ENEMY is an ambitious, artful journey through the torn mind of Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a solitary college history professor or is it the mind of Anthony an aggressive sexual predator.
A key, a lock, a hidden room. A woman masterbates on a small stage surrounded by watchful men. A lanky naked woman with high heels stride out, from beneath a silver serving tray a large tarantula is revealed. The woman’s shoe hovers over the tarantula threatening to squash it. Anthony stares waiting, examining.
“Chaos is order yet undeciphered” Denis Villeneuve the director of Enemy, is telling the audience, there is a way to make sense of Enemy. The film is a masterful depiction of a man’s struggle with himself. Revealed without pandering to the audience but as a mirrored world of refections and artful weavings within the troubled dictatorship of Adam’s/Anthony’s compulsions and fears. Jake Gyllenhaa is pitch perfect in the twin roles. Creating brilliant differences without drawing awkward attention, the two Jakes separate yet overlap drawing a perfect illusion.
An eerie musical score of strings, punctuating drums and slow surreal camera pans and push ins aid in invoking a spaceship isolation around the city of Ontario and the apartments hovering yet caught in towering building. Surrounded yet still very alone, almost soundproofed. The city is often silent, captured in a mental framework. One cannot help but feel the gravity of 2001, A Space Odessey pull you into an orbit around the unveiling of Adam’s mind. It’s initially difficult to grasp ENEMY, the pacing is very slow.
Adam’s mother calls “I’m very worried about you” she reprimands him about his apartment “How can you live like that?” He never answers her calls through the film.
The camera is extremely precise and tailored in it’s movement unlike many current films and the usual fast cut, revolving, hectic forced thrills. Enemy hovers over the city like a slow ancient spacecraft. Enemy will draw you in, calm you down and make you conform. In a way the film has become a dictator, controlling your senses. Forcing you to watch carefully, winning you over and making you submit.
Anthony is the seeker of sensations, hungry without remorse. He dresses stylishly and seeks attention as an actor. Rides a sexy bike and hides his face in a motorcycle helmet when he trailing his female prey. Adam is submerged in his quiet world of books. Isn’t even interested in watching movies and dresses in the same clothes everyday, often shying away from contact. Yet still manages incongruously to sustain a sexual relationship with super sexy French girlfriend Mélanie Laurent.
It’s obvious Adam is carrying a burden that weighs his life down into a slow churning cycle threatening to swallow him whole. A real sense of living within the mind of the Enemy, following him, discovering secrets as Adam himself peels back his own occlusion to finally facing what was hidden yet out in the open to others.
Spiders crawl all over the landscape of Adams world and it becomes obvious they represent women and his fear or distain for their control and the web of domination they create in his life.
The film ties us into Adam’s perceptions as he himself experiences them, meaning that not everything is obvious since it isn’t to Adam. The revelation of Enemy is we are all perhaps living in such worlds of hidden meaning and doppelgangers living their lives within us. Anthony is visceral and demanding, but Adam’s submerged issues slowly rise bringing the two to a confrontation.
You fucked my wife didn’t you?! Well of course I did. I mean you did, didn’t you ? Because I did, so that would mean you already have. But you want to fuck Mary. Wait hasn’t Anthony already fucked Mary as Adam? Maybe not as Anthony. Or maybe this is the mind fuck Adam is so worried about and tries to discover when he finds himself acting in small movies with better combed hair and tighter pants.
Adam lectures us that totalitarian governments use certain methods of control. Methods that Anthony and Adam are being attacked with. Adam days drone away in constant repeating loops, University classes, a half empty apartment, sexual trysts with girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) and back again to his redundant classes.
Events occur first as potentially powerful then as a farce to be laughed, ridiculed. As he says in the lecture, totalitarian states succeed because “they censor any means of individual expression”
From the Director of Enemy: “Sometimes you have compulsions that you can’t control coming from the subconscious … they are the dictator inside ourselves.”
A fellow colleague asks Adam “You don’t go to movies, do you?” Adam reacts, staring at him with distain. “I don’t know? I don’t go to much.I don’t really like movies”
Is the director chastising us? Reprimanding us for watching his film, for being in the theater. Adam’s face peers straight at me. Are you stupid? Why are you watching this movie. Entertainment is what the government uses to lull you to sleep! I know if you are watching this movie you have watched a lot of movies. It’s a very powerful moment for me since I have questioned my reliance on films in my life.
Adam rents the loathsome DVD then tries to sleep after a failed sexual coupling with is girlfriend. His sleep is fitful and he wake to search the DVD to find a second rate actor that looks exactly like Adam.
This has an extreme effect on Adam. More than a curiosity, Adam becomes obsessive and starts to stalk Anthony. Going to his Acting Agency, finding out his home address written on a letter left for Anthony that the security guard happily hands over to Adam. The guard is certain Adam is Anthony, there is zero doubt. Even wearing sunglasses, disheveled and weary, Adam is the exact double and can’t fool anyone. There’s a reason for this and it’s unnerving to Adam that he has become so overlooked and replaced by Anthony, his individuality is being threatened.
