Niagara Gazette

March 26, 2014

CALLERI: 'Enemy' has a secret you must never reveal

By Michael Calleri moviecolumn@outlook.com.
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The new psychological thriller “Enemy” does such a superb job of getting inside the lead character’s head that the story may well disrupt your own psyche and stay with you long after you’ve left the theater, certainly much longer than the usual mind-altering movie fare about perceptions run wild.

The film, based on a novel by Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese writer Jose Saramago called “The Double,” is about curiosity taken to the extreme. What would you do to know what others know? Would you want to share another man’s dreams? His demons? The woman in his life? What if the other man were you? Not like looking in a mirror, but actually being the mirror?

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a sullen history professor at a college in a bleak and smog-bound Toronto, its hazy sky a jaundiced yellow, like so many nicotine-stained fingers. Adam’s routines are dull, his clothes disheveled, his blonde girlfriend Mary seeming around as an excuse for him to exhibit some energy during their occasional sex. He lives in a dreary apartment in a cluster of equally dreary buildings the tourists never see.

One day a teaching colleague asks Adam if he likes movies. We aren’t surprised when Adam, a torpid and noncommittal person to begin with, responds with languid nonchalance. But he does accept a recommendation to watch a specific film.

While viewing the low-budget work, Adam sees himself playing a bellboy. It’s not just his imagination. It’s not because of make-up. It’s not merely a look-alike. The guy playing the hotel porter is his exact double. Adam becomes fascinated by this. He watches another of the actor’s movies. He researches who he is. He becomes a little bit obsessed. For the moment, he only wants to know who the fellow might be. Is he a twin separated at birth? Maybe it’s something more meaningful, or perhaps more terrifying, especially when you consider the nightmares Adam has, some of which feature giant spiders floating through the urban landscape.

The actor, named Anthony, lives a better life than Adam, at least on the surface. His apartment is sleeker. His clothes are perfect for his fast-paced, motorcycle-riding lifestyle. His blonde wife, Helen, is pregnant. But there’s some discontent there, as well.

The more information Adam discovers about Anthony, the more he wants to meet him. He’s leery of talking to him, but then he isn’t. He wants answers to his questions. The grip of knowing the unknown is too tight. As the tense film progresses, the audience understands why he wants something more. They become complicit in his actions. His first steps are fearful, his progress unsteady. The intellectual Adam will recognize that he and the shallow Anthony share a number of things, possibly even a form of regret about the relationships in which they find themselves. Again, how much does someone need to know? And what is a person willing to give up?

As it unreels, “Enemy” doesn’t burrow too much into the overly bizarre, except, of course, for those occasional spiders. Director Denis Villeneuve, and his co-screenwriter Javier Gullon, keep most of their jolts on a realistic level. The movie’s twin themes of wonder and dread keep us engaged. The mystery of what’s going to happen is allure enough. There’s no need to go overboard on the shocks. The doppelganger concept has been used in myriad motion pictures, perhaps the best being Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” although Brian De Palma’s “Obsession” is a very good second choice. Add David Cronenberg’s “Dead Ringers” and you’ve got a very interesting evening of movie watching.

One of the reasons “Enemy” succeeds so well is because of Gyllenhaal’s outstanding internalized performance as Adam and Anthony. He gives both characters unique shading and nuance. As each man is thrown into a puzzle neither was prepared to cope with, Gyllenhaal delivers their emotional and mental turmoil with complete believability. He carries the audience through every disquieting moment. He’s a stranger in his own skin. Twice. He even makes the rooms in the apartments seem unsettled.

In addition to Gyllenhaal, the very good cast also includes Melanie Laurent as Adam’s girlfriend, Sharon Gadon as Anthony’s wife, and Isabella Rossellini as Adam’s mother, who quickly dismisses the idea of a double as being his fixation on “a third-rate actor.” But is she truly scoffing at his dilemma? The atonal music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans creates a jarring mood without end, and the cinematography by Nicolas Bolduc is perfect.

Villeneuve has created a masterful work. “Enemy” is superior filmmaking, deeply unnerving and decidedly creepy. Do not let anyone tell you about the closing image. It disorients in its instant revelation and knocks you off-balance. It’s a completely great movie ending. Keep the secret.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@outlook.com.