“Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”
Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy reminds me of Franz Kafka’s famous novel, The Metamorphosis. Throughout the film, college professor Adam Bell discovers the darker side of himself, but not before we’re welcomed by the timid, nervous Adam. Racked by worries and an obsessive need for pattern, one can barely tell the difference between Adam’s last day and his next. Adam is a planner and has no thirst for adventure or change. He wants to go to work and come home and be alone, all of which is strikingly similar to Kafka’s Gregor Samsa.
A coworker suggests a film Adam should rent and he decides to take the advice because there are indications that Adam is bored, just too fearful to do anything about it. Then he sees himself in this film and Adam, of course, is a teacher and has never been in a movie. Caught off guard, Adam’s curiosity gets the better of him as he tracks down this doppelgänger.
While Adam and his double, Anthony, are exact replicas, their personalities differ greatly, with Anthony being a more commanding presence. Jake Gyllenhaal is an unknown figure to me, but appears to be hitting his stride in the industry, with Prisoners and Nightcrawler gaining special recognition among audiences and critics and with Southpaw arriving later this year. Gyllenhaal contrasts the two characters very well, with distinct twirks offsetting Adam and Anthony.
However, Enemy‘s main substance is found in the writing. Analogies and allegories are sprayed throughout this story. The complaint that I and I’m sure many had was following these.
I consider myself a smart person and while I picked up on many of the branching narratives and ideas, the trunk of the story as well as the ending went right over my head. After research and reading, I have now gathered some understanding of where Villeneuve was trying to go with Jose Saramago’s novel, but still don’t grasp all the straws.
A large part of this is not on the audience’s shoulders, as I will explain in my first spoiler’s edition in a while down below. There are many different interpretations of the material, as will be obvious by the presentation, which is the confusion that Enemy causes. It’s not that Enemy is without direction. It’s that its direction, rather than a road, is more like a spiderweb (an inside joke for those who have seen this). Because of the varying turnoffs from the main drag, it remained unclear to me what the primary train of thought was here. Which interpretation is the one Villeneuve selected or did he leave it up to us? A film like this does not have the luxury of leaving the decision up to us. There are too many choices, convincing choices I might add, for us to be expected to choose. We need a nudge in the right direction and I never felt that nudge.
Story laid aside until the spoiler’s section, Enemy has a lot to show off, Denis Villeneuve’s second major film escapade being the leader on the list.
Denis Villeneuve, a man who has a very bright future ahead of him, has already earned my respect with Prisoners and now boosts it with this. The French-Canadian’s approach behind the camera is one-of-a-kind, which is the biggest compliment I can give to someone in an industry with thousands of competitors. Villeneuve has an elite ability to create novelist suspense, suspense that builds for 300-plus pages in a novel and still continues to ravel readers tighter to the story until it’s engulfed them whole. The measured takes, slow release dialogue delivery and overflowing emotions siphoned off in short bursts are all common place in both of these outings and yet remain distinct to me. It is an act I do not think I will grow tired of anytime soon.
Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.
80-89 It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable Guy, The Cabin in the Woods, Tears of the Sun, Edge of Tomorrow, The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
50-59 This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Mad Max: Fury Road, Blitz, The Punisher, Drive Hard, Run All Night)
40-49 This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Crank, Erased, I, Frankenstein, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
30-39 Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Centurion, Planet of the Apes, Stonados, Redemption, Pride and Prejudice)
20-29 What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The Colony, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, The Grey, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Thor: The Dark World)
0-19 Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (Outcast, Sabotage, Gallowwalkers, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Safe)
My score for Enemy: 76.
Yet another film I can add to the list entitled “Untapped Potential”, Enemy has a lot going for it and at the same time, a lot of obstacles obstructing the audience from getting to that next level. The best metaphor of the experience is if you got a renowned painter to come to your house and paint a masterpiece for you. He pulls out his paints and his brushes, selects the one he wants to begin with and makes one curved line on the canvas. He then hands the brush to you and asks you to paint. There’s a lot the curved line says, with the pressure he put into the stroke, as well as the curve, texture and color, but there are so many options to be extrapolated from that lone curve that you have no clue where to go next. The themes are there but not simplified enough that I was able to hold and admire them. It is one I plan to revisit.
*SPOILER ALERT* IF YOU DON’T WANT THE MOVIE SPOILED, STOP READING!!!
I read an analysis from slate.com that is worth checking out and may answer some of the questions you have. Key emphasis on the word “some”.
First, there’s the meaning of the spider. There’s a spider in our opening frames and the purpose of that opening scene is not revealed until the last take of the film, where things get all sorts of confusing.
The spider is a recurring theme here and prior to reading the above analysis, I had no idea what was going on and even the writer of the analysis above acknowledges uncertainty as to exactly what was going on. To my updated understanding, the spider was a visual representation of our dark side, but that does not explain why at the end, Adam goes into the bedroom and finds a giant spider in the corner instead of Helen, Anthony’s pregnant wife.
My original interpretation was that the story was a figment of Adam’s imagination, that Adam and Anthony were actually the same person and there are some hints of that during the screenplay.
When Adam visits his mother, he tells her that he doesn’t like blueberries when he sits at the table, but his mother says, “Of course you do” and says something like, “I wish you’d stop being a third-rate actor”, something that Adam is not, but Anthony is. Anthony also loves blueberries. His fridge is stocked with them.
When you search the cast list on Google, Helen’s last name is Bell, not St. Claire, Anthony’s last name, adding further wood to my theory that this is a psychological battle of Adam’s alter egos. However, then you have to ask yourself how Mary was killed in the car accident because Adam clearly couldn’t have been there. Was she driving with someone else or was it another man bent on sexual deviance like Anthony? Does Helen exist or is she another figment of Adam’s imagination? If she’s not, then where was she in the room? The analysis above suggested Helen was the spider or that she was carrying one in her belly, not a literal spider of course but an Anthony, a dark side of Adam. As the story progresses, Anthony and Adam become more alike and yet Anthony is “killed” in the car wreck, but yet Adam has now progressed to resemble Anthony closer than ever.
The more I think about my theory, the more Enemy begins to make sense, but at the same time, the more I question myself what really happened. I’m just not sure and now I feel like Anthony on the poster, a spider wracking through my brain as I try to figure out what was what and what wasn’t.
And I’m still not sure why the “N” on the poster is italicized but I know there’s a reason behind it, because in this film, there was a reason for everything.