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Film review: Enemy may be its own worst enemy

Oh, great. Another story about depressed academics/writers/actors getting into fixes they can’t fix.

Looking back to classics like “Tea and Sympathy” (“Years from now, when you talk of this—and you will—be kind”) and “Rear Window” (man with broken leg solves mystery anyway), and to newer films like “In The House” (high school teacher misjudges strange student), film buffs find main characters of a certain stripe who find themselves contributing to their own angst. Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t.

Enemy” is in the latter category. Like “In the House,” and “Rear Window,” “Enemy” has its main character in the throes of an existential crisis, sure that out there in someone else’s life is the key to his.

“In the House” has a student create a fantasy about life in a particular house and family belonging to another student and then in real time maneuver his way into it. “Rear Window” uses a high-density apartment building with windows often open and lighted at night.

“Enemy” portrays depersonalization in the form of housing also—enormous, many-windowed urban apartment buildings. The human race is just so many anthills ready for feasting by some larger insect on the grid. After all, to other animals that cohabit the planet as we know it, humans are already just another animal on the food and space hierarchy. And thereby hangs one view of this tale—something actually is out there and closing in.

But there is much more to it than simple horror movie stuff. The idea of the doppelganger permeates the film. In Act I, Scene 1, Jake Gyllenhaal’s primary character quotes Marx’s response to Hegel’s insight that history repeats itself. Marx appended, he says in a lecture to his history class, "The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

Life is boring, says the film, too, and not only that, most fellow earthlings are missing the point. What if, it asks, life is happening around us as farce and we don’t see it?

Jake Gyllenhaal’s main character and his doppelganger can be construed to be the same person, one of them going to pieces in an apartment as empty and dun-colored as his academic surroundings and his blah but convenient girlfriend are. The doppelganger is a second-rate (or third or fourth, according to his mom) actor whose apartment has been jazzed up nicely and who has a pretty, pregnant wife.

The academic wants to meet the actor—he has become fascinated by the fact that in a movie, one that perhaps by chance was recommended to him by a colleague, they look exactly alike. After some hesitation, they finally arrive at the same place at the same time, become fascinated with the likeness, and then, dumb and dumber, involve themselves in each other’s lives.

Fantasies about someone else’s wife or girlfriend become real in this film, but it is also in that reality that the differences between the two men are discovered. Wait, wait, says the girlfriend, even though she is much more passionate about the doppelganger than about her real guy. She has figured out that they are two separate people and she confronts him.

It is only then that the deus ex machina moves the script out of the ordinary and propels it towards the inevitable. The bizarre but bearable meetings become real tragedy. Once the ruse is uncovered, it has ended, and only one person can survive the big reveal.

Not that there wasn’t a clue before that. But why spoil it?

Chances are there aren’t many on the planet who haven’t come across a doppelganger in some small (or large) way—same name, same features, same hair color on someone with even a similar career-- chance encounters more than chance. Both Jung and physics have looked into it. Gosh, even the splashback behind the doppelganger’s kitchen counter is the same one the local Lowes had on display recently. Should we all worry more about this?

The plot is a far cry from the desolate landscape of recent dystopian-wannabes, and that makes for good dinner conversation afterward. Go see this one, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Linda Chalmer Zemel also writes the Buffalo Alternative Medicine Examiner column, and she teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College. She is the Editor and Publisher of Person, Place, Thing, an annual literary journal. Click on for more information.

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