Cinematic Enigma

Director Denis Villeneuve’s thriller Prisoners was one of the best movies of 2013.  In 2014, he reunites with Jake Gyllenhaal for a new thriller called Enemy.  Based on the novel The Double by Jose Saramago, Enemy has the same dark tone and intensity as Prisoner, but the plot is less straightforward and more enigmatic.  The result is a film that is entertaining, but will have its audience scratching their head for hours afterwards.

Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a history teacher whose ordered life is currently stuck in a never-ending loop.  This repetitive and familiar life is thrown off track when a colleague simply recommends a movie he saw recently.  When watching the movie, Adam discovers that one of the actors looks exactly like him.  He becomes obsessed with this doppelganger and tracks him down through his talent agency.  When he calls the man’s home, the actor’s wife mistakes him for her husband.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam in EnemyWhen Adam finally reaches Anthony, the actor, the two agree to meet.  When they do, they discover that they are identical, right down to the scars on their stomachs.  Adam is freaked out and decides they should just never see each other again, but Anthony is intrigued.  He stalks Adam to his home and discovers that he has an attractive girlfriend named Mary.  This leads Anthony to propose a switch.  Adam refuses, but Anthony then makes it clear that he is not asking.

The movie opens with a quote taken straight from the novel: “chaos is order yet undeciphered.”  The movie’s plot is the chaos of the quote.  We know there must be an order to it, but it will certainly take some time to decipher.  My wife and I have been discussing this movie for almost twenty-four hours now and it seems that whenever we come up with what we think might be an answer, it only leads to more questions.

Director Villeneuve has confirmed that the answers are there to be found, but for the life of me I have not yet been able to find them.  In a less well made movie, this could be a problem.  A puzzle-ladened plot in an uninteresting movie is enough to turn any audience member off.  Fortunately, like David Lynch’s equally enigmatic thriller Mulholland Drive, Enemy is so intriguing and well made that you want to take the time to try and solve the puzzle.

The movie is successful for many reasons.  Much like Prisoners, the movie is filmed darkly.  At times, it feels as if none of the characters within the story ever turn on the lights.  The music is spare and ominous, reminding me a lot of the score Stanley Kubrick used in his final film, Eyes Wide Shut.  The editing also plays a key role in creating the movie’s tone.  At times the edits cut in and out of the images, almost like the camera is blinking.  Are we inside the head of one of the characters?  That’s just another question without easy answers.

The final element that makes this movie work is the acting.  Many actors have played different characters in the same movie before, but usually they look completely different (The Nutty Professor) or have completely different personalities (Adaptation).  Adam and Anthony are identical in their looks and although their personalities differ some, the differences are not as pronounced as they can be in other movies.  Yet, Jake Gyllenhaal does enough with their differences to keep us aware that they are different characters (or are they?).  It may take us a few moments within a new scene to identify who we are watching, but it soon becomes clear (or does it?).

With its many questions and its dark, sometimes creepy visuals, Enemy certainly won’t be for everyone.  But for audiences looking for something that is not only going to entertain, but will also challenge their puzzle-solving skills, this movie will be right up your alley.

Enemy is rated R for “some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language.”  This is not a movie that aims to be anything less than an R.  Its content is incredibly graphic, but it does warrant the rating.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Enemy.