Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, and Issabella Rossellini
Opening: March 21st 2014
The Plot: A college professor (Gyllenhaal) has his world turned upside down when he spots an actor in a movie that appears to be the exact copy of himself. Obsessed with his twin he's soon neglecting his work and girlfriend (Laurent) to learn everything he can about the actor and his pregnant wife. (Gadon)
'Tis a tale of compulsion and spiders.
The Film: My admittedly rudimentary, (IE: proto-human) philosophy when it comes to the art world is that all art is based on getting women to take their clothes off. Whether it's oil painting or rock 'n' roll - or in this case, film - the best art is usually created by society's stockpile of hyper-creative perverts.
If we are drawn to the work of David Lynch or David Cronenberg, we should never ignore that these older, weird-looking men (Lynch and Cronenberg have both groomed the insane asylum resident look well - as patients or doctors is purely up for speculation) managed to peel the clothes off of legitimate bombshells like Patricia Arquette, Laura Harring, Deborah Harry, and Maria Bello, for the camera.
By the same token Villeneuve's new film Enemy is very much an art film.
In search of a muse the French Canadian filmmaker manages to convince Inglourious Basterd's Melanie Laurent and Cosmopolis's Sarah Gadon (looking very much like the porcelain offspring of one of Tolkien's Wood Elves) to do a few randy nude scenes - and for that I can never thank him enough. Not that the nudity or the actresses have anything to do with this movie's legal claim into the snobby fraternity of arthouse cinema - though it is interesting to point out that Sarah Gadon has appeared in the recent work of both David Cronenberg, (A Dangerous Method) and his son, Brandon Cronenberg, (Antiviral) while Issabella Rossellini - who is cast as the character "Mother" in Enemy - first entered the American cinema psyche in David Lynch's infamous Blue Velvet. Where she got naked of course.
I bring up the Cronenberg/Lynch connections because they are obvious, and I believe Denis Villeneuve is making them obvious on purpose.
Enemy is an incredibly strange, semi-self-indulgent, slow-burn of a movie.
If it reminds me of any art film in cinema it's certainly more in the vein of Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock than it is anything by Cronenberg or Lynch. Enemy is a film rooted in riddles, with little in the way of clues and a lot in the way of unsettling ideas and oppressive atmosphere. Villeneuve chooses to shoot the city of Toronto very much like Weir shot the Australian outback in Hanging Rock. It's a seemingly lunar landscape baked in afternoon heat, nearly devoid of activity. Not that anything apocalyptic has happened to the fictional stage of this Toronto, but you can't escape the feeling that we are in an aftermath of some sort - certainly in the residuum of an emotional upheaval. The hazy atmosphere of the Toronto exterior fits well with the hazy interiors of Gyllenhaal's twin characters Adam and Anthony.
The film opens with the intimidating intertitle: "Chaos is order as yet undeciphered." The following scene has Anthony (or is it Andy?) sitting in a private club with other men watching what can only be described as bimbo performance art. A woman takes the stage with a silver serving tray. The woman disrobes, the tray is set on the stage and the top is removed revealing a massive bird-spider. As it cautiously makes its way off the tray and onto the stage the nude woman approaches it, lifts one of her spiked high-heeled shoes, and mashes it for the audience.
The quote and the opening scene at least warn us of two things: Expect chaos. Expect the urge to compartmentalize and interpret the chaos. Whether or not the second is actually possible - and I believe in the outside chance that it is - depends on your involvement with the material. Is Enemy a film worth deciphering? Is it a prank played on the average moviegoer who admired Prisoners? (my lovely wife certainly thinks so) Is it the single most on the nose homage to the work of David Cronenberg anyone has made before? And if it is, is Enemy a prodding reminder of how long it's been since Cronenberg went off his medication and produced something this deliciously odd and interesting?
I've read other reviews of this movie that are literally scene-by-scene rehashes of how the plot unfolds, and I want to avoid falling into that trap at all cost. To use a much more famous movie intertitle... Enemy is a dish best served cold. It's a story of two men who share the same face and voice. It's a story of the women in their lives. It is also, oddly enough, a story of spiders. If Enemy is indeed art for art's sake - then it is extremely well-crafted fluff.
Certainly the scene this film chooses to end with is going to cause a stir.
There is literally no way not to have some type of reaction to the end of this movie. If Denis Villeneuve does one thing well, he knows how to control the tone of his films, to lull his audience into a state of serene narcosis so he can jolt them awake again - in some cases up out of their seats. I have my own theories on what Enemy's ending means, and to whom I believe might be the real victim in this completely insane, Lewis-Carroll-blasted-on-bath-salts, finale.
If anything, this is what I admire most about Enemy. It leaves that decision up to me. Up to you too.
The Verdict: Somewhere in the near future, 8 years from now maybe, two powerline linemen will be talking while taking a break in their truck. One of them will say: "You know, I saw the weirdest movie on Netflix last night. It had that guy from The Prince of Persia in it. And he was two people." And the other guy will go: "Oh yeah... that weird-ass movie with the spiders and the naked chicks. I saw that once...." And the awkward conversation they have about Enemy will be immensely more illuminating than the one a group of NYU film students will share when discussing Villeneuve's movie after an inevitable screening of it in class.
Enemy isn't for everybody. If you're into art movies however, this is a really clever one. Enter at your own risk.