March 21, 2014

We have met the ‘Enemy,’ and he is dull

I spoke just three words upon exiting the “Enemy” screening Wednesday.

The first was “What.” The second was “the.” The third is not printable here.

The picture is being touted as the reunion of the director and star of “Prisoners.” Denis Villeneuve and Jake Gyllenhaal have reteamed for a movie three-fifths as long, one-fifth as entertaining and one-onehundredth as intelligible.

Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a depressed history teacher with an inexplicably loyal girlfriend named Mary (Mélanie Laurent). Adam sees an actor who looks exactly like him in a minor role in a video, and he tracks the guy down. Anthony (Gyllenhaal again) is married to Helen (Sarah Gadon), a pregnant woman who looks a bit like Mary.

The two men slowly become involved in each others’ lives. ( Everything happens slowly in this movie.) Are they twins never acknowledged by their mother (Isabella Rossellini)? Clones from a secret experiment in the 1980s? Is one of them an imaginary friend, a deceiver leading a double life, a schizophrenic, a projection of an alter ego?

I came to realize that the entire success of the film would depend on the explanation. It might be good or bad, disappointing or illuminating, but I wasn’t prepared for the possibility that there would be no explanation whatever, merely a sudden, symbolic ending.

Toronto is shrouded in fog here – a symbol of Adam’s depression, get it? – and Villeneuve shoots every scene in brown, sepia, white and dark green, to show how drab the characters’ world has become. Gyllenhaal’s hangdog performance as Adam and uninvolved shouting as Anthony furthers the self-conscious artiness. An unrelated “Eyes Wide Shut”-style sequence has a roomful of men watching a masked, naked woman crush a tarantula beneath her high-heeled shoe. Tarantulas pop up repeatedly, often in association with sex. Are women sucking out Adam/Anthony’s life force, like spiders with an inert fly?

Maybe the kiss of death came from Jose Saramago. The late Portuguese novelist wrote “The Double,” the book on which Javier Gullón based this screenplay, and the novel from which director Fernando Meirelles adapted the excruciating “Blindness.” It’s time to let Saramago alone.

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