DVD REVIEW: ENEMY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DENIS VILLENEUVE / SCREENPLAY: JAVIER GULLÓN / STARRING: JAKE GYLLENHAAL, MÉLANIE LAURENT, SARAH GADON / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 9TH
Imagine the premise of Fight Club with absolutely everything else stripped away and you have the gist of Enemy. Based loosely upon the 2002 novel The Double by José Saramago, Denis Villeneuve’s film is an icily impersonal exploration of an extra-marital affair, as seen through the subconscious of the spouse of one of its participants.
Enemy begins with Helen, alone and pregnant and trapped in a cold, impersonal city, while her husband Anthony (Gyllenhaal) is off seeking erotic pleasures elsewhere. Immediately Villeneuve introduces a spider motif which will not appear again until the very end of the film, but which – in a manner similar to George Lucas’ lizard motif in THX 1138 – ultimately informs how we understand what follows.
Cut to Adam (also Gyllenhaal), a professor with a repetitious professional life and an inert personal life, a character who also appears to feel trapped and remote. In a scene that is as distancing and as impersonal as the rest of Enemy, one of Adam’s colleagues suggests he tries watching a movie and when Adam spots his doppelganger in a small role in the video he rents, it is the beginning of the unravelling of the web that ties the film’s four characters together.
Shot in Canada – this is a Spanish/Canadian co-production – and bleached and graded into an almost monochromatic dream-like state, Enemy moves at a glacial pace (in spite of its relatively short running time) and the thin characterisation and huge periods of silence, punctuated by some spare and deliberately stilted dialogue, will be off-putting for many viewers. However, there is a rationale behind the film’s trance-like quality, and the sound design (also reminiscent of Walter Murch’s work on Lucas’ debut, fore-grounding much of the background noise) together with the minimal but ubiquitous score simply add to the hypnotic nature of what is presented. The accident in the film’s final act would ordinarily be shocking, but is treated as just as impersonal an event as anything else, and in the way it resolves things gives Enemy the impression of having all been a kind of daydream.
Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam is either impressive or stifling depending upon whether you immerse yourself in what the film is attempting, and Anthony is a sparsely drawn and unsympathetic counterpoint. None of the acting, including Sarah Gadon’s fragile Helen, is played to elicit much in the way of empathy.
Enemy is beautiful to look at but alienatingly staged and obscure in its meaning, and either compelling or just depressingly bleak depending upon your appreciation for such films as Jonathan Glazer’s Birth (with which it shares certain common themes) or something as deliberately paced as Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. An esoteric and qualified success.
Extras: Behind the Scenes (50 mins) / interviews (44 mins) / trailer.