Alright Villeneuve, you got me. I’m invested. First Prisoners caught my interest, obviously because it perfectly captured central Pennsylvania even though it was filmed in Georgia. Probably more relevant is that it’s brutal and out of control with its violence and emotion. It takes a revenge plot to a whole other level. Then last year’s Sicario was one of my top picks with its realistic portrayal of the loosing war on drugs and the vast effect it has on those on both sides of the border. Both these films blend visual beauty with dark human interest stories. Villeneuve has proven to be a great director of gripping and unique thrillers. They may go over the top but I’m too stunned from the intensity to laugh at any plot hole. Because he has made these two amazing films I wondered why his Jake Gyllenhaal twin movie had flown under the radar. Prisoners had one Gyllenhaal and was awesome,the possibilities are endless with two. Even a bland movie like Legend is enjoyable when you double a handsome actor. Well I wouldn’t call Enemy bland but I also would call it exciting. It’s baffling both in good and bad ways.
Where to start compared to the films I just praised is Enemy is too pretentious. It leans into its “artsy” facade opening with disorienting cuts to a naked women in a spooky Eyes Wide Shutnightclub and remaining this harsh yellow throughout the film. Most detrimental is it’s incredibly slow pacing which is a death sentence for a film with so little plot. The film’s main component is stalking as timid college professor Adam (Gyllenhaal) discovers after watching a movie that he has a doppelgänger in the wannabe actor Anthony (Gyllenhaal). The mundane of his own life leads him to obsess over Anthony and the strangeness of the situation also provokes curiosity in Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) who is already disillusioned with her unfaithful husband. A lot of time is spent on the characters being perplexed, prompting them to follow each other all over town. As an audience member I felt significantly less intrigued because I grew up watching The Parent Trap so freaky twins are nothing new. I’ve accepted realities where an actor will be two different people. Don’t get me wrong, Gyllenhaal plays the subtleties well, convincing me these are polar opposite men yet inhabit similar mannerisms but the action is under stimulating, opting for lingering shots of people depressed in their apartments then anything actually happening.
For a movie that is all about people trying to comprehend having a double, there is no pay off to why this has occurred. I usually wouldn’t expect an answer for what is presumably all by chance but this film seemed as if it wanted to give me a reason. One of its many problems is if this double conundrum is a philosophical one or a sci-fi mystery meant to be taken literally. Since the central drive is the characters’ is understanding what’s happening, I assume that’s what I should be invested in as well. This led me to question if this took place in the future. The way Villeneuve shoots Toronto in a slightly disorienting manner but that could also be everyday Toronto, I don’t know how Canada works. I would willingly believe these characters are a glitch in the Matrix and their reality is all a facade created by robots, like Canada. Instead of an exciting resolution to my half baked theories, the film culminates in Anthony pressuring Adam into a swap so he can cheat with Anthony’s girlfriend Mary (Melane Laurent). Anthony being tyrant causes a car crash when Mary get suspicious and conversely, Helen who suspects this is not her husband, makes love to the kinder Adam.
I bring all this up to make room for the real gruesome entree at the Dr Frank-N-Furter dinner this movie presents before us which is the goddamn spiders. Adding to the surreal nature of Enemy, the film sporadically returns to an unexplained spider motif. I stress the unexplained because these silent glances of a giant spider looming over skyscrapers or a topless woman with the head of a tarantula walking past in Adam’s dream in the moment seem bizarre and inconsequential. I usually shake off mystifying imagery knowing that it means something to the filmmaker and didn’t translate clearly to me as a viewer. Where this becomes problematic is the final shot of the entire film is of the morning after Adam and Helen’s romantic evening, he discovers the mysterious key that presumably leads to the ominous sex club. He lies to his fake wife that he now has plans for the evening and when he enters into the other room because she hasn’t responded, she’s a giant spider. Boom. Cut to credits. My initial reaction as I texted my friend Grissom, the only person I knew to have witnessed this, was “THAT’S THE ENDING????” My confusion and fervor comes from when you end on this symbolism, it’s not a stretch to assume the whole film is allegory and that’s why you’re not given any answers. But then what is this allegory. Grissom already having time to research quickly responded “it means he’s going back to his ways of adultery, disrespecting women and fearing commitment” then followed that up with “I disagree but that’s the online consensus”. I mention this up because I like to formulate my own opinions before I write a review but I was presented this theory quite immediately for this aspect I had attributed the least attention to during the short run time.
I don’t find this an incorrect theory. The first time we see a tarantula is in a literal scenario where one of the sex club workers squishes the giant arachnid under her stiletto. This is how Anthony treats women, as objects that he can ogle and discard. Spiders also represent fear whether it be Adam’s fear of his double and now jolted life or as Grissom suggested, Anthony’s fear of commitment as he rather sleep with other women than be loyal to his gorgeous, pregnant wife. They also could be linked to deviant sexuality because these spiders often show up in connection to the creepy lounge. Any way I look at it, women are compared to spiders and I can’t say I fully appreciate that. Villeneuve implies we are either something to be feared or disliked. I don’t think there is malice intent since there’s a female character like Helen who we’re meant to sympathize with as she’s six month pregnant with a selfish, self indulgent husband. In contrast Adam has an overbearing mother played by Isabella Rossellini and Mary is a blank slate of a character only used for sex which isn’t the most encouraging regarding this argument. I don’t think this movie is misogynistic but the note it chose to end on is tainted with unforeseen connotations.
Enemy is caught between literal and figurative narrative not favoring either side which is where my frustration stems. If it had relied more heavily on its spider imagery throughout and didn’t read like a mystery I would have been more open to being an arthouse film with decent direction and acting. It’s indecision is what leads to its demise but also makes it memorable. The final shot of the super sized tarantula huddle in the corner has haunted me with it’s nightmarish quality. It’s such a jarring way to end a mellow thriller. I don’t even want to call this a thriller because it’s not that thrilling especially compared to Villeneuve’s other films. I’m a sucker for CGI spiders (I proudly own Eight Legged Freaks and I’ll throw The Mist into this category as well) so for sitting through this slow movie, it’s maybe the best pay off I can ask for but it contributes to even more unanswered questions. Is the doppelgänger the enemy or is it confusing metaphors. We may never know.