Caught in the Web:
‘Chaos is order yet undeciphered’.
—José Saramago, The Double
At least Isabella Rossellini, veteran of Blue Velvet, must have felt right at home; because David Lynch moments abound in director Denis Villeneuve’s strange, enthralling film Enemy.
First, however, a couple of personal memories.
A good many years ago a guy I knew came back from a holiday in England. Whilst there he had taken a photograph of a pub singer who looked uncannily like Yours Truly. Yeah, he was THAT handsome. Looking at it made me slightly curious and amused. It didn’t send me into a complete dingbat-on-Novocain meltdown like it does with the lead character of this movie; but it did intrigue me: here was a guy who looked so like me that Davie jokingly thought that I was moonlighting as a singer in England. (I wish; singers have groupies, don’t they? Have you ever heard of Blog Groupies? Nah, me neither.)
The other is a more recent incident. Last week I was walking on a beach in Barna, County Galway. It was a beautiful day and a couple of schoolteachers had obviously given some sort of spurious ‘nature ramble’ excuse to quite rightly get out and enjoy our all too rare sunshine. I was amused watching the kids drawing huge letters in the sand. Funny how we love to write our own names on any available surface at that age, I thought. Something to do with reinforcing our emerging identities, perhaps.
Afterwards it occurred to me that I didn’t know for sure that was what they were doing. Suppose that when you got up close they were crouched there, eyes staring with hideous intent as they scrawled out the names of Lovecraftian elder deities: Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Shub-Niggurath…
I could feel a short story coming on; as well as a need to get out of the sun and double my medication.
Then I saw Enemy.
In this odd, infuriating and ultimately very rewarding film we meet Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal), a history teacher. As Enemy appears to touch on themes of totalitarianism, I think that Adam’s initial lecture to his students may be worth quoting in full and may even be a partial cipher to decoding this difficult film:
“Control. It’s all about control. Every dictatorship has one obsession, and that’s it. So, in ancient Rome, they gave the people ‘bread and circuses’. They kept the population busy with entertainment; but other dictatorships use other strategies to control ideas and knowledge.
“How do they do that? They lower education; they limit culture; they censor information. They censor any means of individual expression.
“And it’s important to remember this: that this is a pattern that repeats itself throughout history.”
Now that had me thinking that this would probably be a pretty good history teacher to have. Not so. As we progress, we learn that Adam isn’t really playing with the full deck. He is simply ‘teaching’ the same thing over and over, as if by rote or stuck in a time-loop.
This guy doesn’t teach you how to think. Unlike my English teacher of the 70s– a guy called Tom Church, who I’ve mentioned several times in various articles– he doesn’t encourage debate. He is happy to lecture on one endless cycle. I n fact that’s the way he seems to live his boring life; even in lovemaking. Christ knows how his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) puts up with this colossal bore. A normal woman would have strangled him just for being him! Then again, everything is weird about this film; and I mean everything. No wonder I loved every single frame.
Check out Enemy’s portrayal of Toronto: Villeneuve films those anonymous skyscrapers in tones of washed-out yellow. It’s unnerving, to put it mildly.
And all the while Adam goes about his bleak existence. Until he is pointed towards a movie in which his doppelganger appears in the background of a scene. Again, me: I would have been intrigued to see an extra in a movie that looked just like me, especially if it was Johnny Depp. What I wouldn’t have is the complete spaz-attack that Adam has.
He decides to track down Anthony, who as we find out is only two shots shy of being a complete fruitcake himself. This one is actually married—to Helen, who from little odd (and I do mean odd) snippets of dialogue between herself and Anthony makes it clear that all is not as it seems.
Wheels within wheels: just as I was thinking that the Toronto setting and the foreboding, portentous music score by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is screaming Cronenberg at me I notice that Anthony’s wife is played by Sarah Gadon, lately a muse of the Cronenberg clan. I’m thinking A Dangerous Method by David; I’m thinking Antiviral by Brandon. But all similarities to Dead Ringers end right there. This isn’t about twins: this is about guys who have the same scars, for heaven’s sake. So what are we into?
There are so many unanswered questions in Enemy. Why does Adam’s double, Anthony, agree to meet him in a shadowy motel room, miles outside of where they both live? Why do they both have identical scars?
And that ending—!
The screenplay is by Javier Gullón and is based on a novel by the Nobel-prize winner José Saramago.
I’m tempted to read the book, but I don’t think so. Some weirdness should never be explained.
Enemy is not for everyone; but my recommendation? If you want something a little out of the nor, check it out. Unless you have a phobia about spiders and then give it a miss completely.
Because you’ll never sleep again.