Every year, Toronto begins to take on certain themes by the festival's midpoint, and this year there were some strong, serious dramas involving characters who go it alone in life, and much of the time to their own detriment.
I love when a movie can evoke a mood so effortlessly that it envelops my entire being. "Enemy", based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize winner José Saramago (Blindness) is a movie like that. It plunges into a state of unease, milking our dread with a kind of unblinking fascination. I simply had to know what was going to happen next.
Arriving in theaters fresh from its five wins at the Canadian Screen Awards (Canada's version of the Oscars that once were the Genies, but which I suppose are now the Screenies) including Best Director for Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Incendies) "Enemy" is one of the more compelling takes on the centuries old philosophical notion of the double.
That the movie allows the elusive and diverse metropolis of Toronto to come out of hiding and play its selves (yes, plural)--instead of its usual gig as a stand-in for New York, Chicago, Boston or Pittsburgh--is a bonus, adding layers to a narrative about dualities that I'll get to later.
The plot: We first meet Adam at his job as associate-professor of history. He's a variation of one of Jake Gyllenhaal's sad sack characters, a handsome man with too many cobwebs in the attic to understand as much. His life is on auto-pilot, his ass always dragging behind the time. The lectures to his class on Hegel, the German idealist, ring anything but. His living quarters are a no frills high-rise apartment complex downtown where his hot girlfriend seems to connect with him only through sex.
One day after work, on the advice of a colleague, he rents one of those highbrow costume dramas featuring spiffy men and ladies with big hats, only to find himself staring at an extra in the film that bares a striking resemblance to himself. He rushes back to the video shop and checks out that actor's other films. Uncanny.
For once in his life, something is happening! Obsessed with the actor, named Anthony, Adam sleuths around town gathering clues in an effort to find him. You know a movie is firing on all cylinders when an actor at a payphone in the middle of a parking lot generates serious dramatic tension. The men talk and agree to a meeting. What follows is not for me to tell, but for you to experience.
What's bedeviling in all the good ways is how the movie is exactly what it shows as much as it remains a mystery, though there is one insightful clue that reveals itself in a scene between Adam and his mother, played by Isabella Rossellini.
From Kim Novak in "Vertigo" to Midler and Tomlin in "Big Business" to Nicolas Cage in "Adaptation", we can sense how delicious an assignment it is for actors to play dual roles in a movie. Jake Gyllenhaal is no exception here, and like Cage, he creates two distinctly different men underneath identical outer appearances. They share the same styles of hair along with those plush beards, though this movie confirms something I've long suspected about facial growth, which is that it appears to accentuate in some men a sexy, rugged masculinity, while for other men it is simply the untidy bi-product of not shaving.
As for the city of Toronto, director Villeneuve and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc (another Screenie winner) use the haze and humidity of overcast summer days to project Adam's psychological torment, filmed in grays, browns, yellows, and sticky. In most films set in Toronto, the camera never dares tilt upward lest it give away its true filming location. It's the reverse here as the camera stares down the city's famous CN Tower, moves into its downtown core from above, or pans across the Gardiner Expressway, revealing the old Royal York Hotel surrounded by modern glass skyscrapers. The dualities of the old and the new all in one shot. In other shots, the impenetrable fortress of the Brutalist architecture scheme of the local university where Adam works reflects the Toronto of the 50's and 60's; his plain brick residential apartment complex that of the 70's and 80's; and the Marilyn Monroe Towers of glass in the antiseptic neighboring borough of Mississauga, the new order of a futuristic metropolis where inside a man grapples with his identity in much the same way the city he lives in does.