UR ENTERTAINED: “Enemy” Starring Jake Gyllenhaal
Written by Josh Di Rocco- The Fourth Wall Critic
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini, Sarah Gadon
Rating: 3/5 Stars
“Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered.” is the phrase that preludes the spiral into the madness of “Enemy”, and never has a quote been more accurate in its description of a film. Villeneuve strays from formula in his direction and takes the audience on a stylized and unconventional cinematic experience. This is not a movie that plays to the masses. It demands a high level of attention and analysis and any not willing to participate will walk away unhappy. Those prepared to let go of convention and enjoy the haunting ride will appreciate the experience of watching this film and the discussion that follows. Even 24 hours after having watched Enemy for myself, I’m still trying to make sense of what I saw.
On the surface, the movie features Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, a depressed history professor looking for more than his seemingly gloomy existence currently offers. Adam is a submissive being, quiet natured and unsure of himself. Upon taking a movie recommendation from a work colleague, he discovers his exact replica in one of the extras of the film. This sends Adam into an obsessive search of the actor whose identical appearance is much too similar to be a coincidence. His search leads him to discover his doppelganger as Anthony St. Claire. Anthony’s character is a polar opposite to that of Adam’s. We see Anthony as an alpha sort, aggressive at times and immoral in some aspects of his life. Gyllenhaal is brilliant in his performance as both Adam and Anthony; playing their differences so well you often forget it’s the one actor embodying two characters.
What follows is a visually driven, psychological piece that descends into madness. The film highly benefits from its moody cinematography and grand musical score. Both elements combine to formulate a sinister atmosphere riddled with uncertainty. The screenplay is unfortunately not up to par with the film’s grand vision. The dialogue between characters is minimal, leaving long gaps where the movie relies heavily on its visuals, which are sometimes unimpressive and very complex. Additionally, there is a reoccurring visual element involving a spider that often distracts the viewer from the issue at hand. This element is played as though it’s the key to understanding the entire conflict; a symbolic image that must be understood, which only further confuses when it’s left unresolved. The filmmakers themselves have alluded to the fact that the audience puts too much weight on “the spider”. However, when a film relies so heavily on a theme or image as Enemy does, it would only make sense to provide some clarity. Simply asking the audience to disregard something that plays such a large roll, or to “decipher” the image for ourselves, left me feeling a little cheated.
There are many aspects to Enemy that I highly enjoy and applaud. Its enigmatic makeup is the basis for a debate that happens when the film is over, and that debate is what makes Enemy an engaging experience. Yet, its paradoxical nature also comes off a bit pretentious at times as it presents these grand ideas that cannot be properly explained. As the opening caption said: “chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered”, and that’s exactly what Enemy is all about; a presentation of chaos that requires an attempt to interpret. Ultimately, Villeneuve leaves his audience with a giant puzzle, forcing them to reassemble it on their own terms, despite the absence of a few essential puzzle pieces.
Josh Di Rocco regularly reviews and comments on the world of cinema from his perspective from the fourth wall (The “Fourth Wall” is a stage term that defines the space that separates a performer or performance from an audience). He is currently an active member of the arts scene in Toronto, Ontario. He regularly attends the Toronto International Film Festival and spends much of his spare time at the TIFF Bell Lightbox viewing new releases and admiring the classics. His other passions include travel, style, music, and the theatre. Follow Josh on both Instagram (@fourthwalljosh) and Twitter (@fourthwalljosh) for regular updates on the Hollywood scene, film reviews, award season, and commentary on everything cinema.