates ENEMY, but it’s likely that its main ideas are laid out at the beginning. Adam repeatedly lectures his students on cyclical behavior. At home he’s the glummest of glum, interacting barely with girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). She arrives at his barren apartment. They exchange minimal, joyless conversation. They have minimal sex. Like the lecture—we’re already likening sex to a lecture, so you know ENEMY is a bit downtrodden—it’s unclear if this is habit or repeated viewing of one instance. It seems unclear to Adam, as well.
That which breaks the monotony sets ENEMY in motion. At the recommendation of a co-worker, Adam watches a light comedy. A familiar-looking background actor sticks out, but not at first glance. Adam doesn’t truly notice his double until he haunts his psyche, until the movie replays in a dream. With a little digging, Adam finds Anthony, a whole other self boasting a personality Adam doesn’t possess. Anthony is confident; his posture radiates. He drives a motorcycle. His apartment has more than one piece of furniture. He’s happily married to Helen (Sarah Gadon) with a child on the way.
Initially hesitant to meeting, soon Anthony grows comfortable with this anomalous situation Adam presents. Both men feel trapped. Both men see something else. The sad, desperate Adam sees being settled, being successful on your own terms. When Helen visits Adam at his University, Adam may not know who she is, but he’s immediately warm around her. Anthony’s prowess is more sinister, indicative of infidelity. He sees Mary.
And so a one-sided tête-à-tête ensues, as Anthony attempts to take full advantage of the ability to be two men. His predatory nature is on display as Villenueve stages a tense, elegant, stalking sequence. It truly erupts when Anthony forcibly switches clothes with Adam to take Mary on a romantic weekend away. Understandably, Adam’s (and the audience’s) dread mounts in increasingly oppressive nightmares of monsters, insect people and underground fetish organizations. The filmmaker presents such not as jolts, but as anxiety as it lingers. We’re forced to stare into these things that should not be. Thank god then, when he reciprocates the betrayal, Adam finds a welcoming environment and the possibility of a way out of this persistent gloom.
But if there is a twist in ENEMY, it’s the notion that making either Adam or Anthony out to be the enemy is a false one. They both are, because at least in a symbolic sense, they’re the same. The two can switch roles because they are two sides of one adulterous man, something a torn photograph and Rossellini as Adam’s foreboding mother nudges us toward. Anthony is pathological, retaining his swagger in the midst of being deceitful, while Adam bears the crushing guilt. When Anthony meets an end, the sense that this double—this other self—is gone and a light shines through is faulty. A truly scary image is presented. The bed is made. The deed is done, and he’s doomed to repeat it.