Review – Enemy

There’s double trouble to be had in Denis Villeneuve’s compulsive and uncompromising psychological descent into a world of neurosis, nightmares and arachnids.

Enemy is bold and beguiling filmmaking and a puzzle that will linger in the memory long after the closing credits

Enemy is bold and beguiling filmmaking and a puzzle that will linger in the memory long after the closing credits

Loosely based on José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double as opposed to Dostoyevsky’s novel of the same name (which Richard Ayoade adapted to moderate acclaim in 2014), Enemy is one of those puzzle box films that reward repeat viewings.

Ostensibly, the movie follows unfulfilled history lecturer Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) down the rabbit hole following the shock discovery that a bit player in a movie he’s watching is his apparent doppelgänger. Adam seeks out actor Anthony Claire (also Gyllenhaal), who may be his physical duplicate but appears more narcissistic and charismatic than the nervous and emotionally repressed Adam. Their encounter has unforeseen repercussions for both men, as well as for Adam’s girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) and Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon).

The left hand doesn't know what thr right hand's doing for Adam/Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Enemy

The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing for Adam/Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Enemy

Scratch beneath the surface, however, and Villeneuve’s absorbing picture is a spider’s nest of different interpretations and perspectives in which individuality has become as precarious as one man’s collapsing mind.

The film’s opening intertitle “Chaos is order yet undeciphered” – a line taken from Saramago‘s novel – is given form by the numerous long shots of a city (in this case Toronto); that most chaotic yet fully formed of human creations that here is infected with a yellow, hazy sickliness, beautifully realised by cinematographer Nicolas Bodluc.

Anthony's pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) in Enemy

Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) in Enemy

It has been argued (convincingly in my mind) the spiders seen throughout the film are both a visual and subtextual metaphor for a loss of freedom.

Adam teaches his class about the larger impact of this loss of freedom through his lectures on dictatorships, specifically their obsession with control and “censoring any means of individual expression”. On a more personal scale, Villeneuve shows us Adam/Anthony’s fractured psychological state and as the film continues it becomes apparent (at least to this reviewer) that Adam and Anthony are one in the same person, battling it out to see which side of his personality wins out. As a poster for the film implies: “You can’t escape yourself.”

Anthony (or is it Adam?) (Jake Gyllenhaal)  spies on Mary (Mélanie Laurent) in Enemy

Anthony (or is it Adam?) (Jake Gyllenhaal) spies on Mary (Mélanie Laurent) in Enemy

Shots of overhead electrical cables and a cracked window signify a spider’s web and lend extra weight to the suggestion that Adam/Anthony is trapped and must confront his own identity.

In many ways, Prisoners, the title of Villeneuve’s and Gyllenhaal’s other collaboration would be a more fitting title for this film, although the name Enemy, like the rest of the movie, works on more than one level.

Since breaking out with 2001’s Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal has freed himself from the spider’s web of big budget nonsense like The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time (2010) to set himself apart as an actor who commands serious respect. Gyllenhaal has had his fair amount of detractors in the past, but the choices he’s making with the likes of this and Nightcrawler are genuinely exciting.

Double trouble in Enemy

Double trouble in Enemy

Gyllenhaal is tremendous in the dual role of two men both separate and conjoined and, crucially, makes you forget about the novelty factor almost immediately. Laurent and Gadon don’t have an awful lot to do, but lend themselves to the overall sense of disquiet. The influence of Vertigo has been acknowledged by Villeneuve and the fact that both Laurent and Gadon are striking blonds in the picture is presumably a nod to Hitchcock’s preference for women in his movies with that hair colour.

Furthermore, the film’s ominous visual palette is lent extra impact by the disquieting score by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans which pulls you around as much as Bodluc’s camera.

Enemy is bold and beguiling filmmaking and a puzzle that will linger in the memory long after the closing credits.

Blogathon Relay: The 10 Most Influential Directors Of All Time

The 10 Most Influential Directors Of All Time

One of the more pleasant surprises I’ve had recently was to have received the baton from the lovely Ruth at FlixChatter for the 10 Most Influential Directors of All Time Blogathon relay.

