BluRay/DVD Reviews

ENEMY

By • Dec 9th, 2014 •

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A wonderfully, powerful and challenging film with a great deal of psychological symbolism. If it’s a hallucination or alternate universe experience is up to you.

Karl Marx once said, “Hegel remarked somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it
were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce!”

What if Hegel’s philosophical conceit was distilled down to an ordinary guy?

Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a history professor discussing Hegel’s theory with his class. What to make of it? Adam is a rather peculiar type of fellow and one day a faculty colleague begins an awkward conversation by asking Adam if he likes movies. He then recommends Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way. Adam rents the DVD and, in a brief scene, sees a man playing a bellhop who looks like his exact double. The actor is Anthony Clair but he uses a different name professionally. He lives in the same Toronto city as Adam.

Is this Adam’s story or Anthony’s? If it is Adam’s story, why does the film begin with Anthony?

Adam becomes obsessed with his doppelgänger. In folklore, a doppelgänger is a look-alike or double of a living person who is sometimes portrayed as a harbinger of bad luck. The concept of the existence of a spirit double, an exact but usually invisible replica of every man, bird, or beast, is an ancient and widespread belief. To meet one’s double is a sign that one’s death is imminent.

Unkempt and socially distant, surprisingly, Adam has a casual hook-up, Mary (Melanie Laurent).
Adam seeks out his mother (Isabella Rossellini) and she tells him he definitely is an only child. She complains about Adam not having a girlfriend, an empty apartment and is getting nowhere with his dream of being “a third-rate actor.” He should stay in his respectable job.

Which one is real? Is Adam Anthony’s projection or is Anthony Adam’s projection? Which life is real and which life is an escape?

I like to see ENEMY as a modern tale of the creation of a tulpa. The Tibetan entity of a tulpa was introduced to the Western World by Alexandra David-Neel. A tulpa is an entity created by an act of imagination. David-Neel became so interested in the concept that she decided to try to create one.

David-Neel’s tulpa began its existence as a plump, benign little monk, similar to Friar Tuck. It was at first entirely subjective, but gradually, she was able to visualize the tulpa in the real world. In time the tulpa grew in clarity and substance until it was indistinguishable from physical reality.

Adam is curious and wants to meet Anthony. He goes about it by making anonymous calls answered by Anthony’s six-months-pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon). Adam goes to Anthony’s acting agency and, since he looks exactly like Anthony, is given his mail. It contains a key.

Adam does not know what the key is for but we do. It’s entry to a kinky underground sex club where fetishes of all kinds are performed for a rapt audience of men. Anthony may look like Adam but he is very different.
No one retreats into a fantasy reality by creating an “Adam”. Anthony, more socially together, with a nice apartment and a beautiful wife, is soon to be a father. This is Adam’s ideal self. Or is Anthony’s unsuccessful acting career, the burden of the coming child and his desire to have sex with other women, driving him to create a secure persona as a college professor with a casual sex partner and no material objects to hold him down?

David-Neel’s domination of the tulpa began to slip from her conscious control. She discovered that the monk would appear from time to time when she had not willed it. Furthermore her friendly little figure was slimming down and taking on a distinctly sinister aspect.

Eventually David-Neel’s travelling companions, who were unaware of the mental disciplines she was practicing, began to ask about the “stranger” who had turned up in their camp – a clear indication that a creature which was no more that solidified imagination had definite objective reality.

David-Neel decided to use different lamaist techniques to reabsorb the creature into her own mind. The tulpa proved very unwilling to face destruction. The process took several weeks and left its creator exhausted.
The two split-selves must meet and it is Helen who brings them together.

ENEMY twists and turns and is open to discussion – which one is real? Adam or Anthony? Because Anthony is so angry at having a double – being exposed – and has the better life, it appears to me that Adam is real and Anthony, Helen and Mary are aspects of his disintegrating sense of self. It is Adam’s secret life as Anthony at the sex club that begins ENEMY. Adam’s alternate self – the tulpa Anthony – does not want to be discovered. He likes his life and confronted by Adam, takes on a distinctly sinister aspect. But the overriding SUPER-EGO strives for integration and only one of them can survive.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and adapted by the novel by Jose Saramago, with the screenplay by Saramago and Javier Gullon, ENEMY is a wonderfully challenging film. There is a great deal of psychological symbolism – the several appearances of a spider – if you choose that tack in deciphering the film. No matter how you view the film, it stays with you and – you should see it twice.

Jake Gyllenhaal, so terrific in NIGHTCRAWLER, is continuing a new direction in his film career by choosing to work with directors like Villeneuve and projects like ENEMY. He plays both characters with subtlety – they are alike but different. This year is a turning point for me, I love what Gyllenhaal is doing.

ENEMY will become as revered as David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD.

Member of Boadcast Film Critics Association: www.bfca.org

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society:www.lvfcs.org

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at masauu@aol.com.

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