I left the theater thinking “Enemy” was one of the worst movies I’d seen in a while. The premise is clever, but this is not a virtue of the movie itself, since it’s an adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel “The Double.” Many reviewers have offered far-fetched, pretentious interpretations based on the film’s rather lame use of symbolism — using spiders to somehow represent dictatorial oppression for example — but I won’t allow myself to call the film genius for haplessly throwing together a few connections and labeling itself a social commentary.
The plot itself is mediocre. At least it can claim unpredictability in the sense that the turns and loops of the story prevent a real, coherent understanding of what’s going on. The movie introduces itself with a weird, “Eyes Wide Shut”-type sex show that includes a close-up of some woman’s high heel squishing a tarantula. Jake Gyllenhaal (“Prisoners”) is there from the beginning, groaning into his palms and having sex with his hot girlfriend (Melanie Laurent, “Now You See Me”). He initially plays Adam Bell, a forlorn history teacher with a penchant for discussing Roman dictators and the characteristics of totalitarian regimes. This is the first clue that Director Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”) is trying to turn this plot into something way bigger and deeper than it actually manages to be.
Adam decides to watch a movie based on the casual recommendation of a coworker and soon realizes that he himself is an actor in the movie (so meta!) He does a little research only to find that he supposedly has a doppelgänger by the name Anthony Clair. Adam starts making phone calls to his alter ego’s apartment and before long the two meet up to face the reality of their circumstances.
The climax is forced and nonsensical, involving Anthony stealing Mary for a weekend getaway based on the vague assumption that Adam slept with Anthony’s wife (did I miss something?) Basically, this is supposed to be Anthony’s retribution. These occurrences are peppered with continual references to spiders. At one point, a shot captures the image of a giant spider crawling over the dusty panorama of the city, which brings to mind the large, alien machines of “War of the Worlds.” With another random scene — which again appears to be a shitty tribute to Kubrick — of a naked woman with a spider’s head, the movie goes above and beyond to make us truly confused. Slate offers some interesting/bullshit commentary on what these symbols could actually amount to, connecting them to the whole totalitarian scheme that Villeneuve wants to invoke.
Granted, I may just be too stupid to get it, but I didn’t get anything out of “Enemy.” For most of the film, I was under the impression that we were in for another psychological thriller about multiple personalities. The use of spiders is what threw the whole thing off, and it’s anyone’s best guess what they are actually supposed to mean in relation to the film.
The allusions to totalitarian regimes barely stick, since the references are few and the connections are vague and unconvincing. At the beginning, in one of his lectures, Adam makes a point of listing the tools of dictators in brainwashing their people and distorting their sense of individualism. This confusion of identity is clearly present through Anthony and Adam; however, the film doesn’t really drive this point home.
There is too much going on in “Enemy.” Spiders, dictatorships, doppelgängers, angry wives/girlfriends and, among all this, a cultish sex club? Villeneuve would have been better off picking two and getting to the point. Instead, he has created a puzzle with ill-fitting pieces, lame acting, overdramatic effects and an incredibly stupid WTF-ending.
1.5 out of 5 stars