Sunday, March 9, 2014

Enemy

Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy is the best surrealist fever dream mind fuck of a film I’ve seen since Mulholland Dr. No hyperbole. No bullshit. Really, it’s that good. The film is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, buried within a magic trick. Many will spend countless hours attempting to dissect it. They’ll ask questions that have no answers, and offer opinions based on distorted information. That’s not my style. I’ve never appreciated film as a medium to pick apart. Examining what it all means doesn’t appeal to me. It’s the experience of a film that I specifically desire. What is a film telling me, and how does that make me feel? Experience. Emotion. These are a few of the things that make my world go round.

Plot details will be brief. Believe me, the fun of Enemy is in the experience. So I advise you to research the film cautiously. Avoid trailers, reviews, essays (yes, there will be essays), and film festival interviews. But while you’re here, I’ll carefully guide you through my experience with the film, avoiding any and all twists and turns.

We meet a man. A regular, every day, ordinary man with a thick beard, a boring wardrobe, and a drab Volvo. This is Adam, a history professor at a Toronto college, played impeccably by Jake Gyllenhaal. Adam’s life is a pattern. He gets up, goes to school, teaches class, goes home, sleeps with his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent), gets up, goes to school, and on and on. Through one of Adam’s lectures (and some ingenious film editing), we discover that he is keenly aware of life’s patterns. Due to these patterns, we quickly sense who Adam is. But there are puzzlements. Subtle discrepancies that deviate from his seemingly mundane lifestyle. For example, Adam appears to be very aggressive in the bedroom. I don’t mean violent, but really invested in carnal desire, which seems unlike the Adam we know.
One evening while watching a “local” film on his laptop, he notices the face of a background actor. He notices this face, because it is his face, or at least someone who looks exactly like him. After some amusing detective work, Adam finds the actor’s home phone number. He cautiously calls. A woman picks up and immediately mistakes Adam’s voice for her husband, Anthony.

And we’re off and running.

Enemy is directed by Denis Villeneuve, a Canadian filmmaker with a profound interest in dark, human stories. His brutal family drama, Incendies, is one of the finest films made in the last decade, and should’ve won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2011. Last year, his other brutal family drama, Prisoners, was released to critical and commercial acclaim. I wrote a very favorable review of Prisoners last September, but I’m happy to report that Enemy couldn’t be more different. 

Villeneuve made Prisoners and Enemy back to back, using the same actor and releasing the films together at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It is a marvel to watch these two films so closely to one another, and discover the many facets of Villeneuve’s mind. In Enemy, Villeneuve has swapped the beautiful, cold, Oscar-nominated photography of Prisoners with a bright, sepia-infused palette. The musical score and often rapid editing of Enemy is a welcome change to the linear focus of Prisoners. I could go on, but you get it. Denis Villeneuve is clearly a man of various skills, capable of releasing two great, vastly different films at the exact same time.
The highest compliment I can offer a dual performance is that the actor makes you forget you’re watching the same actor. For example, when I watch Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, I know Nicolas Cage is playing the tortured, insecure Charlie Kaufman, but I often forget that he’s also playing Charlie’s silly, opportunistic brother, Donald. Same applies to Gyllenhaal’s work in Enemy. Gyllenhaal inhabits the mannerisms of a morose college professor with utter conviction. The bland wardrobe, the beige apartment, the shuffling walk, the untreated hair – it all plays flawlessly. And by the time we meet Anthony (who behaves like a cocky frat boy who accidentally knocked his girlfriend up in college, and had to give up The Party because of it), it’s as if we’re meeting a completely different actor.

To argue which man Gyllenhaal occupies better is fruitless. The point is, he seamlessly immerses himself so deeply into two worlds, that it can be purposefully, amusingly, difficult for the audience to tell them apart. (For added fun, compare Gyllenhaal’s characters in Enemy to his brash and passionate Loki from Prisoners. They literally have nothing in common. The fact that a director and a star were able to create three distinctly different characters in such a short period of time is a remarkable feat in and of itself.)

