Sitting on my couch watching the credits roll on Denis Villeneuve’s mind-bending Enemy, I found myself in a state of mild catatonia, internally racing to piece it all together but externally still transfixed, eyes glued to the screen and ears keenly listening for any clues as to the film’s greater meaning within the cheery strains of The Walker Brothers’ “After the Lights Go Out.” Now, hours later, I’m still not completely out of Enemy – there’s a part of me still absorbed in its narrative, still puzzling over that bizarre ending and all the almost-as-strange stuff that came before. And what’s more, I have a feeling that’s exactly what Villeneuve and writer Javier Gullón (providing his own spin on the late, great José Saramago’s novel The Double) intended.
There aren’t many recent films that have challenged me as boldly and as ruthlessly as Enemy. And though I’ve come up with more crackpot theories about the movie than I care to count, what strikes me more about the film is not potential answers but Villeneuve and Gullón’s very invitation in crafting it, that posed question they leave hanging in the air. Enemy, when all the reflexive head-scratching and temple-massaging is over, remains a Gordian knot practically begging you to take a shot at unraveling it. Villeneuve and Gullón aren’t likely to provide a clear-cut solution to their film, given that one even exists (and I don’t think it does), so I’m not going to waste your time by claiming that I totally get Enemy, or that the key to its riddles is plainly obvious to those clever enough to see it. Enemy‘s not about answers so much as the eternal quest for them, and I mean that both in terms of its impact and its actual narrative.
Enemy opens on Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a history teacher who goes to class every day to give the same lectures about dictatorships, comes home to casual sex and meaningless conversation with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent), stares into space, goes to sleep, wakes up and does it all again. He’s a hamster in a wheel, resigned to running in place for the rest of his life. The surrounding city of Toronto seems equally imprisoned – hundreds of tram wires run over the city streets while hulking apartment complexes are bested in terms of dominance only by an oppressive smog. In some shots, giant spiders tower over the city (though whether they’re actually there or just in Adam’s mind depends on your interpretation, like everything else).
One day, a colleague of Adam’s recommends that he check out a movie to lift his spirits a little. When he watches the movie, however, Adam catches sight of one bit actor… who looks exactly like him. Researching the man, Adam discovers Anthony Claire (also Gyllenhaal), an aspiring actor with a pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon). Anthony is Adam’s physical equal, he soon finds, though Anthony possesses a far more assertive, sexually confident personality. When the two make contact, they begin to interfere in one another’s lives, leading to a dangerous chain reaction of events neither of them could have predicted.
Though Enemy‘s spare script could easily have lent itself to a low-key drama, Villeneuve smartly directs it as an extremely taut thriller, bringing a palpable edginess and suspense to each shot. Often, he opts for angles that make it seem that Adam + Anthony (as Gyllenhaal is enigmatically credited) are being watched by an unseen player, which just adds to the intrigue of what exactly is going on. Is everything in Adam’s head, or Anthony’s head, or are both alive and living in the shadow of a dictatorship so pervasive they’ve lost the ability to see its controlling strings? In Prisoners, Villeneuve proved he could deliver a thriller with almost unbearable tension, but he shows with Enemy that any subject can be formed into a bona fide nail-biter with the right direction (not to mention one hell of a score, by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans). The film’s appearance, hued sickly yellow, also contributes to Villeneuve’s uneasy ambience.
Of course, Villeneuve is dependent on his actors to make Enemy work. Gyllenhaal doesn’t disappoint, turning in a powerhouse performance with just enough restraint to keep it unclear whether he’s playing Adam or Anthony in any given scene. His grip on both characters is impressive, as demonstrated by the fact that their sometimes complex machinations are never confusing, and that you never lose sight of what’s going through each of their heads. He’s one of the rare actors who actually achieves an easy chemistry with himself. Laurent and Gadon are also terrific as the two young women in Adam + Anthony’s life. Both were terrific choices for their particular parts – Laurent’s accent accentuates her character’s mystique and sex appeal, while Gadon’s emotive eyes do much to sell her as a woman dependent on a man she’s uncertain she entirely understands. And in her one scene as Adam + Anthony’s mother, Isabella Rossellini makes a strong impression, to the point where I can completely understand the influence she has even from afar over her son(s?).
As Enemy speeds along towards its unconventional climax, it never lets up, rarely allowing you to blink, let alone snap yourself out of its sinister spell. Many will hate Villeneuve and Gullón for ending Enemy where they do, providing hints that the spiders so omniscient throughout its length are symbolic of women waiting to entrap Adam + Anthony but simultaneously opening the story up to many further-out possibilities, but I greatly admire Enemy‘s structure and agenda. As a thriller, it’s smart and effective, and as a brain-teaser, it’s one of 2014’s finest. I want to sit through it a few more times and attempt to come to a conclusion for myself about Enemy‘s meaning, but I’m already satisfied with what Villeneuve and Gullón have given me – an atmospheric, adventurous blend between Kafka, Lynch and Cronenberg, one which I’ll relish the ability to be stumped and stunned by for a long, long time.
The satisfying Blu-Ray package for Enemy boasts a 1080p transfer that, while faithful to Villeneuve’s every intention, is most enjoyable in terms of overall appearance than detail. The yellow-hued cinematography is absorbing and engaging, though it robs certain shots of the immaculate clarity that they might have possessed with a more typical visual style for the film. Still, details like Adam + Anthony’s scraggly beard and the glint of street lights off a car windshield, to name two examples of many, are rich and pleasing. Villeneuve also opts to shoot in darkness a lot of the time, which makes for some evocative and enjoyable, if not particularly detailed, shots on the Blu-Ray. Still, while being true to Villeneuve’s vision, the Blu-Ray transfer for Enemy is a more immersive visual experience than you’re going to find anywhere else.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Track is absolutely flawless, blending the film’s imposing score, occasionally jarring sound effects (like a massive spider screeching or a sudden car crash) and important dialogue into one crisp, clear and gratifying listen. Absolutely nothing to complain about with this audio – it’s a typically strong release from Lionsgate Films.
In terms of special features, Enemy only comes with one, unfortunately, which is:
- Lucid Dreams: The Making of Enemy (17:22)
Well-made and insightful, this featurette brings many of the actors and crew members into the fold to discuss Enemy‘s mysteries, the challenges of filming in Villeneuve’s evocative style and with Gyllenhaal playing two characters opposite each other, the strength of the cast, the importance of setting and (yes!) even the all-importance of spiders. “I think the spider exists as this giant question mark,” says Gyllenhaal. “It feels like some kind of truth that’s like always looming, that essentially we’re terrified of.” Adds Laurent: “I think the spider is actually the mother.” Everyone has an opinion on the spiders, which is great to learn. This featurette is a must-see for any viewer of Enemy – normally, I’d claim a featurette like this is for “fans,” but even those dissatisfied with Enemy should take a chance on this extra. It might clear some things up for them.
The satisfying video and audio on the Blu-Ray for Enemy, in addition to the terrific making-of featurette, mean that nothing should stand in the way of you picking up Enemy. The film is a tricky one to pin down, reveling in its enigmas and symbols, but to me, Enemy feels like a psychological Rubik’s Cube at least worth attempting to solve, if perhaps lacking a definitive solution. But what’s the fun in nailing down exactly what makes Enemy tick? It weaves a complex web, one that’s certainly easy to get mired in, but stepping back to view Enemy‘s expanses is pleasurable in of itself. A small part of me wants to pick Enemy apart, but the vast majority of me is happy just to bask in its bizarre vision, confident that watching it amounts to placing myself in the palm of a master storyteller, then permitting him to compell and confound me in equal measure.