Directed by Denis Villeneuve
A mild-mannered college professor discovers a look-alike actor and delves into the other man's private affairs.
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★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
"Chaos is order yet undeciphered."
Well, that was a mind distorter if there ever was one. I don't think I can remember having left a theater so confused before. I turned to the man next to me, who I noticed had also gone to see the same film, and noticed that he was shaking his head. "What did you think of it?," I asked him. "Not good... not good at all." And I totally understood where he was coming from, because who could have been prepared for a film (or an ending, for that matter) like that?
Yet I was not on the same page; I loved Enemy. I LOVED it. Maybe it has to do with my appreciation for ambiguous cinema - cinema that you can re-visit throughout your entire life, each time in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the film - or maybe it has to do with the fact that Enemy didn't pull any punches. Contemporary cinema, especially in the psychological thriller genre, has conditioned us to expect twist endings and thorough explanations, especially when you're watching a film like Enemy. I was so glad that Denis Villeneuve didn't make the mistake of playing into what was expected of him. Enemy could have ended a thousand different ways, but it ended the way that it did for a reason: those of you who have seen it, consider the phrase, "the elephant in the room," and maybe that will help you find your own interpretation. The important thing is that Villeneuve has crafted a film which allows for his audience to find their own interpretation, and I appreciate that. I appreciate that immensely.
So here's mine:
Jake Gyllenhaal gives a career-topping performance/performances(?) in Enemy, a film which is essentially about a man's personal/internal struggles. There is only one man in this film, one protagonist, though the surface of the film would like you to believe that there are two. Don't be fooled, Enemy will be a much easier film to understand - or, at least, to try to understand - if you consider both Anthony and Adam to be the same human being. There are some serious erotic undertones to the movie, which compels me to believe that the main character may be a man fighting with issues of infidelity, but again, this is only speculation. One can only speculate about Enemy, because it remains unclear till the very end, much like a pair of masterpieces from the past, Ingmar Bergman's Persona and Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique, two of my favorite films of all-time.
Villeneuve plays with time quite fascinatingly in this film, though to understand the structure of time, you'll need to pay close attention to one particular monologue in the film, quite close to the beginning. The protagonist explains that, throughout history, the most important events repeat themselves - they occur twice - and that the 21st century may very well be a repeat of the 20th century. Considering this, I have to believe that the structure of time in Enemy is actually quite non-linear. Rather than the events of the film occurring simultaneously, they are actually occurring one after another (or at least some of them are)... and though the order of these events remains unclear as well, try to keep in mind that Mary's role both begins and ends during the course of the protagonist's relationship with his wife. Unfortunately, I can't really expand upon this point right now, because doing so would give too much away about the content and mystery of the film, but consider the non-linear structure of time when viewing Enemy, and maybe that will clear up a bit of confusion. The fact that "the most important events occurring twice" is a theme of this movie is actually quite scary once you've got at least a moderate understanding of the metaphors involved; this theme, along with the film's horrifying ending, lead me to believe that Adam may make the same mistakes again that he had made in the past.
Pay close attention to the scenes in which Adam's mother is involved, for they will help you in your attempt to decipher what is real, and what is occurring within Adam's mind. When something happens in ones life that changes their course of existence, this something is not easily forgotten. Its remains will sprinkle their way throughout the future, as an every-so-often reminder of one's mistakes. What mistakes could Adam have possibly made in the past? And what are Helen's suspicions? These are questions which exist to help guide you in figuring out the enigma that is Denis Villeneuve's Enemy.
The direction, the acting, the cinematography, the editing, the script - I couldn't have asked for better pieces of a perfect puzzle. There is one particularly sequences towards the end of the film, a shocking one I might add, that contains some wonderful symbolism: shattered glass as an arachnid's web, and a man's attempt to kill off the actions of his past which haunt him (and may always haunt him).
The ultimate question is, if you had to give a shape to your demons, if you had to provide them with a physical form, might they take the form of a spider? Maybe not, but Adam's surely do.
One's sins are not easily forgotten.
★★★★ review by jewel on Letterboxd
can't believe the two best actors working today are in the same movie..... jake gyllenhaal and jake gyllenhaal
★★★★ review by willa on Letterboxd
producers: how about you put one color besides yellow in this film
denis: um... wtf...why would i ever do that...
★★★★½ review by DirkH on Letterboxd
Beautifully shot and exceptionally acted, Enemy is a nightmare of a film for both its protagonists and its audience. Before I start to theorize like a moron, I have to say a few things without spoilers. Enemy showcases just how good an actor Gyllenhaal can be. The subtleties in his performance are extraordinary. In mostly wordless scenes he still manages to give each version of his characters an identity. Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon are both stunning as well, with Gadon blowing me away completely in many a scene where her expressions are worth a thousand words. Vileneuve has shot everything in a sickly, nicotine stained palette, instilling his film with a disturbing atmosphere from the get go.
*here be spoilers*
Right, this is a film I need to analyze. I enjoyed the film immensely for what it is and even if I don't reach a consensus as to what it's all about, I'd still rank this as one of the better films of last year. But I need to try and make sense of it, heck, the opening quote of the film basically orders me to.