Originality. I’m asked a lot about what I look for in films. What makes me truly love a movie? And that’s the answer, originality. Originality is the heart of art. When executed well, originality pumps life into any artistic medium. I’ve dedicated my life to just one art form, and I’ve grown to realize that originality gives me hope. It rights all of film’s wrongs, curbs my doubt, and makes the future look bright. I watched much of Enemy with a wide smile. Though the film’s subtlety lends itself to smart humor, it is far from a funny film. I wasn’t smiling because I was laughing, I was smiling because I was happy. Ecstatic, even. I was watching a film unlike any I had ever seen. The future is bright, folks, and Enemy is a perfect example as to why. A+

40 comments:

  1. Just caught you waxing lyrical about this on Twitter and had to pop over. I'm not sure I've even heard of this one to be honest. We've got a May release here in the UK by the looks of it so I'll definitely keep an eye out for it.

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    1. You know, it isn't being promoted too well over here either. For the most part, the marketing seems to be trying to capitalize on the success of Prisoners, which is perfectly fine. But I do wish it was being given a bigger push. A tough film to love, but a fantastic one all the same.

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  2. Oh my goodness, I cannot wait to see this! It's easily one of my most anticipated films of this year and it looks so amazing from the trailer and clips I've seen!

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    1. SO good, my friend. I really think (or at least hope) that you'll dig it.

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  3. how did you get to see this so soon?

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    1. I was lucky enough to be invited to a screening of the flick at USC, (which is an amazing campus, by the way). But man, I can't wait to see this one again on Friday.

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  4. Enemy is something I've been hearing about for a while, and has so looking forward to catching because of Jake Gyllenhaal. I've always been a fan but his work in Prisoners is some of his best yet. Can't wait to see this when I can! :)

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    1. I hope it comes your way soon! His work here could very well end up being my favorite performance of his. I mean... wow, so good.

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  5. OK, you've convinced me to see this. I just hope it's playing at an art-house theater nearby.

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    1. Ahh I hope so too. I really think you'll like the fucked up-ness of this flick.

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  6. Wow. I'm sold. This will be going on my 'must see' list. Great review!

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    1. Thanks! Like, genuinely, this will be in contention for one of my top flicks of the decade. Seriously.

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  7. I knew you would love this..

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  8. This has me super-pumped (whenever it releases over here). Loved Prisoners, but any comparison to Mulholland Drive has my anticipation at fever-pitch levels.

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    1. That was one of the first films I thought about. It's the kind of movie that lives in its own world. Perfectly realized and bizarre.

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  9. Glad to hear you enjoyed it. The trailer really intrigued me! I just hope it gets to South Mississippi at some point ha

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    1. Ah me too man. It's one of the best I've seen in a while.Hope it makes it your way!

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  10. Between your endorsement and the hypnotic trailer, this is among my most anticipated of the year. I wasn't as enthusiastic in my appreciation of Prisoners -- a well-crafted film outshined in the stellar year that was 2013 -- but Villeneuve is clearly a director to watch.

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    1. I'll be really curious to hear what you think of Enemy. Shit is out there, but ingenious. Have you seen Villeneuve's Incendies? Wow man... what a film.

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  11. Mulholland Drive is my #2 of all time so I'm sold. Gonna see this at the first opportunity.

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    1. I thought about that film a lot while I was watching Enemy. It also reminded me of Black Swan. So I think it's right up your alley.

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  12. I can't wait to see this! I'm avoiding reviews, but I'll be back to read yours in full once I see it.

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    1. Nice! Can't WAIT to hear what you think.

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    2. Excellent review! I finally watched this, and it's brilliant! It's such an immersive experience. One of my favorites from this year, no doubt.

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    3. Nice! Hoping to see it show up on the Halfway CinSpec post! Still my favorite film of 2014 so far.

