So, it was $5-Tuesday yesterday at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto and a friend invited me to see a movie called Enemy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Like any weary movie-goer, I immediately jumped online to look at the trailer and thought, “Hmmm, weird, but interesting”.
I was half right. The movie was weird.
At this point, I should probably say “SPOILER ALERT”, but truth be told, I am not sure that if I laid out every event that occurred in this movie, you would know what was happening. I sat through it and I don’t know what happened.
As the trailer indicates, the movie is about a man who is dissatisfied with his life—never explains why, he just is—and is merely going through the motions of living until one day when he realizes that his exact doppelganger lives in town.
Terrified at this revelation—never explains why, he just is—he is nonetheless drawn to his twin and after jumping through a series of over-complicated hoops, he meets the twin. At which point, he second-guesses his decision and it is his twin’s turn to go neurotic—never explains why, he just does.
As you may have guessed from my above repetition of “never explains why”, my greatest issue with this movie is unclear character motivation. Perhaps it says more about me and my life history, but I have no idea why any of these characters acts as extremely as they do.
I am confident that it is part of the artistic conceit of the piece that at numerous moment are you fully sure which Jake Gyllenhaal character you are watching onscreen. The challenge with this is that the emotional rollercoaster of each of the characters is such that from cut-to-cut within the same scene, I am never sure which Jake Gyllenhaal character I am watching. I ended up watching the characters’ clothing rather than the actor’s face to try to follow the story.
And the motivations of the secondary characters are just as muddy for me, although at least here, we have different actors and so don’t have the Gyllenhaal rabbit hole with which to contend. Like a faucet tap, the emotions of these characters change with a flick—questioning in one moment, horny in the next, and angry in the third, and all in the span of 30-45 seconds.
A definite statement of who I am, I spent much of the movie trying to predict the reveal of the story based on the clues or purely on conjecture.
Twins separated at birth? Time travel with a glitch? Parallel universes collide? Psychotic episode of one man leading two lives?
No SPOILER ALERT to say none of these came to fruition, but that still doesn’t mean that any of them may not be true. Hell, all of them might be true. I don’t know.
And any hope of a conclusion is muddied by a massive metaphor that scurries through this movie—I won’t tell you what it is—and yet offers no satisfying explanation.
Enemy is described everywhere as a thriller. I’d be more inclined to call it a puzzler…and even that may be too lofty. Head-scratcher and headache-giver might be more accurate.
As I read up on the movie to write this, I learned the film won Canadian Screen Awards (our Oscar) for Best Director and Best Supporting Actress, and was nominated for Best Film. I find that disturbing.
The film was based on the 2002 novel The Double (O Homem Duplicado), by Portuguese author José Saramango. Part of me wants to find the novel to see if it is any clearer than the movie, but as of this moment, a bigger part of me just wants to walk away from this entire episode in my life.
Previous posts about characters in writing and film: