Let’s say that you were watching a movie and you saw someone in said movie that was the spitting image of yourself, and I mean, as far as you can tell, he could be your identical, not fraternal, twin. You know, like in that movie starring Haley Mills (okay, okay, if you really feel the need to brag and say you are too young to have seen that, then the one starring Lindsay Lohen). Would you:
A. Upload an image of the actor on facebook and alert all your friends and say, “hey, isn’t this kind of neat, this guy looks just like me”, or would you,
B. Freak out in a way that suggests you see a conspiracy on the level of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 9/11 and Stanley Kubrick’s faking the moon landing…combined?
If you opt for A, welcome to the human race. But if you opt for B, you might be the perfect audience for Enemy, the new existential thriller with a pinch of magic realism thrown in for not so good measure written by Javier Guillon and Denis Villeneuve and directed by Villeneuve (of Incendies and Prisoners fame…or notoriety, if that’s your want).
I have to be honest and I’m sorry if I offend anyone, but I found Enemy to be one of the most ridiculous and idiotic movies I have seen in some time with a set of the most unrealistic characters, none of whom react to situations with the remotest iota of logic or, even more importantly, believability.
It’s about a group of people who freak out at situations that wouldn’t rile those who wear tin foil hats on their head; grow hysterical over situations that wouldn’t rattle manic depressives who haven’t had a Xanax in ten days; and panic at situations that wouldn’t fluster a paranoid schizophrenic.
All right, all right. I know. I’m hyper-hyperbolating. But still, I have to say it: this story never made the least lick of sense to me.
The basic premise revolves around Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal, at his moody best), a college professor whose big bailiwick is dictatorships and better social order through tyranny (though what this has to do with the price of tea in China is as much your guess as it is mine), who one night sees an actor, Anthony (Gyllenhaal redux), who looks exactly like him, playing an extremely minor role in a movie.
At first I thought, hey, this is kind of a neat idea. I mean, I started imagining all sorts of possibilities and permutations and was all seatbelted in for a kind of existential roller coaster ride on the level of someone like Haneke or Antonioni.
And I guess it was a good idea strapping myself in because, let me tell you, the whole thing was one bumpy night as the movie almost immediately went off the rails. Because what does Adam do in response to this mildly intriguing discovery? I mean, does he contact Anthony and send him a picture of himself to share the resemblance?
Au contraire mon freres. Adam makes the completely rational and QED choice of stalking Anthony as if it was a kill or be killed situation.
No, I am not making this up. That is what he does. And it just gets more ludicrous and preposterous after that.
When Anthony’s wife, the very pregnant Mary (Melanie Laurent), finds Adam in an outside area at the university, does she say, “OMG, you look just like my husband? Isn’t that just the wildest thing?” No, she is rendered speechless and terrified as if she discovered Charles Manson incognito.
When Anthony decides that it’s time to take Adam seriously and meet with him, does the very paranoid actor suggest rendezvousing at a very public location like Starbucks so there will be plenty of witnesses in case something untoward goes down? No, he suggests meeting at a room in a remote motel outside of town where anything could happen and no one will hear you scream (or if they do, they’ll just think you’re having sex or watching it).
When Anthony pretends to be Adam and seduces his girlfriend Helen (Sarah Gadon) and in the middle of sex she notices that his ring finger now has a wedding band tan line, does she say, “Huh, I’ve never noticed that before? What’s going on?” No, she starts screaming like she’s being physically assaulted and brutally raped (which, I guess she kinda, sorta is, raped that is since Anthony is lying about who he is, though not so much brutally and still, I maintain her reaction is just a bit on the unbelievable side).
And this is just a fraction of the reactions in how this potentially interesting set up ultimately doesn’t work itself out.
All the characters on screen act as if they are twenty pages ahead of the audience, but when you get to those twenty pages, you realize there was nothing to be twenty pages ahead about.
In Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve started the film at such a high level of tension that there really wasn’t anywhere for the movie to go. He does the same thing here. But whereas in Prisoners the dominant mood was anger and rage, here the dominant mood is boredom, ennui, and lethargy.
Everybody seems so unhappy, and depressed, and, well, bored out of their minds, and they do it all against a background of cinematography that has that brown washed out look of old home movies (I guess in case you don’t get the point from the direction and acting).
Perhaps what is most amazing is how Villeneuve can keep everything on such an absurdly high level of tension when everybody is acting as if listlessness and anemia were their primary motivation. I mean, it’s a really neat trick. Not a particularly positive one from my perspective and what is often called a dubious distinction, but a distinction nonetheless, but still.
And it’s not that some creepy things don’t happen. When Adam calls Anthony’s number and Mary mistakes him for Anthony because their voices are identical, okay, I give you that, that’s weird.
And when Adam and Anthony meet and they both have an identical scar, yeah, I get you, it’s doubly weird.
But in real life, where any two people in a similar situation would then sit down and start trying to figure things out and maybe talk about getting fingerprinted and having their DNA tested, Adam and Anthony just, well, I know I’ve said it before, but what they do is…freak.
The result is a tragic car accident that was so over the top and directed as if it were in a Fast ampersand Furious film and was so out of proportion to anything that had come before that I unfortunately disturbed my fellow audience members by involuntarily giggling.
And then get this. Are you sitting down? You really should be sitting down.
The whole thing is occasionally interrupted by dreams Adam has of spiders and naked women (it opens with a nightmare in which he visits a strip joint where patrons sit mannequin like as if they were watching opera while a naked woman grinds her high heeled foot on a tarantula—or some other oversized arachnid—don’t worry, it’s only suggested; don’t want to be too edgy and take a chance on offending anybody out there).
This leitmotif leads to a finale that is indeed shocking, but only in a jump and go boo way, not in an eye-opening, Oh, my god, now I get it, this is so cool in a mind altering way way.
At the same time, in spite of all that has been said before, what may be the most mind-boggling part of the film is that Anthony, who has never risen about having a part in a movie better than Bellhop 3, lives in a luxury apartment designed within an inch of Better Homes and Garden’s life, whereas Adam, a college professor, lives in an ugly neighborhood in an apartment half filled with junky furniture, if that.
Maybe it’s supposed to be a statement about the characters of some kind, but if so, I have no idea what it is.
With Isabella Rossellini playing Adam’s mother for some reason (I hope it’s the paycheck).