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  13. I'm completely and utterly convinced that I should give this film a chance after reading this.

    I don't know if I share the same thoughts on the merits of Incendies, or even those of Prisoners. Both were very good films, but I'm afraid they fall short of greatness in my book. The first is a bit implausible and contrived, so much of what happens serves one twist, which does manage to elevate the film from one I would forget rather quickly to one I will remember for years to come. The second is, like you said, too linear, and it becomes a bit formulaic in its attempt to bring intrigue and suspense to the crime-solving genre that we are all very familiar with.
    This is not to say I don't believe your high praise of Enemy, especially since you make such an effort to let us know that this is, somehow, better.
    Wonderfully written review!

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    1. Thanks man! I'll meet you halfway on Prisoners... I like Jake's work in it (and most of the other performers), but it's safe to say I don't like it now as much as I did when it was released. Incendies remains one of the best films I've seen, well... ever. Truly.

      I'll very very curious to hear your thoughts on Enemy.

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  14. Gyllenhaal is a great actor, and I’m glad he’s finally picking projects worth his talent.
    Excited to see it.

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    1. He's perfect in this. Such mystery and power.

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  15. So I saw this last night and was finally able to read your raving review and... I agree with you completely! One of the most engrossing and complex films I've seen in a long time. And one of the best. Unlike you though, I LOVE digging into a movie and discussing the possibilities and meanings. It's so much fun and to me, one of the truest indicators of a great film. I admire your ability to sit back and just take it on face value, but I can't help but turn my wheels when I see something so layered and mystifying.

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    1. Read your review earlier today and LOVED that you loved it. So cool.

      I may have slightly misrepresented myself about the whole face value thing. Of course I look into films on a deeper, more critical level. But I don't do that for every film, you know? I remember reading a review of Spider-Man 3 once, and the reviewer wouldn't get off this Iraq War kick. He kept saying how the film was so obviously a jab at the Iraq War, that it ruined his experience. Huh? Really? So when I say I watch films at face value, it means I watch most of them (usually the "ordinary" ones) that way. But other, better films (Enemy, Mulholland Dr., Upstream Color, Persona) definitely warrant further examination.

      Either way, I'm thrilled that you liked this one!

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    2. Hahah wow, that Spiderman 3 analysis is just... wow.

      And I don't mean to misrepresent you either. I know you look at all films at a very deep level! I just mean that the day after seeing this screener Lindsay and I gchatted all day about our possible theories and analyses. It seems like you wouldn't try to "solve" it in that way.

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    3. My girlfriend and I definitely talked a lot about this one, because we just couldn't help it! So much going on here. But yeah, my end result was that it is unsolvable. If Villeneuve wanted the film to have a clear-cut resolution, then I think he would've given us one, you know? Still... that final scene. That. Final. Scene.

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  16. Alex, I know this is an old review, but I just watched Enemy last night and checked out some reviews of it. I wasn't as blown away as you but can agree that it's an intriguing film. The ending totally threw me for a loop! I hadn't been spoiled on it and figured there would be a twist but would not have expected it to go that way. I have my theories on what happens, but I felt less confident about them after the last shot.

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    1. Hey Dan, thanks so much for tracking back and commenting! I'm glad you were able to see Enemy, and I'm not at all surprised that you weren't as taken with it as I was. I flipped for this movie - it really struck a chord in me.

      This flick was such a damn head trip. If you I attempt to pose a theory, something else in the film (like that final shot) negates it. Utterly fascinating.

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  17. Just watched this...all I can say...wtf?

    Awesome :)

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    1. Ha, nice man, glad you dug it. What a mind fuck.

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  18. I'll see this film soon. Should I watch Mulholland Dr. and Prisoners (I never saw them) to prepare for this film?

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    1. Mulholland Dr definitely. Prisoners, despite having the same star and director, could not be any more different than Enemy.

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