Enemy (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Enemy (2014)

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Adam is a teacher who keeps to himself, is an unknown quantity to his coworkers, and has a girlfriend who is drifting away.  On suggestion, he rents a film and is haunted by the images within.  He finds a man, Anthony, a bit-rate actor who is identical to Adam in every physical way.  Adam and Anthony grow obsessed with one another, until their mixed identities threaten to consume them both.  Enemy is Denis Villeneuve's English-language follow-up to the acclaimed Prisoners, also starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Enemy of my enemyEnemy proves the old maxim that the power of fiction doesn't come from what it's about, but how it's about it.  This film, quickly following the success of Prisoners, shares a lot of its structure with Richard Ayoade's The Double.  They are both based on written literature, in the case of Denis Villeneuve's film Enemy it is Jose Saramango's novel The Double, and Ayoade's film The Double it is Dostoyevsky's novella of the same name.  Both deal with men who find that their lives he not unique, and that there is someone that shares their exact physical makeup that could take their place at any moment.

More importantly, and this is where Enemy excels and The Double did not, they share anxiety about being replaceable through sexual frustration.  The Double did this is a world of concrete and steam with outdated machines and frustrating bureaucracy obscuring a man's creepy desire for a woman who does not share his affection.  Enemy takes a much more enigmatic approach, presenting relationships both long-term and spontaneous as an unfurling web of predatory feelings.

Villeneuve's film could have come up short the same way Ayoade's did, but the reason for its success is tied up in those same fitful feelings that drive Enemy.  He said that he possessed a longing to make Enemy for years, but could not do so until he found the right actor.  After working together on Prisoners, Villeneuve knew that Jake Gyllenhaal was the performer for the job.  Sometimes these instincts are wishful thinking, but Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal caught this long-gestating bolt of sensuous creativity.

Gyllenhaal's tortured performance in Prisoners is just a taste of the depths he is capable of in Enemy.

Gyllenhaal's tortured performance in Prisoners is just a taste of the depths he is capable of in Enemy.

Put simply - there is no Enemy without Jake Gyllenhaal.  He's always been a good actor, but he reached new depths with his performance in Villeneuve's Prisoners that he brings to bloom in Enemy.  He presents two entirely different creatures captivated by their own tastes and with differing comforts with their skin.  This is clear in the scene when Adam and Anthony meet each other for the first time, Gyllenhaal's Adam shed his clothes without hesitancy and wants to touch Anthony, who when faced with the physical reality of his double recoils against its existence.  As Adam, Gyllenhaal moves that extra inch to get closer and never breaks his gaze - as Adam, he shirks at the mere thought of being touched and hides in himself.

That scene, with its performer playing against himself in cool amber, is as perfect a moment I'm likely to see all year.  It's the culmination of Enemy's arachnid obsession, one partner observing the other as though they're preparing for a consumptive ritual, while the visuals toy with the idea that this meeting could be that which freezes their development for all time.  While I doubt the Academy would look kindly on an spider-obsessed erotic thriller, this is a prime "For Your Consideration" moment for both Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal with the former displaying pristine color control and sound control in mixing Gyllenhaal's subtle movements and gasps.

It's that sound design that gives the film the unearthly sensation of feeling around like an insect.  There are instruments on the score, but they are played more for vibration, and rarely accentuate the foreground action.  Instead the score is a simultaneous gasp for connection and repulsion, as mouths try to form words but can only speak in violent shrieks of strings.  Large sections of the film are designed to be seen and felt through, resulting in an unsettling and close experience with emotion and character.

Enemy makes enticing use out of arachnids in several surreal moments.

Enemy makes enticing use out of arachnids in several surreal moments.

The tactile sensation brought forth by the soundtrack bristles with the hovering arachnids that linger in Villeneuve's background.  "Black widow" comes to mind often, even if we see mostly tarantulas.  They make for the perfect representation of what both Adam and Anthony are going through.  Whatever choice they make for their lives, be it placid domesticity or a steamy night-life, comes with it a romantic promise and vague threat.  Both threaten to consume their lives, and to stave off that consumption something needs to be sacrificed.

Enemy, when it's playing to the hilt of its seductive nightmare, is unusually sexy.  The visual design recalls a more organic, and less phallic, H.R. Giger.  This representation of the unspeakable desires of the boundary free single man is a naked woman with an insect's head - a body that wears itself so proudly that any who ventures toward their desire does so at their own peril.  Javier Gullón's screenplay tantalizes this possibility to Adam and Anthony in conversations with people who claim to have claimed what they want and returned unscathed.

Every element in Enemy is carefully balanced against the other to achieve a nearly perfect balance of tone.  Had Villeneuve not waited for his muse it could have been an unfortunate film as it depends on its star to tread the line softly.  Gyllenhaal never steps incorrectly, and Enemy locks-in after him.

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Tail - EnemyEnemy (2014)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Screenplay written by Javier Gullón.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Posted by Andrew

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