“Chaos is order left undeciphered.”
These words are taken from a novel titled “The Double,” by Nobel Prize winning author Jose Saramago and they are the first images we see on screen in director Denis Villenueve’s film based on that novel, “Enemy.” And chaos, undeciphered or not, is definitely in the DNA of this film.
College teacher Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal) is living a very boring life. Get up, go to work, lecture a room full of bored faces, go home. The only change in the routine are the times his gal pal (Laurent) stops by for sex. One day a co-worker suggests he has a “movie night” and suggests a title or two. Renting one of them, Adam goes home and puts it in his computer. He suddenly sits upright, noticing that the young actor playing the hotel bellhop looks incredibly like…him. Doing some research on-line, he learns that the actor in question is one Anthony Clair. He tracks down his representative and shows up at the office, hoping to meet him. Of course, the doorman thinks Adam IS Anthony, which begins a story about mixed identities and…spiders?
I had the great fortune to interview director Villenueve last year when his film, “Prisoners,” was released. During our conversation he referenced “Enemy” which was his original opportunity to work with Jake Gyllenhaal. He called the film “an art house experiment” and he wasn’t kidding. The film is full of odd and unusual visuals and often plays like a film directed by Villenueve’s fellow Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg. Actually “odd and unusual” are among the many words that could be used to describe this film. I’ll admit here that when it ended, with one of biggest “what the hell was that” scenes ever featured in a major film release, that I actually sought out a fellow critic…one who had actually gone to college to study the art…and asked him what it was that I just saw. I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only critic looking at him with wide eyes and blank faces.
If I have to sum up the film I’d say it was a mixed bag of intense acting (Gyllenhaal does a fine job in both roles) and creepy visual suggestions. I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. I also didn’t get it. It doesn’t help that Villenueve has managed to make Toronto look like Beijing, China with the fog hanging heavy in gray skies and resembling smog. That manages to set the atmosphere for awhile. Unfortunately, someone involved with the film has obviously seen “The Shining” one too many times because that atmosphere is often broken with loud “booms” of the musical soundtrack.
A mismatch of ideas OR a brilliant “art house experiment.” It may take me a few years to decide which.