"Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered."
These words hover on the screen before Denis Villeneuve’s haunting and hypnotic film "Enemy" begins beckoning the audience to try and figure out exactly what it all means.
Masterfully made in all areas, this is certainly not an experience for everyone. Those that prefer to be spoon-fed meaning and plot twists or who need the pace to be that of an episode of "CSI: New York" will not enjoy this meditative masterpiece. But fans of director David Cronenberg and even early Guillermo Del Toro will find giddy, unsettling pleasures here.
The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, who previously worked with Villeneuve in the recent mood-piece "Prisoners." He plays an introverted college professor named Adam Bell, who lives a simple existence in a spare apartment and not much of a life outside his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent) whom he seems to mainly have a sexual relationship with. But one day, upon recommendation of a co-worker, he rents a movie from a local video store and notices that one of the background actors looks exactly like him. He becomes obsessed with the man and eventually tracks him down.
His name is Anthony St. Claire (also played by Gyllenhaal). He lives in a different part of Toronto with his pregnant wife Helen (a wholly intriguing Sarah Gadon). While he seems a bit of stalker at first, Adam finally convinces St. Claire to meet with him. Once they do, and the two can’t figure out why they are absolutely identical (right down to the same scar), their worlds start to spin out of control.
This is a film that is not for audiences that need easy explanations and swift paces. Villeneuve shoots the film in a cigarette-stained palette that makes Toronto a foreboding place. He opens the film with a spin on the "Eyes Wide Shut" sex party where a group of older men in suits are watching a naked woman performing "crush" acts. (Generally, a woman will crush some sort of animal under her high heels; here the animal being a tarantula.) As weird as that is, the film only gets weirder, which is part of the fun.
Villeneuve doesn’t shy away from allowing his audience to laugh at the situations and almost guides us into thinking it will all end fairly standardly. But that’s not going to happen. As the lives of Adam and Anthony start to unravel, we begin to wonder if maybe their lives are being entwined by something outside their comprehension. As the script by Javier Gullon (based on the book "The Double" by Jose Saramago) heads toward its final act, we start seeing reality collide with something a bit more unreal. And as ridiculous as the end might seem to people, it’s so startling the hair on my arms shot up and my whole body shuddered.
All of this is supported by a technical crew that includes beautifully grimy cinematography by Nicolas Bolduc, a haunting score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, and gripping sound design by Oriol Tarrago.
That said, none of this would hold together if it wasn’t for an outstanding cast led by Gyllenhaal. Changing his gait and the tone of his voice, Gyllenhaal’s Adam is an intriguingly spooky character to begin with. But when we meet Anthony, we not only easily see the differences between the two men, but we also see the similarities. Melanie Laurent does fine work as the confident girlfriend, and Isabella Rossellini shows up for one very important scene that subtly turns the plot on its head. But it is Sarah Gadon who is the most compelling of the supporting cast. Pregnant and unconvinced that her husband Anthony isn’t cheating on her, she becomes just as intrigued by Adam as her husband. Her unhappiness and unease with the meeting of the two men harkens to something more going on, all of which she so masterfully portrays with the simplest of reactions. It’s a transfixing performance.
Truth be told, I went to Wikipedia to look up the plot of the original book and didn’t find any concrete answers there because, to be honest, the movie is a bit of a head-scratcher. It ends with a "WTF" moment that is as super-creepy as it is befuddling. But for those that like to figure things out and dissect and re-dissect what the filmmakers have given you, this is an intriguing film to do that with. I might not have totally understood it, but I felt that Villeneuve knew exactly what he was doing and knew what each moment linked to.
If that’s not your cup of tea, then this isn’t the movie for you. But if you like a moody well-executed challenge, you just might want to meet this "Enemy."