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Enemy (2013)

by on 2015/01/17

Enemy (2013)


Local film . . . keep it in mind.

* * * * *

Enemy is a film so rich — so complex, layered, and smooth — I feel utterly incapable of doing it justice. I’d rather just watch it again.

One of the only things which struck me as “off” about the experience was the city of Toronto rendered in a golden sepia. Residents might imagine it to be more colourful, and detractors would probably call it a dirty grey. And yet it works for that sepia tone is the colour of memory, ephemera, ideals, of reality eaten away.

Still, going in, I imagined it would be all about the spider on the cover — inspired by the Maman series — art installations of cities world-wide attacking us where we live.

In fact (or perhaps ostensibly) it’s about a history professor, Adam Bell (Brokeback Mountain’s Jake Gyllenhaal). Living a life of dull routine, one day he chances upon his doppelganger, actor Anthony Claire, also played by Gyllenhaal. Obsessive stalking ensues, but who is really stalking whom?

It’s not an action film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s brief, brisk, and very suspenseful, with high rewatchability. Without giving away my own theories, it supports interpretation, and you can puzzle out your own.

What is the significance of motherhood? Of the spider imagery? Of glass, reflections, mirrors, and symmetry? Of past and future, tragedy and farce, history and pretense? And how do the teacher’s lectures relate to the narrative overall?

Those various elements bear exploration, but the movie does not demand it. The experience is almost completely fulfilling as psychological suspense. I’ve seen it described as an erotic thriller, but that label sells it short. There’s nudity, but not the exploitation “erotic thriller” suggests.

Enemy’s lean cast is supplemented by Sarah Gadon’s girlfriend Helen (Maps to the Stars), Melanie Laurent’s pregnant wife Mary (Inglourious Basterds), and Isabella Rossellini’s mother (Blue Velvet).

At the risk of making too fine a point, Toronto is practically a player. The skyline is evident, exposed and vulnerable, decorated with insectile cranes, the overhead webs of TTC lines, and patterns in broken windshields. Even less symbolically, the location is striking, pervasive, and persistent. Streetcars, campuses, actual addresses with streets identified, and phone numbers with 416 and 905 in place of three fives.

It’s a great looking presentation. Aside from the aforementioned colouring — and in keeping with its subject and themes — the lighting, angles, and grain suggest neo-noir. The flow and pace of editing, the soft focus and frequent fog, all support another aspect, one of fantasy.

The sound design too is unusual and striking, with expected pieces from time to time, but a frequent background drone. The composers ratchet up tension, or drape the backgrounds in a wash of hum. Both draw attention to the “impact” cuts when a noise or sudden silence breaks the soundscape.

I could go on and on, and already have, but now I’ll stop. It works on so many levels, I feel clumsy picking them apart. Director Denis Villeneuve has already crafted a work that sells itself best of all, a deep and subtle work, a filmic poem. It’s existential meditation in the guise of a mystery.

Or, inasmuch as Ferris Bueller was completed by Election, Enemy is a movie for adults who grew up with Donnie Darko.

* * * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

91 minutes

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