July 27, 2014

The Two Jakes

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2014). Enemy is Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of The Double by Jose Saramago, presumably retitled to allow for Richard Ayoade’s film of Dostoevsky’s The Double (yes, two films about doubles). Jake Gyllenhaal is the history teacher who discovers that a replica of himself is working as a bit part actor in the same city – a very Cronenbergian Toronto in Villeneuve’s account. The mood is clinical, oppressive and dour and the scenario is gripping, with the action unfolding that much faster in the film than the book, largely because the book was set in a pre-internet world where it was harder to track down your double. But do Saramago’s books make good films, though? Yes and no. The situations both here and in Blindness (filmed by Fernando Meirelles) would seem immediately high concept in a 25-words-or-less pitch meeting but the weirdly realistic fact of the impossible scenario – influences on Saramago from Borges, Beckett and Kafka, probably ­­– is harder to put across in film than you might suspect, at least for Villeneuve. It is a kind of total pessimism. You also lose the intense self-consciousness of Saramago’s style, those long, obsessive sentences. The (spider-less) ending is better in the book as well. But Gyllenhaal was perfect casting: as in Prisoners and Zodiac, his version of bland and decent vulnerability is ideal.