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July 19, 2014

Enemy

by Franz Patrick


Enemy (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Sitting in the faculty lounge, a colleague (Joshua Peace) asks Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal), a history professor, if he likes going to the movies. The question leads to gloomy Adam being given a recommendation, a film called “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way,” and he later goes to rent it, hoping that a light movie will cheer him up. After having seen it, he goes to bed. There is something about it that he found intriguing. So he turns on the laptop, jumps to a particular scene, and watches it closely. He hits the pause button. There is a man there, playing a bellhop, who looks exactly like him.

Based on the novel by José Saramago and adapted to the screen by Javier Gullón, “Enemy” is an ambitious picture about a man who finds his double but it is a big disappointment because it has very little output. Its laziest attribute is relying on enigmatic images—a giant spider hovering over the city, visions or memories bleeding into one another, an underground sex show—to try to keep our attention. It promises but never delivers on an intellectual, emotional, or psychological level. Thus, despite its short running time of ninety minutes, it is an experience to be endured.

What is the first thing you do when you find evidence that there is another you out there? You tell other people—your friends, your family, your partner. But not Adam. He continues to sulk in his dark apartment and tries to convince himself that what is happening is really not. This makes him boring and difficult to relate with. He is supposed to be our compass throughout the increasingly surreal and bizarre experience, but the material fails to make him accessible. This is a critical miscalculation.

The contrast between Adam and his double offers nothing new. We expect them to have opposite personalities. Indeed, they do. We expect them to lead completely different lifestyles. That they do, too. One tends to hunch, the other stands up straight. The problem is, aside from the occasional surrealistic imagery, the screenplay offers nothing surprising in terms of human element. Must they be complete opposites? There is no anchor to keep the story attached to something we can believe in without question. As a result, the material becomes increasingly dull, dry, and predictable.

There is some form of web that is supposed to keep the picture together. Right from the beginning, I knew exactly what it was doing: planting the seeds for that big, mental “Oh!” once the screen cuts to black and the credits start rolling. How do I know? When the camera goes for a close-up and remains still, you can bet that what is being said is important. Director Denis Villeneuve needs to learn a thing or two about how to treat subtlety like silk, not a sledgehammer. Experienced and intelligent viewers will not—or should not—fall for the typical trappings of the genre. That is what angers me most—it is painfully ordinary in its execution that it ends up not giving the material justice.

A surprising number of people like to defend movies like this. They say things like, “If you look more into it after it’s over, it’s all going to make sense” or “You have to see it multiple times to look for clues!” Stop right there.

A successful movie, one that has reached its full potential, speaks for itself. It does not require to be researched or to be seen a hundred times so that the viewer can get a complete comprehension of what he or she had just seen. Watching a movie is not a homework assignment. When filmmakers treat it as such, they need to go back to film school and learn the basics.

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