One of the highest compliments I can give to psychological thriller, a gigantic puzzle of a movie is that I read about it extensively after seeing it, trying to put it together. I think it's now been 4 days I read about this one. And I'm still confused about some things.
People are weak. That was my first thought after seeing Denis Villeneuve's new movie Enemy. Well, to be fair that was my first thought after my brain dealt with the shock and horror of that final scene. Some call it the scariest final shot of any movie ever made. While I'd say that's en exaggeration, it's definitely out there near the top of the list.
Enemy follows an ordinary teacher Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal). Adam teaches history and leads a pretty simple life. He works, he meets with his girlfriend (it seems all they do is have sex) and he sits around in his apartment looking sad and tired.
One day a co-worker of his recommends a movie. While watching this movie Adams sees that one of the actors looks exactly like him. He investigates and he finds out that the actor is Anthony St. Claire. Adam wants to meet with him but Anthony is reluctant. When they finally do meet the events become even more confusing and mysterious.
I was one of the very few who really didn't like Prisoners, Villeneuve previous film. I thought it was horribly written, pretentious piece of Oscar-baiting shit (am I being too subtle in expressing my dislike here?), however Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve both did good job, Gyllenhaal did wonders with his performance and Villeneuve can't be blamed for the script - he did what he could. Enemy was such a pleasant surprise. Not only it's the kind of movie I love, it's everything Prisoners was not.
Even tough the film is quite slow paced, it's intriguing enough to make it impossible for you to take your eyes off screen. You're not bored because you can't wait to see more pieces of the puzzle and attempt to put them together. The film's beginning also immediately demands your attention and pulls you in this strange, surreal world. The film opens with a card saying 'chaos is order not year deciphered' and what follows is a disturbing scene during some sort of bizarre sex show.
The film is loaded with some truly wonderful imagery. Some of the stuff is there but you have to know where to look to notice it. Sometimes it takes your brain a while to actually realize what it is you are seeing. Enemy reminded me greatly of movies by David Lynch and David Cronenberg (fun fact - Isabella Rossellini and Sarah Gadon, the two of directors' muses, are both in Enemy) - it's much less distressing to watch than their films but it's at times just as mysterious and fascinating.
The film has really outstanding special effects for a movie that I imagine had a very modest budget. There aren't many manipulated scenes here but those that are tempered with, are really fantastic. The score is also something worth praising as it's builds the tension and adds to the film's moody, grim and fatalistic atmosphere.
Jake Gyllenhaal was praised in every review of the movie I read and rightfully so. His performance, both as timid, ordinary Adam and outgoing, deceitful Anthony is just as subtle and yet nuanced enough you feel like you are watching two different people. My favorite moment of Gyllenhaal's performance is definitely the end of the scene in which Anthony is observing Adam's girlfriend on the streetcar. The look of anguish on his face is unreal.
I was very impressed with Sarah Gadon. I thought the casting here was excellent and she truly 'got' everything in the story. Her character, Helen, is if you choose one of the theories (the one I'll get to soon and the one I find most convincing) absolutely crucial. Helen is sweet and pretty. She is also 6-months pregnant which should make you, as a viewer, feel protective towards her. Yet you don't - there is something sinister about sweet, pregnant Helen, as we are watching the film from such strange point of view. Something about the way she looks at her husband and talks to him feels smothering, controlling, suffocating.
As for Isabella Rossellini and Melanie Laurent - while they don't have that much to do, their scenes are quite memorable. Rossellini's scene especially may be the key to understating the movie. Laurent while she has several sex scenes, which those enamored with her are definitely going to enjoy, is very well cast, especially given how her character, Mary, shares several physical similarities to Helen.
THEORY ON WHAT HAPPENED
(SPOILERS till the end of the post)
The most interesting thing about the movie is its story and the many different theories floating around as to what really happened and what this movie is actually about. There are so many different explanations, each with lots of points to back it up. Hell, there is even the body snatchers theory. However cool that one is, I don't find the evidence compelling enough.
The movie is based on the book The Double by Jose Saramago and in it the main two characters where indeed two different men. They were each other's doubles. However going by everything in this movie and certain things Villeneuve said about the spiders symbolizing the guilt of the protagonist there is no way Anthony and Adam are different people, no matter how much close to the ending of the novel (in which yet another double contacts the protagonist) this poster is.
Adam and Anthony must be the one and the same. Adam's mother mentions his dreams of becoming an actor - Anthony is in an actor. We know he wasn't in agency for 6 months, perhaps in this time Anthony started his teaching career (probably upon finding out about his wife's pregnancy, on one hand trying to earn some money and be there for her, on another trying to create something secret just for him).
In the scene in which his wife comes over to talk to him he acts as if he didn't knew her and she acts shocked. Whether Anthony is mentally ill or just made himself believe his other persona is real is unclear, what matters is the wife reaction. I think this scene is the first time she realizes that her husband has such secretive double life.
