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I thought that Denis Villeneuve’s last year’s “Prisoners” was actually two thirds of a great movie. Brooding atmosphere, good acting, spoiled towards the end by some convoluted thrill-seekery.

In “Enemy”, again featuring brooding champion Jake Gyllenhaal, the author apparently decided to learn from that lesson, and did away with everything but the atmosphere. Which is brooding. Jake G. plays a professor of history, with an established and somehow boring routine of looking sloppy, teaching platitudes about dictatorships to a class of students that look much better than they have any right to, and having somehow not very exciting sex with his girlfriend. That may not be the worst life anybody has, but we are shown a sequence of images that indicate there is something missing from his life. Are the opening images of some “Eyes Wide Shut”-like erotic performance any indication of what that missing element of excitement may be? If that is the case, the film does not pursue this. Instead, it creates a very disconcerting encounter of Professor-Jake with a “third rate actor” who looks exactly like him.

Up until then, I felt pleasantly disoriented with the film, from then onwards I was leaning towards boredom, borderline annoyed. Of the many things that can come out of this discovery, those chosen were either incomprehensible (the complete lack of interest on how this can be, or the inability to accept the fact that it actually can be) or rushed. When we get to the (not entirely unexpected…) point that the possibility of swapping lives is discussed, hope springs for some interesting developments, experiences and drama. We get all that, but within something like seven minutes, after which the author decides to give us spiders instead… No need to get into that bit of spoiler territory, but there is an abundance of spiders. Those spiders serve as an allegory, even though the audience does not really have a chance to unlock the riddle. Hence they are maybe not an allegory, but an unsolicited artistic element without contextual purpose, i.e. nonsense. Maybe I am wrong, and I just did not get it (“it” being whether this is all a dream or a near-death vision or an experiment or a drug vision, or a stroke-induced anaphylactic shock, or the dream of the soon-to-be-born child waiting in its womb for the water to break, or the beginning of a franchise building on the old “Tarantula” monster spider movie). After reading through some reviews, I do not think, however, that it is something I did not get, but rather something that is not there. Cryptic visual and narrative elements make sense when they can be decrypted somehow. If they stand alone, the are mere  decorative, and hence pretentious.


  1. Good review Thomas. It’s definitely a weird, confusing movie, but I think it needed to be. Maybe have to watch it again, just to get a clearer picture of all that I was seeing.

  2. Might be worth a try, I am not sure whether I would have the patience for a second go, though… either it’s too clever or too flawed, I am happy with never finding out 🙂

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  1. By Arrival (Denis Villeneuve 2016) | thomas4cinema on 09 Mar 2017 at 11:30 am

    […] and turns less talented writers would have fallen for. Denis Villeneuve excels again: Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival… what a run!. Together with screenwriter Eric Heisserer he has created a […]

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