An excruciatingly frustrating movie, Enemy is a confusing, interesting, possibly unfinished, and very engrossing experience. Does it all make sense? It will take multiple viewings to figure that out. I’m sure that, once it reaches home video, clues will be deciphered and its pieces will be put together. At first glance it doesn’t seem like it all amounts to much of anything, but then the same can be said of a lot of works of art. And Enemy is certainly at least trying to be great art.
In a dual-role, the film stars Jake Gyllenhaal. He plays both Adam Bell, a history professor, and Anthony St. Claire, a nobody actor. I would guess Bell gets 75% of the screen time, and is our primary lead. At the behest of a co-worker, Bell rents a movie and notices an actor who looks strangely like him. It turns out that this man is St. Claire. He embarks to learn all he can about St. Claire before then attempting to meet him. St. Claire becomes his obsession. That feeling winds up being reciprocated, and before you know it both of them are doing strange things as they try to come to terms with this startling development.
That’s as good a plot summary as I can give you. It doesn’t spoil anything — although I think Enemy is largely spoiler-proof, given that even if you reveal everything anyone reading it will simply say “what?” and move on — and it gives you both the set-up and most of the events. This is a slow burn, and if you’re one who often complains that “nothing’s happening,” this will not be a film for you. The characters take a long time to get from Point A to Point B.
I’m not sure what it all means, what exactly happened, and what’s up with a spider that shows up every now and then. Perhaps that means I’m a failure. I didn’t “get it.” One screening isn’t going to be enough to truly get it, I don’t think, unless you’re (1) some sort of genius — or pretend to be one, because you’re so cool and edgy if you’re smarter than everyone else — or (2) you’ve read the book upon which Enemy is based: The Double, by José Saramago.
Actually, given that there are some radical changes between the film and the book — this is a far more mysterious property — the second one might not help that much. The film prefaces itself with the phrase “Chaos is merely order yet deciphered.” That might be a clue or an excuse. The film is chaotic and confusing and it’s the job of the filmmaker to at least provide us the information we need to decipher it. I don’t know if we get that. This one takes some time to digest and possibly more than one viewing.
I’ll say this, though: I absolutely want to watch it a second time. It intrigues me enough. While it plays, it engrosses you thanks to its sense of atmosphere and hypnotic pace. It continually makes you think, even if you’re not sure what you’re trying to figure out. It drops hints that lead nowhere, and it stays more than a couple of steps ahead of you. In fact, when the credits start rolling I was convinced I hadn’t even watched it all, or that I had hallucinated some of the more bizarre sequences.
It feels incomplete. The final scene, which is terrifying beyond all belief, presents itself without explanation or reason. It lingers in your mind afterward because you want some sort of justification but you don’t get any. It’s immensely frustrating and perhaps that was the intended feeling. Both characters feel exactly that while trying to come to terms with the fact that they live in the same place as their exact duplicate. If the film is about exploring the concept of one’s ego and identity, a feeling of infuriating and head-scratching makes sense to instill in the audience.
Jake Gyllenhaal crafts two distinct characters here. Bell is the repressed, anti-social history teacher, while St. Claire is an outgoing actor who rides around on a motorcycle, because of course he does. But in their quests to discover the truth, there are more similarities than either would likely want to admit, further fueling the central mysteries. Are they the same person? Twins? Is one inside the head of the other? Is it all a dream? WHY IS THERE A GIANT SPIDER CRAWLING AROUND DOWNTOWN TORONTO?
The females in the film have far less to do. The Bell character has a girlfriend played by Mélanie Laurent, while St. Claire is married to the six months pregnant Helen (Sarah Gadon). Neither gets a whole lot to do, save for be an object of desire who is often naked. Isabella Rossellini plays the mother of one of them, but at this point I can’t even remember which one. One of them doesn’t like blueberries, and I think it was that one. The other’s mother is never seen.
I don’t know if Enemy is a good movie or a bad movie. It’s a discussion topic and a head-scratcher, and the fact that it will make you think or become incredibly angry at it to me makes it something worth seeing. You’ll spend its 90 minutes trying to figure it out and I don’t think many people will be able to, especially not on a single viewing. I couldn’t. It might all be pointless nonsense, but it’s engrossing and is worth seeing, even if you come away infuriated and confused.