We had dropped by the cinema to see the screening schedule of Guardians of the Galaxy, which opens tomorrow, when we saw that Enemy was playing in Cinema 1. We were curious about the film by Denis Villeneuve, which has gotten great reviews and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who encounters his exact double. However, we wanted to leave the mall by 4pm to avoid getting trapped in traffic.
Then it occurred to us that in the last couple of months our life has been circumscribed by our fear of traffic, and that is not good. We decided to stay on for the 530 screening, even if we had to walk home. Yay, cinephilia! Besides, we weren’t sure Enemy would still be in cinemas tomorrow (Under the Skin came and went, and Moira says the nudity and sex scenes were not cut).
We dragged a friend out of the house to see Enemy with us, and he had not only read the novel it was based upon (The Double by Jose Saramago), but he had insider knowledge about Jake Gyllenhaal. “He’s in my friend’s yoga class and his downward dog is pathetic. Therefore he is straight.” (Oo, hindi pa nag-uumpisa ang pelikula, nalait na si Jake.)
It must be the season for doppelgangers: there’s also The Double, adapted from a novella by Dostoevsky and starring Jesse Eisenberg and Jesse Eisenberg.
Set in a grim and rather sickly-looking big city, Enemy opens in a vault-like room where men are quietly watching a performance involving women and spiders. Then we meet Adam Bell, a university professor whose general demeanor suggests unhappiness. His lectures sound mechanical, his apartment is drab, his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) is lovely but he seems interested only in quick and dirty sex. His mother (Isabella Rosellini) leaves a phone message asking how he can live that way. Upon a colleague’s recommendation, he rents a movie called Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way. There’s nothing remarkable about it, but the unsettling score (We don’t know about you, but when we hear atonal cello scrapings we think someone is losing their mind), the ominous shadows and the claustrophobic shots tell us that something is not right.
Then Adam is awakened in the middle of the night by the belated awareness of something he’d seen in the movie: an actor who looks exactly like him. Now if most people spotted an actor who looked exactly like them, they would probably be amused, google the actor, joke about the resemblance, and in some cases, send the actor a message on Facebook (or join the I Am Pogay contest). That’s what might happen in real life; this is a movie, as the unnatural, uneasy atmosphere reminds us.
Adam reacts to his discovery with fear and disgust and an undeniable fascination. He tracks down his double, the obscure actor Anthony Clair (along the way attempting to disguise himself with a hideous pair of sunglasses). Adam and Anthony meet in a hotel room, and why the meeting should be so creepy and anxious we don’t know, but it is.
This is one of those movies where nothing seems to be happening onscreen, but if you’re a susceptible cinephiliac, maybe an over-thinker who sees mysteries hidden everywhere, Enemy will haunt you for days. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? What is their relationship to each other? (The matching scars immediately recall the movies of David Cronenberg; in fact you could read Enemy as a riff on Dead Ringers.)
Gyllenhaal is brilliant as Adam and Anthony. In the early scenes it is easy to tell them apart, but as the similarities in their desires and anxieties are revealed, they seem to merge into one person and it becomes harder to say which Jake is which. Or are they the same person to begin with?
What’s with all the spiders? What is that giant spider hovering over the city? What does it have to do with Adam’s lecture on dictatorship, control, and keeping the individual down…
What more emphatic way is there to show the loss of individuality in cinematic terms?
Rating: If you need rational explanations, skip it. If you enjoy having your mind go off on strange tangents, highly recommended…assuming it’s still playing in theatres.