Release Date: March 21st, 2014 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Denis Villeneuve Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
erhaps more important than the conundrum at the heart of “Enemy” is the skillfully crafted feeling of perplexity. A palpable dread is brought to life through the skillful blend of visuals and music to steadily usher the viewer into an enigmatical spectrum of fear and paranoia. Despite the absence of bloody violence and cheap shocks typically employed by lesser psychological thrillers, “Enemy” maintains a constant foreboding atmosphere by providing just enough scattered clues to keep the audience captivated until the very end. Regardless of whether or not viewers leave betrayed or enthralled, director Denis Villeneuve’s film avoids both the sense of pretentiousness found in many such puzzlers and the contrived twists that plague even more.
College history professor Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) trudges through his monotonous daily routine. Each morning he lectures on the same subject and then goes home to his tiny apartment and stagnant relationship with his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). At a random encounter with a colleague, Adam is recommended a movie to watch, and upon viewing it, he notices one of the extras bears a striking resemblance to him. Intrigued, the teacher tracks down actor Daniel Saint Claire only to discover that the two are identical in every way. Distraught and confused, Adam attempts to distance himself from his mysterious double, but soon finds their paths inextricably linked.
The film opens with the line “Chaos is order yet undeciphered.” It’s an amusing observation, which is then explored throughout the course of the swift running time via symbolism, displaced scenes, rhythmic editing, and a pulsing percussion soundtrack. The music is one of the most evident and effective elements of the production. The action begins with unsettling, aberrant sexual voyeurism (the camera frequently intrudes upon characters’ intimate moments or peers around corners with hesitant distancing) to establish the tone, not entirely dissimilar from something out of Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” This is followed by jarring cuts between the normalcies of a schoolteacher to further sexual activities, done in the afterhours of a bedroom. A pattern is founded, contrasted by blindingly bright daytime shots in the break room and the dimness of carnality amidst bed sheets.
In the process of scrutinizing purpose and themes, details are canvassed, from the frightful movements of an out-of-place tarantula to the mundane locales of offices and apartments (emblematic architecture seems to slide into focus more often than not). In a particularly clever sequence, a movie within a movie is shown as both a flashback and a dream, with a different color palette and ominous noises drowning out the dialogue of what is supposed to be a comedy piece. Fortunately, the mystery is centralized, with the pacing never forgetting to instigate new suspense or curiosity, even when many items proceed unexplained. The theory that everything in history happens twice, by German philosopher Hegel, is mentioned, shedding greater light on the concepts of duality and doppelgangers and the repetition that plagues Adam’s life – though it’s clear that the screenplay here is purposely cryptic and overly confusing. Answers are hinted at but never surrendered outright.
It’s engaging and bizarre, with merging realities, a seemingly unraveling mind, and brilliantly shifting points of view. Supporting characters interact in questionable manners, revealing that they know far more than the audience. And those observers will be motivated to raise eyebrows rather than solve riddles. “Enemy” is a steadily enticing blend of David Lynch’s occasionally incomprehensible, hallucinogenic stories and his inquisitiveness with the weirdness that thrives just below the layers of averageness (as seen in “Blue Velvet), and the investigation of individualism, stress, and fractured personas from Bruce Robinson’s biting “How to Get Ahead in Advertising.” In addition, the misdirection of perspective borrows from John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” while the inexplicable conclusion suggests the existential works of Charlie Kaufman (including “Synecdoche, New York” and “Being John Malkovich”).
– The Massie Twins