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'Enemy' is the Most Sexually-Insane Film in Years, a Journey to the Depths of Perversion

(L-R) Jake Gyllenhaal and Sarah Gadon in Enemy. (A24) Long story short: This is the most twisted, sexually-perverse mainstream film since Eyes Wide Shut. It will haunt you.

Enemy will remind you of: Eyes Wide Shut, Persona, Spider, Donnie Darko, Martha Marcy May Marlene, There Will Be Blood, Through a Glass Darkly, Repulsion, Psycho

Review: Denis Villeneuve's Enemy is, on
the surface, beautifully-constructed and hugely mysterious. Under the surface it's a dark twisted fantasy of deeply buried sexual desires. It will divide audiences, it will confuse, frighten, amaze, revolt, and enthrall. Movies like this are rarely made and especially not in the English language. So it's apt a French-Canadian artiste like Villeneuve would be the one to dream it up. Enemy begins with this quote from José Saramago, the author of the novella the film is based on: "Chaos is an order still undeciphered." It's an outright challenge. Villeneuve doesn't expect us to understand what will follow but he does want us to try. Here goes.

The beginning of Enemy takes us inside a dark fetish club, the kind with a secret key or password like in Eyes Wide Shut. Jake Gyllenhaal appears as a member of the crowd. Shrouded in smoke he watches with a small group of men as a lone woman uncovers a silver plate. A plump tarantula crawls out and the camera cuts to the woman's high heeled shoe. Just as quickly, the camera cuts again and the club and the woman vanish from the film. But not the tarantula. He will return.

Adam (Gyllenhaal) is a history teacher who walks around in a seemingly depressed state. He rents a run down apartment that makes his mother (Isabella Rossalini) question how he lives his life. Adam goes to work. He has business-like sex with his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). And that's about it. But the quiet man's life unravels quickly one night while he's watching a local independent film. He spots himself, a doppelganger, as an extra in the background. Bewildered, the mousy professor quickly tracks the actor down. His name is Anthony Clare (also played by Gyllenhaal) and he lives close-by. 

Soon, the two men meet. They are identical opposites. Adam's the corduroy-jacketed meek one and Anthony's the motorcycle-riding cocksure extrovert. But, physically, they're identical, even sharing a unique scar. It's all too much for Adam and he splits, deciding the idea was a mistake. But it's not long before Anthony appears unannounced at Adam's apartment. He says he's upset that Adam talked to his wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), when he first called. Anthony accuses him of sleeping with her and demands to have sex with Mary as payback. Ashamed and pathetic, Adam agrees. The two switch clothes and Anthony whisks Mary off for a weekend getaway, posing as Adam. Adam goes to his double's apartment and has the doorman let him in. He wears Anthony's clothes and waits for Helen to come home. 

That's the skeleton of the story, but Enemy isn't a simple film about doubles. Long a cinematic trope, filmmakers, like authors, use doppelgangers as symbols for split halves of one person's identity. Doubles in film are frequently opposites. They frequently clash, and one of the two usually kills the other, thus overcoming some deep hidden desire or fear. Enemy is an entrant to this genre, but it's more. It's one of the most sexually-perverse films of the last decade, a Psychomachian tale that Freud would've loved. The appearance of the double represents the return of the repressed. It's understandable why Adam disappears into himself. He's hidden away sexual secrets that would scare the daylights out of most folks. He's a crush fetishist (as evidenced by the prologue) and a macrophiliac, which explains his visions of giant spiders. It also puncuates why Adam's so interested in the concept of control, a theme of his classroom lectures. 

Adam's pathology aside, Enemy can also be appreciated on a purely aesthetic level. If nothing else, it's impossible to deny this as anything but elite filmmaking. Villeneuve is a powerful new voice in cinema. He's mastered the art of tension by harmonizing imagery, music, and editing in striking rhythm. Everything pops. The director creates a steamy, yellow-tinged fantasy that's riveting and otherworldly. As Adam gets deeper and deeper into his own mind, we're right there with him, hanging on his every discovery.

Villeneuve's also found a muse in Gyllenhaal (whom he worked with on Prisoners). The 34-year-old actor is one of Hollywood's most-underrated and he simply owns roles like this: The brooding, introverted mysterioso, like the character he was first really noticed for, Donnie Darko. Gyllenhaal has the innate ability to lose that million dollar smile and live intensely onscreen. It's fascinating just watching him think in Enemy. He certainly has a lot to ponder, as do we.

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