By Muhammad MuzammalColumnist
Freud said there are three main components of the human mind: the self-absorbed, selfish id, the moral and selfless superego, and the problem solver, the ego. Our personality is a conflict between the id and superego, with the ego acting as the mediator between the two fighting ideologically different sides.
This crossed my mind as I watched Denis Villeneuve’s transfixing, slow film, “Enemy” about a history professor, Adam Bell, who tracks down a movie star, Anthony Clair, who resembles him (a well casted, literally multifaceted Jake Gyllenhaal). Clair isn’t just a doppelgänger of Bell; he’s an exact physical copy of the depressed, unexciting professor, who lives a boring life with a daily routine of teaching, eating and having nightly, animalistic sex with his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent).
A third rate film actor, Clair is essentially immoral and someone who gives into his desires. He has weird sexual spider fetishes, is disloyal to his pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) and is impulsive and rude.
The dense film is remarkably only 90 minutes. Full of brown, hazy scenes, Villeneuve’s film is an example of his color artistry, all of which combine with the mood to give the film a dark, suffocating tone.
Scenes of Bell returing from work are accompanied by an intense, creeping score by Danny Bensi, whose soundtrack here sounds very similar to Bernard Herrmann’s music from Alfred Hitchcock’s equally provocative film, “Psycho.” Among the most meaningful scenes is of course the first meeting between Bell and Clair.
This is where I thought of Freud’s personality theory. Bell, the better, more rational man (superego) has a more serious outlook on life than Clair, a sociopathic, egotistical loser (id). It is to my understanding that they are both opposite sides of the same personality, just as the mind is.
The movie opens with a debatable yet deeply philosophical adage: “Chaos is order yet to be undeciphered.”
Compare these mysterious parts of the film to the odd situation between Bell and Clair. As in Albert Camus’ “The Stranger,” we are faced with two men (maybe one) who are trying to put order around an esoteric incident. As the film shows, the more they try to make sense of a nonsensical situation, the more absurd the situation becomes (the events of which I won’t spoil just because they are too good and unpredictable).
“Enemy” works because it feels different than most movies. There was no moment during this film where I wasn’t thinking about anything but what transpired on the screen. There wasn’t any type of commercial cynicism behind it (it’s only playing on VOD and in one theater in the state) nor did the movie feel meaningless.
For Villeneuve, who has directed two better-known films in “Incendies” and “Prisoners,” “Enemy” represents a passion project for the director. It isn’t made for any one type of specific audience, except one whose viewership suits the filmmaker’s fascinating taste in films. That is, if you like frightening, atmospheric and grim films with a bit of brilliant irony added, then “Enemy” is the film for you. Otherwise, just skip what could be a potentially scary and not to mention, uncomfortable experience.