The way I see it is that you either approach everything that happens as part of a broken mind or as a metaphor signifying something. Going with the first one, we are watching the life of a man with a split personality. An actor who leads a double life and has convinced himself he is two different persons. There are moments when his pregnant wife confronts him with a past (or perhaps current) affair, which could indicate he actually rents another appartment where he lives out his double life. Something is triggering him though, perhaps his approaching fatherhood, which causes an internal struggle. He has problems with commitment, with sexuality, we see him exploring this side of him in a bizarre sex club and all the sex that occurs in the film has a sense of distanced urgency to it. After his alter ego calls home and speaks to his wife, she first notices something is wrong and after hearing the story of this teacher doppelganger she decides to find out what's wrong. To her surprise and dismay she finds out that her husband's alter ego actually goes to this college and, even worse, doesn't recognize her. Later, in the end, when she discovers that the softer side of his personality has prevailed she even asks him 'How was school?', acknowledging the change in him. The more dominant and aggressive side of his personality gets rid of his mistress. And here's where this train of thought derails a bit as I can't really explain away the car crash. Does he kill her? Is he even in the car with her? Is she real? If you take everything that happens at face value in this scene, there really have to be two Jakes. Villeneuve seems to know this as he willingly zooms in of a spiderweb like crack in the car window. The spider motif is pretty easy to explain in this version, they are the way he sees women. With an arachnid mother that raised him, he sees women as a threat, something that eats its mate after they're done with them. His fear of commitment is visualized as a web that he is caught in with that fear always looming above him, searching for ways to assert dominance but finally giving in and becoming more subservient. The moment after he has sex with his wife for the first time as the new him and after he rediscovers the itch of temptation again in the shape of a key, his delusional mind shows him his wife for what she is.
Right. Guess Villeneuve has a problem with women.
And then there's the other thing. The parable of lost individuality in a smothering society that sucks the life out of you. Take a look at what Adam teaches, he teaches about repetition, about totalitarianism, about the loss of self. Hovering above this sick, almost closed off universe that is Toronto, is a web spun by an enormous spider, the outside world pressing down on the shoulders of a man who has no identity. He barely exists, grades papers, doesn't really like movies, has a strange relationship with his girlfriend. And everywhere he goes he feels the web over him, making him struggle to get free. And then there is the ultimate trigger, the destruction of his identity after discovering his double. He is not unique. This cataclysmic event causes him to act for the first time, causing him to find a temporary relief from his burdened existence. But not matter how hard you struggle, how hard you step down on that spider, it will always bit back. The state humanity is in now always makes it draw the short straw, we have spun a web that destroys individuality, makes our relationships hollow and self absorbed and burdens us with a weight we can hardly bear. I think I like this interpretation best.
Or, you know, it's about none of the above.
★★★★★ review by Harry Ridgway on Letterboxd
It's difficult to articulate the skin-crawling, bone-chilling and spine-tingling aura of Denis Villeneuve's Enemy. In the full 90 minutes, we cross and recross the emotional spectrum all the while mesmerised by the films surreal tone and eeriness. Mystifying to all upon first inspection, the film was never intended for lethargic audiences. It was intended for the analytical and inquisitive who constantly and passionately congregate the clues in an attempt to solve the bamboozling riddle. I, myself, may not have unlocked all of Enemy's secrets, but I knew I was in the company of a masterpiece. An innovative, spellbinding, and horrifying masterpiece.
If you look at Enemy from one perspective, you may perceive a gripping thriller delineating two people who physically mirror the other, and why this uncanny equality exists. But maybe, if you just readjust your focus a little bit, you may see a compelling drama illustrating duality and our innate desires that we try so hard to repress, and how the psyche tears itself apart over this. Both are, of course, correct observations, as the narrative is never once linear -- never once playing into a specific genre with specific intentions.
Confounding symbols and startling visuals employed by Dennis Villeneuve tests our understanding of the narrative frequently. The use of spiders is the most baffling and unnerving; always twitching in the background and representing something that we just can't place our finger on. I feel I have come to a conclusion about the spiders, but I will not divulge it since the joy of Enemy is coming to your own unperverted explanation. I say let the movie bewilder you blindly.
It's hard to keep tiptoeing around the film's hub, but I'll continue to do so to avoid spoiling. The pacing and macabre atmosphere both play off each other seamlessly, with both never resisting. Add to this a nerve-jangling soundtrack that pitter-patters away incessantly and you have one jittery viewer. The horroresque tempo and ambiance combined with an audacious score has the final effect of violation, almost. It really does feel like the film is digging into your skin, and we can't help but convulse in certain moments when the infiltration invades too much.
In a schizophrenic (not literally....or maybe?) performance, Jake Gyllenhaal plays both the tentative history teacher Adam and the cocky D-list celebrity Anthony flawlessly. He never falters, and just by bodily attitude we can tell which Jake we are observing. A truly fearless performance, Gyllenhaal is enthralling -- it's masterclass acting that's restrained yet commanding. Sarah Gadon as the solemn and anxious wife to Anthony is also fantastic.
It's hard to write a review about Enemy or speak about the film's effect (and story), since the visceral doesn't translate to the textual accurately. But what can be declared is that Enemy is an immersive thriller that strikes us hard with potent drama around every turn. It's a distressing psychological mystery that's short and snappy, but leaves an eternal impact. The confusing style of storytelling isn't a gimmick, but a form of expression that highlights various themes with excellence and offers up a film with intelligence. A film that doesn't degrade the viewer, but instead entices with a riddle that wants to be solved. The story beneath the enigma is rather shocking and is so genius that once we discover the underlying secret, there is that "ahh" moment as it all clicks into place; all the spiders, women, blueberries and keys are vessels for ingenuity. It may be disquieting, but you cannot take your eyes off of this triumph. It will be examined intently in the future I can assure you.
"Chaos is order yet undeciphered."
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