The Blogathon was the brainchild of John at Hichcock’s World. It’s a brilliant idea and John sums it up nicely: “I have compiled a list of 10 directors I consider to be extremely influential. I will name another blogger to take over. That blogger, in their own article, will go through my list and choose one they feel doesn’t belong, make a case for why that director doesn’t fit, and then bring out a replacement. After making a case for why that director is a better choice, they will pass the baton onto another blogger. That third blogger will repeat the process before choosing another one to take over, and so on.”

The baton has so far been passed to the following:

Girl Meets Cinema
And So It Begins…
Dell On Movies
Two Dollar Cinema
A Fistful Of Films
The Cinematic Spectacle
FlixChatter (Thanks for the banner logo Ruth!)

The original list had plenty of incredible directors on it, but as the baton has been handed down the list has become pretty damned impressive:

The 10 Most Influential Directors Of All Time

Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Georges Méliès, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick

Ruth’s addition to the list was Billy Wilder and her justification was thus: “I’ve recently seen one of Wilder’s best, The Apartment, and I could see why his films are so beloved. He imbued such wit in his films, a dose of cynical humor. He also has a way with actors, having directed no less than 14 actors to Oscar-nominated performances. He’s also a versatile writer/director, as he excelled in numerous genres: drama, noir, comedy as well as war films. He’s one of those directors whose work I still need to see more of, but even from the few that I’ve seen, it’s easy to see how Mr Wilder belongs in this list.”

So, Who’s Out?

Jean Luc Goddard

Jean-Luc Godard

Man, this was an almost impossible decision. Godard’s still making movies aged 83 and there’s no denying the influence of his work. Breathless remains a defining work of the French New Wave and his 1964 film Bande à part was stolen by Tarantino for the name of his production company. The more I think about it, the less I’m sure, but compared to the others on this list I feel Godard’s influence has slipped and, as such, he doesn’t quite make it. Sorry Jean-Luc, but I suspect you’d feel that lists like this are way too bourgeois anyway.

Now, Who’s In?

John Ford

John Ford

Reflecting on his masterpiece Citizen Kane, Orson Welles was asked who influenced what is still regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. Welles’ reply was simple: “The old masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.” He had reputedly watched Ford’s 1939 classic Stagecoach more than 40 times in preparation for his debut feature and he wasn’t the only one to have been drawn to the work of one of the most influential directors of all time.

An encounter with Ford proved to have a massive impact on a 15-year-old Steven Spielberg, who subsequently said of the great man: “Ford’s in my mind when I make a lot of my pictures.” Watch Saving Private Ryan‘s devastating D-Day landings sequence and War Horse and you’ll see Ford’s stamp front and centre.

Likewise, Martin Scorsese has cited The Searchers as one of his favourite films. Speaking about the film in the Hollywood Reporter, Scorsese said: “In truly great films – the ones that people need to make, the ones that start speaking through them, the ones that keep moving into territory that is more and more unfathomable and uncomfortable – nothing’s ever simple or neatly resolved. You’re left with a mystery. In this case, the mystery of a man who spends 10 years of his life searching for someone, realises his goal, brings her back and then walks away. Only an artist as great as John Ford would dare to end a film on such a note.”

The list goes on. Ingmar Bergman cited Ford as “the best director in the world”, while Alfred Hitchcock declared that a “John Ford film was a visual gratification”.

From the earliest days of film, through to the invention of sound and the introduction of colour, Ford remained a cinematic pioneer. Although best regarded for his westerns, he also made another masterpiece that defined a nation – The Grapes Of Wrath; while his incredible World War Two documentaries The Battle Of Midway and December 7th remain quintessential examples of the craft. For all this alone, John Ford should be regarded as The Great American Director.


Well, that’s me done, so now the torch passes to… Fernando at Committed to Celluloid. Good luck Fernando; you’re gonna need it!

Debuts Blogathon: Alfred Hitchcock – The Pleasure Garden (1925)

Debuts Blogathon

The Debuts Blogathon has been a lot of fun so far and today’s entry is no exception. Melissa has been running The Soul of the Plot for less than a year, but already she’s carved out her own particular niche in the film blogging world with a great site featuring reviews of films past and present. Here, she takes a look at The Pleasure Garden, the 1925 debut of one my very favourite directors, Alfred Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock

The Pleasure Garden (1925)

For my entry in the Debuts Blogathon, I decided to cover Alfred Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden. Although Hitchcock did make a film before this, it was never finished; and while he considered his next film The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog his first ‘Hitchcock Film’, history remembers The Pleasure Garden as his debut.

