Enemy (2013)
By: Stuart Giesel on February 6, 2015 | Comments
Madman | Region B | 2.35:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 5.1 | 91 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini, Josh Peace
Writer: Javier Gullón
Country: Canada, Spain
It's difficult to recommend a movie like Enemy to just anyone – it's most assuredly not something crowd-pleasing like Edge of Tomorrow. You suggest that someone watches a film like Enemy, and it's probably a better than 50/50 chance they end up absolutely despising it, thereby forever tainting your movie-picking prowess in their eyes from that point on. Recommending someone watch Enemy is like saying to a buddy that he or she should watch Audition: before you do so, you'd better make damn well sure you know that person and their particular tastes.

An additional complication is that you're best served going into Enemy cold. Of course, doing this can go either way. One: the viewer, completely in the dark about the plot or even the genre is completely sucked in by the premise, the exceptional filmmaking and the strong performances, and comes out of Enemy with a new appreciation for all involved, an admiration for the artfulness of the film, a desire to rewatch it to work out exactly what the hell was going on and, as in my case, the intention to read the source material upon which it is based. Two: the viewer is utterly shell-shocked by what he or she just watched, but not in a good way. Indeed, the viewer is so annoyed and frustrated by Enemy's obliqueness in combination with its seemingly pointless narrative that he or she vows to never watch anything involving the participants ever again.

That's the problem with films of this type, and the way I see it the same problem when you watch a lot of David Lynch films (of which Enemy could certainly be one). Is it being evasive for the sake of it? Why not tell a straightforward story? Well, let's just say that after you watch Enemy and you start to reconstruct it in your head in a bid to work out what the fuck it was you just watched, things start to make more sense and a greater sense of appreciation grows out from that. And then you realise that the way that director Denis Villeneuve, writer Javier Gullón (who adapted José Saramago's novel The Double) and their cast and crew have constructed the movie has worked perfectly, and to tell the story in any other way would have not done the material justice.

The following paragraph will provide the broadest of overviews of Enemy, in a bid to spoil as little as possible. Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a history teacher who is stuck in a rut, something of a circular existence, with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent). He watches a film recommended by a colleague and discovers a bit-part actor named Daniel Saint Claire (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who looks exactly like him. Bell is, having found some purpose in his life, sparked into action, and tries to track down the actor, who as it turns out has a pregnant wife named Helen (Sarah Gadon). But Bell learns that whilst he may look identical to Claire (real name Anthony), this doppelganger has a significantly different personality. And thus begins a disturbing game of cat-and-mouse. Oh, and there are spiders too.

Adding to the success story that is Jake Gyllenhaal's career resurgence, Enemy is his second film with Canadian director Villeneuve, although technically it was the first that the pair made, just that Enemy happened to be released after the equally solid Prisoners. Enemy is another interesting choice for Gyllenhaal, who in recent years has thankfully shied away from wannabe blockbuster fare like Prince of Persia for more intriguing projects such as this, End of Watch, the aforementioned Prisoners and, most notably, the superb Nightcrawler. It's yet another fucked-up movie in his resume, about as far as you can get from The Day After Tomorrow and those sorts of projects that he received from Hollywood in an attempt to shoehorn him into action hero roles. Thankfully, Prince of Persia didn't do as well as expected, and for that or whatever other reason Gyllenhaal has subsequently taken on far more interesting projects working with idiosyncratic filmmakers, resulting in a series of strong performances. His performance – or, rather, performances – in Enemy is no exception. That's not to say the supporting cast are slouches; the supporting cast is equally good, Gadon being the standout if I had to choose.

Beyond the acting, there are a number of other factors in Enemy that make it a truly unsettling experience. The harsh and sometimes desolate urban landscapes are a treat, so long as you like your films dour and sinister at the same time. The cinematography is striking in an off-kilter, discomforting kind of way; Enemy has to be one of the yellowest films ever made. Practically the entire film has this sickly yellow sheen to it, like we're watching something infected, so as the camera prowls through or over the city we get the sense that something really strange is going on, and this is well before any of the truly weird stuff hits the screen. This look is perfectly matched by a menacing, barren score that knows when to intrude and when to just let things play out in uncomfortable silence. And there are a few moments that are, if not jaw-dropping, then certainly quite alarming, especially if you happen to be watching the film alone and late at night.

