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Enemy: A Lynchian episode of “Wife Swap”

Enemy

Rating:
Star4
Star
Star
Star
Star

Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland

Enemy
Image from A24

Markus Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Rated R for some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language

Viewer Discretion Advised. This is going to be a movie that many will hate. In fact, during my showing I sat across from a couple who walked out during the first act. That said, I am now going to explain to you why I thought “Enemy” was one of the more terrifically mind-bending movies of the year so far, while in the same breath letting everyone unfamiliar with writer/director David Lynch (he did not direct this movie) know that they are better off steering clear of this Jake Gyllenhaal/Denis Villeneuve collaboration.

Liken to a Lynchian episode of “Wipe Swap” or a Cronenberg retelling of Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper”, “Enemy” was adapted from Jose Saramgo’s critically acclaimed novel by screenwriter Javier Gullon, but ultimately brought to the screen by Denis Villeneuve, who you may know as the director of last year’s “Prisoners”. The film follows an awkward history professor (Gyllenhaal) who by happenstance discovers he has a double…or a twin…or a copy (also played by Gyllenhaal). It takes him a while, but the professor eventually decides to confront this man who shares an uncanny resemblance to himself, which leads him down an abstract and quite disturbing road. While this Twilight Zone-esque plot does sound interesting, the key to understanding the movie lies more within its images; images which range from the macabre, to the voyeuristic, to the dreamlike and sometimes even to the visually indecipherable. That’s right, there are scenes in this movie which are purposefully too dark to make out any sort of clear action, but with just enough light to see figures and shapes. OK, so I realize that I’m not doing a very good job selling this movie to people with eyes, but let me assure you that this “dimly lit” effect only happens a few times during the movie; so don’t worry, Villeneuve does an excellent job of showing what is relevant. In fact, I’ll take it a step further and say “Enemy” does stand as my favorite directorial attempt of the year so far.

Side Note: Gyllenhaal’s performance should not be undersold. He is very good here playing dual characters with vastly differing personalities. And the few bits of cryptic dialogue amidst this well constructed screenplay (especially the things that are said during classroom sequences) do act as the pinch of metaphysical spice thrown into the stew. But the images are and should be the focal point.

Still, as silly as this is to say in regards to a film this surreal, there is actually an illogical moment that happens in the latter half of this story, which sets the bizarre but wildly interesting final act into motion. For that reason and the forced pacing in the first act (I had no idea what was even happening for the first 30 minutes) I did take away a star.

Another Side Note: There is supposed to be a dark comedy called “Double” adapted from the Dostoyevsky novella of the same name, coming out later this year, which even though I haven’t read, supposedly has a similar premise. When all is said and done, it should be interesting to compare and contrast these two films.

Final Thought: For many “Enemy” may be a movie that doesn’t work unless you see it twice, which is a tough sell. If “Prisoners” has a touch of an homage to David Lynch or David Cronenberg encased in a sort of big budget, big name, pill pocket (if only to make the film more palatable for the masses) then “Enemy” (even though it also stars Jake Gyllenhaal) is just the opposite; a total surrealist waking-dream that is on the surface hard to swallow, then slowly lures you into its web (like a spider would a fly). Only to shock everyone in the theater with a final shot that will either have you running to the box-office demanding your money back or demanding to buy a ticket to the next showing, knowing that you won’t be able to shake that final image until you figure out what it means…even though I can’t say for sure that that this ending has a clear cut meaning. If that sounds horrible, again, this is not the movie for you.

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