I saw Chris Stuckman's brilliant analysis of the movie and he has many wonderful points. His analysis is very observant and filled with impressive little things he picked up on, however there are several things I do not agree with. I agree Anthony and Adam are the same person. But I don't think Anthony/Adam is necessarily psychotic - he is someone who wanted to be an actor. I think he just pretends the other persona doesn't exist and acts the part, depending on circumstances (there is even a scene where he is rehearsing asking the other if he 'fucked his wife'; when as Adam he is on his way to his Anthony's apartment he walks past it, acting like he never been there before).
Villeneuve said something about the movie being about a man who subconsciously fights his demons. Now, in his above analysis, Stuckman implies the crash never happened and it was just a way for Anthony/Adam to kill his demons. I think the film is not in chronological order (hence the chaos card in the beginning) and the crash absolutely happened, only it happened in the beginning, not the end of the story.
I think because of the crash and Mary being in the car with Anthony/Adam his wife found out about infidelity. There's also the scar talk. I think this is how he protagonist got a scar. Sure, the car crash was very serious and it looked like it might have been fatal, but I think the only reason it is shown in the end of the movie is because it's the kind of climax of the infidelity arc for the protagonist until those demons start being too tempting to ignore them during the course of the movie.
Another thing I disagree with - I don't think spiders symbolize women. I think they are connected to them, but they symbolize fear, guilt, control. I really connected with the character because I don't think the film works just as the portrayal of unfaithful man - I think it works as a depiction of desperate need to escape from other people's control and finding a way to live life without suffocating.
I don't think the final spider was afraid. I think it was a depiction of his wife sensing he will be unfaithful again and getting ready to attack. The look on the protagonist's face was almost accepting and definitely scared - he knows she knows what he wants to do. He knows he is in the wrong. The 'history repeats itself, first it's tragedy then it's a farce' refers, I believe, to the fact the first time he was unfaithful it ended in car crash and now he has all those ridiculous adventures with his 'double' - imagining switching the women in their lives, calling his own house and acting like he doesn't know his wife, etc.
I think Anthony created Adam persona to deal with his guilt with the car accident and being unfaithful. Notice that we see Anthony and Mary sex scene/car accident during his reconciliation with his wife. I think the first is in the past and the latter is in the present. That's why we see Adam waking up, startled. Because he remembers the experiences with Mary - they happened a while back.
I think Anthony started teaching around the same time he had an affair with Mary - we see his barely furnished apartment and him meeting with her. Who knows if the car accident happened recently or a while back. I think him following Mary is after they broke up - he looks anguished when he looks at her, so close to temptation and fighting the urge to give in.
In his lecture Adam talks about how government controls people. As one of the examples for its tools he mentions that they don't educate people. And here he is, being a teacher - rebelling against control in yet another way. The idea of totalitarianism I think referred to how something is expected of him - being a faithful husband, having respectful job etc. yet those are not the roles that suit him so he is rebelling by sabotaging things.
Two things didn't work for me - in regards to my theory what the hell was up with Mary noticing the mark left by wedding ring on his finger? Now, if it's indeed as I assume earlier in the timeline it would make sense if they hooked up, then he got married, started to wear a wedding ring, early in their affair she would notice it, car crash, they get back together, they break up and he stalks her on streetcars. My brain is exploding here.
Another thing - the picture. Adam has a torn picture of himself. Anthony has the same picture - the torn part showing Helen, framed. I tend to avoid going for easiest solution to give the writer more credit. The easiest solution is that there are two copies of the picture. But no, that can't be it. The picture Adam has is in one of the many boxes, stuff he didn't touch since he moved in. Perhaps Helen threw him out after she found out about the affair?
That places the scene that happens near the end of the film - where the guy in the elevator talks about the show they attended and Adam finds the framed picture in the apartment - before him finding out about his double. BUT seeing how the spider is angry (see the explanation above) in the final shot could that be in the beginning and the actual start of the movie in the end? It doesn't seem likely as Helen is heavily pregnant in the final sequence of the film.
That fucking picture is the new silver paint on Lily's face for me. On my death bed I'll still be asking about this.
And here is a problem when you are watching the movie and not sure what's happening yet - as I understand in the book - where they are two different people - Anthony's counterpart blackmails Adam's counterpart to switch their lives for one night. Here he just intimidates him. That was a bit ridiculous. You let some guy have sex with your girlfriend because he yelled at you? Of course if my theory is correct it's not an issue in terms of reality, but in terms of buying what is happening as you watch the movie that scene struck me as odd.
Then there are blueberries - Anthony likes them and Adam doesn't. Blueberries are there for continuity - in the scene Adam sees the picture he also sees blueberries. Are these two elements just clumsily put there so we could figure out they are one person? I've been thinking about it for days and I can't do that anymore. So please share your ideas, especially about the picture in comments section.
In my extensive readings about the movie an idea of Anthony/Adam being a dictator who censors information showed up. I think it's an excellent theory. I think he plays two parts, seeing how he wanted to be an actor, this is his way of fulfilling himself - a husband and a man who seemingly does what he wants. But when he is away from family life, even during acting the part, he can't escape guilt. His fear creates paranoia and he perhaps needs to play this game with himself where he thinks there is a double and he is not the one running away from his responsibility, from his pregnant wife, from stability - that those are someone else's mistakes, not his.
And then when truth slowly crawls to him, just like a spider, he panics recognizing what tragedy (and farce) his life really is.