Saturday, June 13, 2015


Enemy (2013) is so ridiculously lugubrious that it acquires a kind of single-minded grandeur.  You watch and wait for some kind of pay-off commensurate to the film's pretentious misery.  And when the climax, finally, occurs, it's completely incomprehensible -- a bizarre shock that you've been anticipating for about an hour but one that makes no sense whatsoever.  Enemy is certainly stylish and vaguely interesting -- the camera-work depicting Toronto as a kind of capitol of Hell is sufficiently remarkable to engage the viewer throughout the relatively short picture.  And the premise of the movie, derived from a book by Jose Saramago (I read the novel some years ago but couldn't recall the author or anything other than the general situation) is reliably compelling -- indeed, it's a premise that has animated works by Edgar Alan Poe and the German romantics, the Doppelgaenger.  Adam Hall is a depressed, hermit-scholar, a history teacher who blathers on about freedom and tyranny in front of a white-board marked conspicuously with the names of various de riguer philosophers.  Although the man is laconic, doesn't go to the movies and doesn't watch DVDs, he has a beautiful wraith-like girlfriend with whom he has lots of sex, depicted in sweaty close-ups as writhing around on crumpled bed sheets.  The girlfriend has a perpetually worried look on her face -- probably due to the fact that she is sleeping with a kind of morose, uncommunicative zombie.  (His idea of interaction with her is grading papers while she pours him drinks -- at least, he's committed to his job -- and, then, sullenly raping her after she's fallen asleep).  This teacher, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, furry with beard and with eyes like a beaten puppy, is named Adam Hall.  One night, he watches a DVD at the insistence of a colleague and discovers that someone who looks exactly like him acts the role of a bell-hop in some sort of sub-literate farce.  It turns out that Hall's double has played several roles, all of them minute, and that he is represented by an agent with offices in one of the hundreds of sinister, identical office buildings located in downtown Toronto.  (Anonymous high-rise condominiums, strange flexed and twisted towers, and skyscrapers looming against a pinkish-grey post-apocalyptic sky make up the décor in this film -- an ominous, inhuman landscape that derives from the malign-looking office towers and industrial parks in David Cronenberg's Scanners.)  Hall's double turns out to an actor named Anthony Clare, a man likewise encumbered with a morose and ghostly ivory-complexioned consort, this woman, however, six months pregnant.  After much Vertigo-style driving around, surveillance, and peeping, the two Jake Gylenhaal's meet one another.  Instead of being amused by their identical appearance (they are the same down to a scar on the chest), the two protagonists are cast into some kind of existential delirium.  Instead of contriving cool pranks or interesting erotic escapades, both characters mope and threaten one another.  Adam Hall goes so far as to confront his mother, Isabelle Rosellini, looking plump and jolly as Buddha, about his twin -- no, she tells him, you are my only child.  Double the Gyllenhaal here is not double the fun.  In fact, Adam Hall is so inexplicably sorrowful about discovering his identical twin that he becomes even more uncommunicative, silent, and hopeless.  Ultimately, the evil twin, the actor Anthony Clare forces Adam Hall to lend him his moon-faced girlfriend for a romantic interlude.  As revenge, Hall goes to visit Clare's wife.  It seems pretty clear that Hall's girlfriend gets the best of the deal -- we see her wiggling around in satisfied way with her paramour, suddenly much more vigorous in bed than before.  Unfortunately, Clare and Hall's wife have a post-coital quarrel in a speeding car and they crash.  The crash is effectively staged, very quick and violent, a sort of Princess Diana- splattering impact with a pillar underground and it seems clear that the actor and the history teacher's wife are dead.  The camera tracks toward the wreck to reveal a shatter-pattern in a window that looks like a spider web.  Meanwhile back in Clare's condominium, a high-rise pad more or less identical to Hall's place, the history teacher has sex with Clare's wife.  Just before he leaves the apartment, Hall hears about a fatal crash on the freeway.  The smog-tinctured atmosphere remains a ghastly pinkish-yellow.  And, when Hall goes to say goodbye to Clare's wife, he discovers that she has turned into a huge, black spider.  The camera lingers for a moment on his face -- he doesn't really look too disturbed or surprised.  The arachnid motif is announced in the film's first sequence, an opaque montage of well-dressed middle-aged men, including one of the Jake's watching some kind of erotic performance that involves nude dancers and huge tarantulas.  Some of the buildings have crooked Brutalist supports that look like spider-legs and this aspect of the film, which includes Clare zooming around in a bug-like helmet, has the languorous, oneiric feeling of Scarlett Johanson's horror film Under the Skin.  From time to time, Jake will have a nightmare involving a woman walking on the ceiling with a sleek black spider's head or visions of an enormous long-legged arachnid, a creature that looks like one of Louise Bourgeois' sculptures, looming over the hellish skyline of Toronto.  I have no idea what the spider motif is supposed to signify although the final shock delivered by the film is telegraphed to the audience fairly early in the picture.  (Nonetheless, the appearance of the room-sized arachnid in the penultimate shot in the picture is very scary.)  I suppose one might interpret things literally and assume that the actor Anthony Clare is a member of a strange spider cult that eroticizes arachnids and marries them -- there is some intimation that there is a secret underground domain, accessed by an enigmatic key, in which the spider-lovers consummate that rituals.  Or, more probably, the final sequence simply signifies that, as in The Wizard of Oz, the whole strange affair was "only a dream."  In any event, I have never seen a film with this kind of bizarre non sequitur ending, a bit of David Cronenberg style horror (like The Fly) that seems to exist only because the movie was shot in Cronenberg's "stomping ground," Toronto.  A monstrous misfire, the movie is certainly made with great panache and I will be interested to see what the director, the enormously gifted, Denis Villeneuve (he made the exceptionally disturbing Prisoners in 2013) does next. 

Does anyone remember that Chinatown was remade years later by Jack Nicholson as The Two Jakes?  I wonder if this explains Gyllenhaal's casting in this film. 

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