Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy is one of those rare art films that I really liked. Before I started off with this review I was contemplating whether to do a review of it or explain it and then it struck me that it would be the best thing to put forth my understanding of the film and talk about what I liked and disliked about it. That would serve as a review and also my explanation of what I could make out of this film. It must be understood that this film can be interpreted in different ways by different individuals and you wouldn’t be wrong if your opinion differs from mine. After watching this film back to back twice and in parts several times, the following is my take on what happens in the film.
Adam or Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal) as you may like to call him is a history teacher who at some time must have had a fetish of becoming an actor. He is married to Helen (Sarah Gadon) who is pregnant but his promiscuous ways have had the better of him and he has rented a separate house where he can spend his time with his mistress Mary (Mélanie Laurent). However his inner conflicts begin to get the better of him and he starts imagining another version of his self who looks just like him and is an aspiring movie star. He imagines this individual to be married to Helen while he lives with his girlfriend Helen.
His colliding consciousness makes him take notice of this imaginary actor who looks just like him and he goes in search of this man finally landing up his address and then subsequently meeting him in a hotel which also is nothing but a figment of his imagination. As he battles with his own self and his philandering ways, he can’t help but feel drawn towards his own wife. The climax of the film has him fighting a battle inside his own head when he imagines the film star version of himself taking his girlfriend out while he spends time with his own wife. He imagines his girlfriend getting startled after seeing the mark of the wedding ring on the actor version of his’ finger and then them landing in a huge fight which finally culminates in an accident which kills both.
This scene comes in as an indication of the end of his philandering ways but then something happens which again turns the way the film was headed to. He finds the Key to the Sex Club that he visited and in a matter of moments he gives in to his desires. He tells his wife that he was going out that night but receives no answer. When he walks into her room he finds a giant spider crawling back almost afraid of him as he stands looking slyly at the spider. The spiders are used as metaphors throughout the film and what I feel is that they are used to refer to women by Adam. He feels that the two primary women in his life i.e. his mother and his wife have entrapped him in a spider’s web and he finds solace by escaping their company and shackles in the Sex Club.
The seductress in the Sex Club is shown stepping on a spider which metaphorically means that she is the one who to destroy the shackles of his life and give him the sexual freedom and physical peace that he so willfully desires. Thus when towards the end we see the giant spider in his wife’s room its nothing more but a projected image of his subconscious who looks at his wife as a spider who is trying to entrap him in an intricate web. Since it’s his portrayal of his wife, he sees her recoiling and thus we see the spider actually showing hints of fear of Adam. There is another giant spider shown lurking over the city which is Adam’s portrayal of his mother. Thus to put it simply, Enemy is the representation of Adam’s consciousness and the way he looks at the women in his life. It is also a representation of how he critiques his own actions through the gullible presence of his own double.
Towards the end it feels that his love for his wife and stability has won but the sight of the key to the Sex Club changes all that in a matter of minutes. It only goes on to show and emphasize the strength and culpable nature of vice which is not only alluring but also extremely powerful. Man is always aware of what is right and what is wrong however, he only chooses to do what caters to his senses and needs. Physical needs and vices have made men do cruel and strange things and this film successfully does a character study of this very fact using the character of Adam.
This is an extremely well acted and well directed film. Do not go by the bad ratings that you may find in various sites. That is probably due to a lack of understandability of the plot and settings of this film. This is an extremely difficult film to fathom in one view and unless you are able to make meanings out of the metaphors it will elude you. I for once needed quite a bit of research before I could grasp the tone and plot of this film. But once you have the metaphors in place, this becomes an extremely easy film to decipher. Here the camera is not objective but very very subjective. What you see throughout the screenplay is a fractured subjective view of Adam’s mind and sometimes the objective view of the people he comes in contact with. Thus what is shown in a scene depends on what view you are looking at.
Thus it can be concluded that the city is not being overtaken by spiders like many believed after watching this film neither does Adam have a double. Whatever out of the ordinary we see in this film is a figment of imagination of Adam’s and his projections of the people and his thoughts. Gyllenhaal hits a home-run with this film. Easily one of his best performances till date. Notice how he keeps two very different looks for Adam and Anthony. While the school teacher is haphazard and unkempt, the actor is well groomed and oiled, maintains health and is fashion conscious. The way they interact is also very different. Kudos to Gyllenhaal for bringing out the subtle nuances wonderfully. Sarah Gadon is the next best thing about this film. Not only is she beautiful but captures your imagination with her haunting act.
Enemy is shot beautifully and has just the right mix of background score and atmospheric sound to make the necessary impact. The film’s editing is also in keeping with the mood and at 91 minutes, its runtime is perfectly synched with its content. Any longer and it would start to lose its grip. Suffice is to say that I found it a mesmerizing watch. Art films have never been my forte but this film really made a huge impact on me and also the way I look at cinema. Every cine-Lover should watch this film for its novelty, performances, twisted narrative style and great direction. Denis Villeneuve is really a modern day master to look out for in the future.