Adam calls Anthony at his home. They sound exactly alike. But Anthony’s wife Helen doesn’t believe him. She sees Anthony as a constant liar and Anthony shows his violent side at her badgering and attempts to control even his phone calls. Of course it’s what a wife would do if her husband has cheated other in the past. But for Anthony it’s just more of the same constant attacks and domination. Pushing his fear of commitment to it’s limits, making him want to cheap even more.
Anthony married to his beautiful pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) Sarah portrays show much with one look that dialogue is barely used. Her emotive eyes and shimmering beauty only make you wonder even more why or what is making Anthony cheat on his devoted wife. Compulsion and deep problematic identity issues with commitment become obvious. If she was single in a bar, Anthony would see her as an incredible conquest but in this form as a mother and wife, she is threatening to his freedom and individuality.
Let me add that when you have women as incredibly beautiful as in this film. It’s not called gratuitous sex scenes. It’s called ART, an elegant statement of desire and one of the motivating factors behind Anthony’s uncontrollable sexual desires. Look at the women in his life, what man could give these desires up when they are so enthralling. His compulsions are obviously compelling and beyond his control, though he may sometimes waver, he returns to his fixation.
Instead of invoking a father’s or husbands adoration and love, the sight of Helen’s pregnant belly and swollen breasts repulses Anthony making him feel threatened and controlled.
When Helen must make sure Anthony isn’t lying again she seeks out Adam at his University. There to her near shock is her husband sitting on a bench. Exhausted, beaten and confused. The man she loves is completely unaware of her as his wife. Though he speaks to her amiably even with more kindness than Anthony.
Helen struggles to contain herself, not certain of what to say or do. They sit together having a brief conversation. Helens emotions swell with questions and no answers as to what is happening. As a loving wife she waits for the mystery to unfold and we sit next to her wondering.
Yet why is Adam so unhappy with Mary (Mélanie Laurent), the compulsion to be free from control is what lead him to her. Adam views all women as a threat yet still wants to use them sexually. A complex situation reflective of many relationships. When Adam visits his mother (Isabella Rossellini) we can see the beginnings of his anger towards women.
His mother knows Adams issues and his failed attempts at being a two bit actor. She knows he loves blueberries, she knows what his apartment looks like, both of them! She knows he has a problem staying with one woman. If it weren’t for his clothes would she know which man she was talking to or is she aware of his mental problems?
Adam’s mother is the root of his hatred for women. You can see her controlling, abusive manner and Adam’s quiet subjugation. She towers over him, even her apartment is better than his. She lords over his city as she tries to control his life. This only pushes Anthony to act out his desires. They start with the simple pleasure of riding a bus with Mary, so he can relish his soon be sexual pawn.
Anthony is terrified of commitment and refuses to be controlled. He stalks Mary and can barely contain his lust for her. He pushes Adam into letting him take Mary away for a sexual weekend. Claiming that Adam slept with his wife Helen. Adam is silent and offers no contradiction. He knows that he has been sleeping with Helen and this is another cue to the audience that the two men are one person having an intense dispute of sexual provinces inside their own minds.
Anthony prepares his weekend of sexual adventure while Adam returns home to Anthony’s apartment to find Helen welcoming and desirous of his company.
At the hotel Anthony and Mary are almost violently sexual. It’s Anthony’s moment of conquest with the teasing Mary that he has stalked. He relishes the conquest and her earnest reciprocation.
Yet something is strangely askew and when Mary notices Anthony’s ring finger has a white line on it, she becomes very confused and frightened. Suddenly repulsed by Anthony, as though his infidelity to Helen is now apparent. Mary refuses to continue having sex with him. Recoiling against a wall as Anthony claims that his hand has always been like that. She refuses to believe him and they leave.
They argue violently, Mary accusing Anthony that he’s not a man. This attempt of emasculation is an extremely real attack against Anthony’s primal fears and he serves the car erratically through traffic screaming at her in a rage.
The car flips violently and crashes, smashing it’s windshield into a web of broken glass. Is this all happening in Adams head? Because we don’t see Anthony again. The spell, the mental double has committed suicide and chosen his Adam and his loving wife.
The web of false lies and hidden lives been broken and finally Adam sees the truth? Until Adam finds the envelope he was given from Anthony’s agency.
The key only takes a moment to reassert Adams compulsion. He tells his wife he has to go out tonight. She knows what that means,her control is gone and she is frightened. She doesn’t answer him. He goes to her room.
A giant spider recoils into the corner of the room. Adam sees her again as what she represents to him. The spider means that Adam is caught in a cycle he is doomed to repeat even the moment after he is freed of it. He decides to return to his habits of sexual compulsion. He sees woman as spiders, and himself caught in their web of control and dictatorship. He wants to enjoy his sexual freedom.
The giant spider recoils knowing that it is going to be squashed. Adam is resigned to his fate, he cannot break free from his addiction or his desire to be free.
At a time when cinema produces more Michael Bay slamming, whirlwind, empty headed sugar fair than anything else. Enemy is such a welcome and glorious examination of the power of cinema. It’s ability to make you think, question and live through the lives of others. To examine your own life and provoke thought.
It certainly made me think about mine. That’s the power of a good story.