Enemy

  • EnemyPart psychological thriller, part political allegory and part science fiction horror, Enemy is suitably mind-bending.
  • But unsuitably over-ambitious in the way it tries to juggle multiple genres, a mistake that culminates in an obscure, science-fiction based coda, one which feels less like a carefully foreshadowed twist and more like an attempt to (clumsily) shock the viewer.
  • Which is a shame. As this Slate article explains, director Denis Villanueve and writer Javier Gulon lay the groundwork for their jarring resolution; unfortunately, the clues are mostly visual and not tightly strung together, which means they’re obtuse, indeed too much so.
  • Villanueve and Gulon more adeptly illustrate the Anthony Clair/Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) dichotomy, creating characters with distinct personalities but also considerable similarities.
  • In that way, the director and writer create psychological tension, not least because we are never certain whether Anthony is Adam’s enemy, or Adam is Anthony’s. Both characters are flawed but likable, morally questionable but sympathetic.
  • Gyllenhaal deserves accolades for juggling these distinct individuals, often as they interact with one another. It is an impressive dual performance.
  • (SPOILER ALERT: The evidence, in my opinion, suggests that Anthony and Adam are the same person, that Anthony is in crisis and Adam is the vehicle through which we see it, an interpretation that means Gyllenhaal deserves extra praise. He makes Anthony and Adam different enough that they work as unique people, but also similar enough that they function as different elements of the same person. END SPOILER)
  • As a psychological thriller, Enemy could have been excellent, so much so that it might have had a chance to be my favorite film from 2014.
  • If only it weren’t trying to be so much more. Consider Helen (Sarah Gadon, enchanting) and Mary (Melonie Laurent), both of whom propel the early story, understandably so. We care about both women, perhaps even more than the male leads.
  • But as the film progresses, the director and writer advance their political and science fiction elements, at which point the female characters are no longer distinct personalities; they are plot devices. Mary all but disappears from the action, and Helen’s personality seemingly shifts.
  • As part of the political allegory, Villanueve and Gulon’s treatment of Helen and Mary is sensible enough, but within the context of their more linear psychological thriller, it is less so.
  • Therein is one reason I call Enemy overambitious. It tries to fuse so many identities that it stumbles, at various points, in each of them.
  • Which isn’t to say the film fails. Enemy remains engaging, suspenseful, and intellectually stimulating.
  • It is quite good.
  • Just not as good as it might have been.
  • Final Grade: B

34 thoughts on “Enemy

  1. Fantastic piece here Josh! I must say I was a big fan of this. I thought it was quite good, though it was confusing. Gyllenhaal was excellent in this, truly a brilliant performance! Your criticisms are very true though.

    • Thank you!

      And definitely a great performance from Gyllenhaal. Overall, in fact, I’m still one of the flick’s fans, too. It’s totally engrossing.

      • It really does just suck you in. I know the end throws a lot of people, and they dismiss it outright, but you cannot deny you underwent some damn crazy journey to get there!

      • Amen. And the end does have plenty of foreshadowing, just not enough. At least not enough that is obvious enough to be noticed in the moment of first viewing.

  2. A well made movie, to be sure, but – in a way – i figured it out too early so I was kind of disappointed how it worked out – plus, I REALLY could have done without that last shot….

    great review!

  3. Hi Josh! This looks freakin’ creepy!! I don’t know if I can handle it but maybe if it’s not too violent/gory, I might give it a shot.

    • Hey, Ruth. It is not violent at all – not even a little bit. Nor is there really any gore.

      But it is still sort of creepy, because it’s rather mind bending, in some ways similar to David Lynch movies. Or some of Stanley Kubrick’s work.

      • Ah, sounds good then Josh. I don’t mind suspense and creepy-ness, so I might give this a shot.

        Btw, I’ll send you an email in detail but I hope you’d be up for covering TCFF later this October w/ me! 😀

      • Honestly, I think Enemy is a movie you’d like, from what I understand about your preferences.

        And I’d be happy to cover the festival with you. I’ll be teaching full time come October, so I cannot say how time I’ll have, but I’ll muster what I can. Thanks in advance for asking again!

    • First, thanks for stopping by! Second, I have an idea, whether or not it’s correct.

      BIG SPOILER ALERT

      AND I DO MEAN BIG

      As the Slate article to which I linked also suggests, I think the spiders are a representation – in this case a literal one, not a symbol – for totalitarian dictatorships, the very ones about which Adam lectures at the beginning of the film. Dictatorships distract the public with entertainment (the exclusive sex show for which you need a special key) and any other way of removing individual agency (posing as a man’s wife, or, maybe, the man’s unborn offspring) so that individuals never realize how oppressed they are. Anthony/Adam, then, represent the people who live life under dictator rule without recognizing it.

      END SPOILER

      Note: I was developing the above theory even before reading the linked Slate article, but the author of that article points out some evidence I missed. It’s a good read, if you have a few minutes to kill.

  4. I am one of the naysayers with this flick! Not sure if it is because I had my girlfriend and friends that tagged along flashing me dirty looks for picking it or due to the audience in my theater booing and laughed at the ending….but I did not walk out happy that I spend cash on it!

    I’ll be the first to admit that it is genius how many different ideas can stem from the plot but damn…it was so dull to view! I can handle slow and plodding…mostly when it is a star like Jake doing so…but this one just lost me!

      • Just caught this – I thought the last shot was great (and the film, too). I don’t buy the Body Snatchers theory at all, though I’m not entirely sure of what my precise interpretation of the film is.

      • I’m not sure I buy the Body Snatchers theory either. That, I think, is left open to interpretation. I do have solid belief in the larger theory discussed in the Slate article, though.

        And I’m glad you liked it so much. As I said, I think that last shot could have been great …

  5. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one, however I have to disagree. This along with under the skin are my two favorite films that I’ve seen this year so far. I absolutely loved Enemy and will prbably end up watching it at least ten times over y lifetime.

    • I can understand loving it. And, to be sure, I like it quite a bit, too. I grade the films with a Bell Curve in mind, and on such a curve a C is average. Which means a B is well above average.

      I think it makes some missteps that hold it back from true greatness, but it still quite good.

      • I suppose we will have to agree to disagree on this one then. To me the story, directing and acting all around is sublime and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as a magnificent slice of cinema. Jake’s performance is definitely his best yet in my opinion. I enjoyed this one a lot more than prisoners which I found to be rather dubious and slightly weak in substance.

      • I think the disagreement is slight, though. Because I agree with most of what you just said. Especially with this being some great work from Gyllenhaal and also this being considerably better than Prisoners.

  6. I agree with you. But then after my review, everyone urged to give it a second shot. Its not that I didn’t like it. The suspense carried me through the movie and I loved how it was executed, right up to the ending where I apparently have to research more to totally understand it and then watch it a second time.

    Awesome review 🙂

    • Thank you. I posted my personal theory on the ending above, in one of the previous comments, if you’re curious to read it. The Slate article I linked to in the review itself offers ample evidence for the theory.

      As to the film itself, I too think it is entertaining and good. I just don’t think it’s great.

  7. Simply cannot wait to see Enemy man. I’m very excited, though I doubt east Tennessee will get this one soon enough. 😦

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