***1/2 (out of 5)
March 21, 2014
Jake Gyllenhaal as ADAM / ANTHONY
Mélanie Laurent as MARY
Sarah Gadon as HELEN
Isabella Rossellini as MOTHER
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
BY KEVIN CARR
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Generally, when I feel a filmmaker is getting too clever for his or her own good, I start to have great disdain for their films. However, director Denis Villeneuve manages to achieve an interesting film while being overly clever at the same time. For once, I don’t resent the director for hiding the meaning of his film. Villeneuve has an honest to this action, and that’s what makes “Enemy” work for me.
The basic story is very simple. However, just because there’s not a lot of story happening in the movie does not mean there isn’t a lot of depth to it. “Enemy” starts off rather straightforward, but it takes some bizarre turns, which kept my interest.
The story is about a slovenly history teacher (Gyllenhaal) who, after watching a film on DVD, discovers that he has a doppelganger. He starts to investigate this on his spare times and tracks the man down. He soon discovers that there seems to be holes throughout the fabric of their lives that connect the two of them together. Once he insists on meeting his own double, something scares him off, and there are dire consequences that follow.
It’s easy to characterize this story as an extended “Twilight Zone” episodes, but I’m hesitant to do so because that has such a negative connotation to some people. Rather, it’s “Twilight Zone” for the art house crowd. The movie isn’t straightforward at all, and upon reflection, you’ll remember some oddities even in the beginning that don’t add up.
At first, these oddities seem to be flaws in the film’s structure, but now I realize these were deliberately added by Villeneuve to stick in the back of your mind and surface when you start examining the film in retrospect.
Like Villeneuve’s recent film “Prisoners” (also starring Gyllenhaal), “Enemy” is a very slow burn with lot of build-up and suspense. The best moments of the movie are the investigation into the doppelganger and the eventual meeting.
Unfortunately, the movie takes a pretty cliched turn in the third act, and I was ready to write it off before it ended. I’m still not fully invested in how things played out near the end, but I’m utterly fascinated with how things played out at the very end. “Enemy” has one of the greatest conclusions I’ve seen because it’s so out-of-the-box and daring the audience to figure out a real riddle.
Unlike the ending to “Inception” where Christopher Nolan cops out and cheats the audience with literally the most cliched ending in literature and film ever (“It was all a dream… or was it?”), “Enemy” presents a real puzzle. In fact, it’s so elegantly done at times that you don’t even realize you’re in a puzzle until it’s too late.
There’s a lot beneath the surface of “Enemy,” and it’s one of the few films I’ve seen where I really feel challenged to dissect. In that simple story is a great speculative piece with depth to examine the nature of sanity, fantasy and our own personal demons. And with Gyllenhaal playing the dual roles, he offers a nuanced performance that makes the movie rise above your standard humdrum “Twilight Zone” wannabe.