And then, beyond all that, beyond the really tight performances and the intriguing concept and all the metaphors and blah-de-blah-de-blah is that goddamn final shot, before some haunting end credits music and visuals kick Enemy into a whole 'nother gear. It did not deliver unto me a sense of complete bafflement or annoyance, rather the feeling that I'd watched something truly different, unique and, yes, quite deranged. Some viewers are likely to lob their remotes at the screen in frustration, pondering all those ways they could have better spent ninety minutes of their life. Their loss, then. Frankly, I embraced Enemy's obliqueness, and if nothing else it never outstayed its welcome. In fact, you kind of wish they'd made more of the Gyllenhaal vs Gyllenhaal face-off, but in a way the film really isn't about that moment.

I won't pretend that I really understood the film – but like some of David Lynch and David Cronenberg's stuff, Enemy feels like it isn't so much a film you're supposed to understand as one that you simply experience - there's lots of symbolism if you choose to look for it, and I have no doubt that subsequent viewings will shed light on the film's themes, but really – and director Villeneuve alludes to this in an interview contained on the disc – it's better sometimes to not have an explanation. And maybe that's the point, that not everything in Enemy is explainable. I suspect Enemy will only improve with subsequent viewings as this spider-web of a puzzle starts to make more sense. Without wanting to give much away, Enemy is presented as a straightforward narrative, but I got the feeling, when it was all over, that it's anything but. Think of how your first viewing of Memento kind of melted your brain, but started to click into place after your second or third viewing. Enemy feels like a similar beast.

UPDATE: I rewatched Enemy after reading an extremely detailed and insightful breakdown and analysis of the film (I don't know if hyperlinking to another site is considered verboten here or simply not good etiquette, so I'll probably just post the link in the comments below). And…yeah. It makes more sense the second time around, that's for sure, but I still feel I'm missing out on understanding a few moments that contained elements that must have been deliberate. Thematically it makes a lot more sense, and to be honest I'm looking forward to seeing Enemy a third time just to see which of us – it or I – is more full of shit. I guess that's the hallmark of a good movie: you can't get it out of your head, even after you've rewatched it and thought you'd put it to bed.
The Disc
Madman's Blu-Ray of Enemy packs an extremely clean picture, even if the visuals are intentionally, sickly-yellow or otherwise as cool-blue as a Michael Mann thriller. Detail is good when we bear witness to it, for otherwise Enemy is a pretty stark-looking film. The same could be said for the audio: clean, to-the-point and with nothing lacklustre. The visuals and audio prove to be immersive enough, although perhaps that's more down to the story and the performances.

The disc contains interviews with director Denis Villeneuve – he summarises the film as best he can, talks about why and how he chose to adapt The Double (essentially, he says, by destroying the complex original) – and actors Jake Gyllenhaal (who talks about the tone of the film, the spider symbolism, the difficulty of playing two characters), Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini and Mélanie Laurent. It's a solid set of interviews, but perhaps some behind-the-scenes footage would have strengthened things here.

The disc also contains Enemy's theatrical trailer as well as trailers for other Madman releases.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The back of the blu-ray proclaims that Enemy is a "sexy and hypnotically surreal psychological thriller". There's certainly a bit of sex in the film, but let's be honest here – if you find Enemy sexy, you might be a little wrong in the head. It'd be like finding the sex scenes in Cronenberg's Crash deeply arousing. There are erotic elements, but then there are also lots of deeply weird moments that cause you to flinch or widen your eyes or simply shake your head and mutter, "What – the – fuck". If nothing else, Enemy is a bold and unique voice in an era of endless superhero films, shared universes and unnecessary reboots, and a further reminder why Jake Gyllenhaal deserves all of the awards, ever.
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