The Pleasure Garden PosterIt’s easy to see why Hitchcock didn’t give this film much credit looking back. It’s not bad – it’s actually quite enjoyable – but it’s so thematically and tonally different from what he normally does that it bears little resemblance to the later films he is most well known for.

The Pleasure GardenThe first thing you will notice is that the film is silent. Hitchcock actually made a total of nine silent films (excluding the lost ones), with his last, Blackmail, being redone for sound in 1929. The Pleasure Garden is the only one I’ve seen thus far, and from what I remember Hitch does a pretty average job at telling the story through the visuals. There are a couple of shots where he focuses on a specific object, as he did in his later films (such as the key in Notorious), but there aren’t a whole lot of super technically impressive standout shots here (though there are some).

Another thing to note is the very poor picture quality of the film. I know I can hardly complain as I watched it on YouTube, but it’s free there and the restored version isn’t available on DVD yet. The BFI has just restored all nine of them, but they are only showing them in very select theatres. At certain points the picture quality is so awful you can’t even see the actors’ faces; they’re just blobs of white.

The Pleasure GardenThe Pleasure Garden is the theatre at which our two main characters work as part of a chorus line. Patsy Brand (Virginia Valli) is already established there, and helps out newcomer Jill Cheyne (Carmelita Geraghty). Jill eventually surpasses Patsy on the showbiz ladder, and reveals her true nature as greedy, manipulative, and selfish. Though she is promised to Hugh (John Stuart), she doesn’t have a problem flirting with the director of the show and a fan, Prince Ivan (Karl Falkenberg). Worried about Jill, Hugh trusts Patsy to look after her while he is away, and also introduces her to a colleague of his, Levett (Miles Mander). In Hugh’s absence, Patsy can do little to keep Jill in line, but does manage to marry Levett before he leaves as well. Once Levett leaves, his behavior starts to mirror Jill’s more than is desirable.

The Pleasure GardenAt this point, Hitchcock does offer us a shot worth mentioning. As Patsy is seen waving goodbye to Levett, another woman’s hand waving hello to Levett overlaps hers. Right then you know he’s a pile of cheating scum, even if you didn’t already, and Hitchcock is able to convey this in a wonderfully simple way. With this scene transition, you know all you need to know about Levett and he’s not even in it!

The ending gets wonderfully melodramatic. It’s quite a laugh really, seeing all the over-the-top things that end up happening. I rather doubt it was intended to be funny, but nevertheless I had a real good time watching it and heckling it a bit as it went along. Everything escalates pretty quickly and it’s humorous to see. There’s betrayal, and then an attempted and some actual murders, and someone’s ghost comes back, all in the last few minutes. It’s pretty crazy.

The Pleasure GardenOne complaint I do have though, besides the dismal picture quality, is the plot itself. It’s very uneven and unexpected things keep happening. Not in a good plot-twist type way, but in a really random way. I could never really tell where the story was going, which is fine in general, but it also felt weird going through, because all of this random stuff kept happening. That’s not to say that it didn’t hold my attention, because it did. I was worried about that, because I have been known to fall asleep during silent films upon occasion. This one is only about an hour and is so jam-packed with random and crazy plot points that it stays pretty interesting throughout, if only because I was wondering what crazy thing was going to happen next.

I’ll have to say that The Pleasure Garden is a pretty good film, but it’s nowhere near the standard of his later films like Psycho or Vertigo. I didn’t expect it to be, so I was just glad I could get into it at the time. In terms of themes, I wouldn’t have noticed the similarities that I did unless I was looking for them. You still have murder, and men being jerks to women, but the way they are presented doesn’t seem to me uniquely Hitchcockian. Also, there’s no signature cameo here; he didn’t start doing that until his next film. It’s worth a look if you like silent film, or Hitchcock, or movies with crazy plots, but for the casual film viewer it’s not really essential watching.

Over at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, Darren Aronofsky’s striking directorial debut Pi is being covered by KaramelKinema. Head over to Chris’s site now by clicking here.

Meanwhile, back on my patch, you couldn’t ask for anything more different as we have Elwood over at From the Depths of DVD Hell taking a peek at Frank Henenlotter’s micro-budget 1982 horror classic Basket Case.