Not Loving This Enemy

Not Loving This Enemy March 21, 2014

Enemy, directed by Denis Villeneuve

Men staring. Women naked but for stiletto heels. And, oddly, a tarantula on stage. A woman’s shoe lowers over it, cautiously at first, then strikes to kill.

Apparently for some people such a scene is erotic, but for me and I suspect many others, it was just downright creepy. Also, it didn’t make sense. And that pretty much sums up the entirety of the film Enemy, from its arachnoid opening scene until — well, the ending was even creepier, but I won’t give it away.

In Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a disheveled history professor with a dull life and a boring girlfriend. His life spins in bland cycles—teach a lecture, have disinterested sex with girlfriend, teach the exact same lecture, have more disinterested sex. The pattern continues until one day, on the recommendation of a colleague, Bell tries to spice things up by watching a movie. That’s when his life changes: He spots an actor in the movie who looks exactly like him. Bell becomes obsessed with the man, calling him at home and sneaking into his talent agency, with his jitters and compulsions revealing to the audience that he might be mentally disturbed.

The actor, Anthony Clair, also played by Gyllenhaal, has a significantly more posh life than Bell, as well as a pregnant wife, but he also betrays his own manic tendencies. The two men agree to meet in a dingy motel, where they realize they do indeed look exactly the same and even have the same scars. Bell is scared, and leaves the motel shaken. But Clair starts do some stalking of his own and discovers Bell’s girlfriend is reasonably attractive. He begins to feed himself a lie:  Bell somehow disturbed his marriage and thus he has the right to sleep with Bell’s girlfriend. He accosts Bell in his apartment and forces him to give him his rumpled professor’s clothes so that he can go seduce the girlfriend, pretending to be him. While he does this, Bell goes to Clair’s apartment, where Clair’s wife assumes he is her husband. They have thus effectively switched lives, and their fates unwind in the film’s disturbing ending.

Enemy is slow, thoughtful, plodding at points. If you like psychological thrillers, you will probably appreciate this film, as long as you have no problems with gratuitous female nudity and spiders, the movie’s recurring motifs. Jake Gyllenhaal performs admirably, though not spectacularly, as two different men. (Honestly, in the world of look-alike acting, who can measure up to Tatiana Maslany’s scintillating portrayal of not two, but seven different clones in the recent TV series Orphan Black?)

Enemy is based on a novel, The Double by Portuguese author José Saramago. While I have not read the book, I have read its synopsis, and I can tell you the book’s ending offers far more closure than the movie’s. The film hints at its central aim, but remains mostly incomprehensible, which gives it an edgy feel but diminishes its appeal to most audiences, and to me. Enemy opens with the words: “Chaos is order, yet undeciphered.” The movie is just that — indecipherable chaos.

"That'll teach those dead babies and orphaned children who's boss."

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