I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a film quite like ‘Enemy’. I’ve been sitting on this review for the better part of a week (or two) trying to mull over in my head all the things that could possibly be said about it without looking at anything that anyone else has said about it, because at the end of the day (or at least for a review’s purpose) I’d like these ideas and these thoughts to be my own.
What is weird is that what I take away from a film like ‘Enemy’ almost seems too simple.
Sitting down to watch ‘Enemy’, I had a lot of conflicting feelings. First, I was fresh off of a very disappointing experience with ‘Prisoners’, which was one of my least favorite films from 2013. I had zero faith in Denis Villeneuve as a director, and yet the many, MANY faults with ‘Prisoners’ lied more in the script than anything else. And in that regard, this film was an adaptation of a novel by Jose Saramago, and while I have NOT read this particular novel, I have read ‘Blindness’ and that novel was exceptional. The film version was not, but there was at least hope here. So, I was torn, but all the favorable responses to the film made me really anxious to see how it all came together.
I’m still not sure how it came together, but it came together and I kind of loved it!
The premise is simple. Adam, a teacher, stumbles across his doppelganger in a movie and becomes obsessed with tracking him down. Turns out, his other self is an actor with a pregnant wife and a penchant for infidelity and soon after meeting this double, named Anthony, becomes consumed with taking advantage of Adam any way he can. What isn’t simple is the way that the visual coexists with the subliminal to create a story that feels so layered and so deep and so profound and yet so hard to put your finger on.
For me, ‘Enemy’ is the struggle for self-identity. I never once saw this as the story of two men but as the story of one man trying desperately to come to terms with who he was, and exploring every facet of his personality to the point where they splinter and take on their own lives, threatening to derail his very existence. The way that the two men’s worlds start to blend together in ways that almost place them inside these worlds, even when they don’t belong (I think the scene with the mother is very telling) helps formulate this idea in my mind, for it establishes an inconsistency that feels purposeful.
But I understand that this is just one man’s opinion.
The great thing about ‘Enemy’ is that it honestly feels like a deep pool of discussion. The only other film this year that felt this polarizing, but in a good way, was ‘Noah’. Both films share the ability to deliver ambiguity in a way that feels meaningful. ‘Noah’ was far more straightforward than ‘Enemy’, and the basic themes are pretty clear, but both film really rely on personal audience interpretation to make the needed impact. ‘Enemy’ delivers strongly here, for it feels like an open-ended discussion, which helps make a personal connection to the audience. Many will walk away dumbfounded, especially because of that final frame, but that dumbfounded feeling should turn into a yearning for answers, answers that only you can provide.
The film is propelled by Villeneuve’s dialed in direction, coaxing so much atmosphere out of every frame and creating a feeling that overwhelms in all the right places. Couple that with a very strong ensemble, and an especially strong performance by Jake Gyllenhaal (his career best?) that shows so many shades not just to the characters but to the story itself, and you have a really vibrant film that will stay with you and continue to haunt and prod at your mind.
I give this an A (I'm going to be stingy with the +'s this year), but I'm honestly tempted to say that this is a masterpiece film. Much like 'Noah', this film has not left me since seeing it. I can't stop thinking about it. Sadly, this won't get any Oscar traction, unlike the inferior 'Prisoners' last year. I only wish that this had been released later in the year, and yet this is not the type of film that the Academy warms to.