Enemy (opening today) is a slow-moving but spell-binding psychological thriller that opens with the phrase: "Chaos is order as yet undeciphered." Well consider this film chaotic then. It's splendidly undeciphered and full of meaning...I'm just not sure what that meaning is.
Most entertainment-seeking audiences at large usually require endings to stories. The end often informs us of what we thought of the whole. In TV, for instance, remember feeling ripped off when The Sopranos cut to black, or (dating myself) when St. Elsewhere was revealed to exist in a snow globe, in the mind of an autistic child? Or how about the amazing, wrapped-in-a-tight-bow endings of shows like Six Feet Under or The Wire? Yes, the ending is everything and we require not "happily ever after," but we do usually require satisfaction.
I begin at the end, because everything that comes before in Enemy leads up to it, and is unraveled by it. If life is a journey, not a destination, as Aerosmith tells us, then Enemy is still a film in transit long after the credits roll.
The general plot revolves around a history teacher, Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who watches a movie and notices an extra that looks exactly like him. After Googling the actor, he discovers that his name is Anthony and he seeks him out, mostly out of curiosity.
Adam lives with his girlfriend, Mary (Melanie Laurent), who comes by his shabby apartment usually for sex and a stiff...drink. Anthony lives with his pregnant wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon) and at first rejects Adam's attempts to meet him.
But Adam does eventually meet Anthony and they are exactly identical (and both played by Gyllenhaal). Are they twins separated at birth? Nope, Adam's mother confirms this, but also the two men have the same identical scar in the same exact place on their bodies.
What the heck, do you say? You don't know the half of it. Or more specifically, you don't know either half.
To reveal more about the plot would be pointless, because it builds to that...ending. In the film's opening scene, we presumably see Anthony entering an underground, Eyes Wide Shut-style sex party, where a naked woman sets a tray down on a table in front of the watching men, revealing a massive spider in it. Spiders would become a large part of the story that followed, with Adam and Anthony caught up in their metaphoric web.
Enemy is the sort of film that you can't take your eyes off of, largely in part to Gyllenhaal's performances as both men, the same but clearly different. Director Denis Villeneuve keeps the film in hues of yellow and black, with dialogue sparsely thrown in just to remind us that we aren't watching some avant-garde film from the 1920s.
But we trustingly go along, hoping and expecting the end of the journey to deliver some sort of payoff. When it comes and doesn't really explain much of what we saw, it's sure to piss off more than a few movie-goers. Yes, when a film cannot be understood, it immediately becomes categorized as "art."
Not so fast though. Does the ending make sense? Are the answers there, somewhere within this tense, 90-minute grind? Are these really two people, or two-sides of the same person? Is it some sort of metaphor regarding totalitarian dictators and how the masses are kept stupid with "bread and circuses," or how they censor "any means of individual expression," two themes that appear in one of Adam's history class lectures? What do the spiders suggest? Is there order to the chaos, as yet undeciphered, and as promised in the film's opening slate?
Enemy is doing something right when it engages the open-minded viewer to debate and ponder such details, long after experiencing the film. It's not a film for everyone, but it is there for those up to the intellectual challenge and for those not afraid of exiting a film without possessing a clear understanding of it. You've been warned.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, Rated R
Starring : Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
Based on the novel by Jose Saramago
Written by Javier Gullon
Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Incendies, Polytechnique, Maelstrom)
Opens locally on Friday, March 21, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time