Wednesday, July 2, 2014
The questionable purity of my love for Enemy
No spoilers ahead.
Young movie fans -- at least, the young movie fans in the Facebook movie discussion group in which I participate -- worship at the altar of certain Hollywood personalities. You know, your David Finchers, your Christopher Nolans, your Jake Gyllenhaals and your Ryan Goslings.
So when one of them comes along and says that you have to see Enemy, and that Jake Gyllenhaal is even better in it than he was in Prisoners, I tend to take it with a grain of salt. Especially when the very adult hosts of the Filmspotting podcast have already barely failed to contain their guffaws over the movie, ultimately determining that they didn't know how to make heads nor tails of it.
But on Tuesday night I was determined to watch something from 2014, and had been frustrated in my attempt to get to the video store on $2 new release rental night. I was surprised to see that Enemy, a new release, was renting for only twice that in standard definition on iTunes -- and only 90 minutes total in length. I was downloading it before you could correctly pronounce the name "Denis Villeneuve." (Not so hard, actually -- I think it's De-knee Vill-a-noov. But Filmspotting host Josh Larsen was calling him "Vill-a-ne-view," so I've had that subconsciously in my head ever since.)
I knew going in that this same Facebook 15-year-old who was recommending Enemy was also recommending a video on Youtube in which this otherwise confounding movie was convincingly explained. I had it in the back of my mind that I'd probably watch that video after I finished the movie.
Not five minutes in I knew I liked the movie, but I was never sure precisely how much I liked it, even as the credits rolled. There was some beguiling imagery, some intellectually stimulating concepts and some good performances, but I wasn't sure if it had totally hit its mark. I was toying with giving it 3.5 stars and then not thinking a lot more about it.
But then I watched the video.
And it was no brief commitment, either. We're talking 25 minutes of a fully conceptualized and realized perspective on the film that came from a lot of thinking, but also represented absolutely zero grasping at straws. A complete and cogent deconstruction of the movie that left little doubt of the correctness, or at least viability, of this particular take on the film. Everything put forward in this video was there for the unpacking, it just took somebody to unpack it.
My 3.5 stars quickly jumped to 4.5 stars.
Because it's worth knowing as little as possible about Enemy going in, I'm not going to tell you anything about this Youtuber's Enemy theories. I'm just going to say that they knocked my socks off and made me love a movie I thought I only liked. Oh, and I'll also invite you to watch it yourself if you've already seen the movie, though only if you've already seen the movie:
What I actually want to talk about today is what this whole experience of liking, and then loving, and then not being able to stop thinking about Enemy has also made me think about: the fact that it could have just as easily become just another anonymous entry in my ongoing continuum of movie watching.
Put another way: Would I have ever discovered that Enemy was great without watching this video? And what does that mean?
Put another way: If you are going to truly love a movie, should that movie's clever tricks and hidden meanings and profound contemplations present themselves to you in and of themselves, without you having to do any additional work?
It's an interesting question, if I do say so myself. On the one hand, the important thing in loving a movie is the fact of truly loving it, and it doesn't really matter how you get there. If you can be convinced that a certain movie is trying to do a certain thing and succeeding wildly at what it's trying to do, it doesn't and shouldn't matter if that light bulb went off when you were watching it, or shortly afterward, or when someone explained their theory of it to you three years later. You got there, and that's all that matters.
But I can't escape the nagging feeling that there's been something inorganic about how I came to love Enemy. And that could be because I didn't give my brain the chance to do any of the processing that normally follows from a movie that engrossed me. Usually, or at least traditionally, you would let the movie roll around inside your head for a few hours or days, and maybe then start to read reviews or critical essays to expand on what you've already been thinking.
Nowadays, however, that timetable is severely collapsed. With the internet, we have access to anything and everything that has been written, or spoken, or recorded about a movie within moments of finishing it. Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes have culled together three dozen prominent discussions of the film, and just typing the film's name into Youtube gives you access to at least that many crackpot ideas of what it might or might not be about.
Even that would have been okay, except that I already knew this one particular Youtube video had been created and validated by several people I trusted as a really excellent interpretation of the movie. Whether I thought the movie needed additional interpretation was not something I gave myself the chance to decide. Whether any additional readings of the movie would occur to me on their own was not something I allotted the time to happen. Instead, less than five minutes after the movie, I was allowing a guy on Youtube to make those decisions for me.
I may be setting up a bit of a straw man here, though, because ultimately I'm really glad that I did see this video. I was all prepared to label this movie an intriguing curiosity and move on from it. Instead, I have a new contender for my favorite movie of the year so far, one that I am now eager to recommend to all my friends.
However, should I also recommend the video? Or should I let them decide on their own how great they consider Enemy?
And I am truly bothered by the question of whether Enemy really is a 3.5 star movie, because that's all the movie itself gave me. As a true 4.5 star movie, shouldn't I have been the one filming that Youtube video, based on my own conclusions about it?
Who knows, maybe I would have gotten there after all, if I'd given myself the time.
What I really wonder, though, is how many other movies I liked pretty well might become movies I loved if I just had the right discussion about them with the right person. Because ultimately, isn't that all that really happened with Enemy? That I had the right discussion? It was a pretty one-sided discussion, between a guy named Chris Stuckmann and his video camera, on which I happened to eavesdrop. But it was a discussion nonetheless, in the sense that a discussion can often involve a companion illuminating and elucidating ideas you may not have previously been able to access on your own.
In a way, my "conversation" with Chris Stuckmann was, or could have been, the same type of thing I'd have had with a particularly astute viewing companion, if we'd both just seen the movie and were processing it on the car ride home. Now, he/she would have indeed needed to be pretty sharp to put together this whole unified theory of Enemy in such a short time. But maybe I should just consider myself to have watched the movie with such a sharp person. They do exist.
Or maybe I watched the movie with Denis Villeneuve himself, since his own words are quoted in that video and played a role in steering Stuckmann toward his interpretation.
So is my love pure?
Sure is -- it's that purity one feels when they've been reminded once again of the exciting possibilities of cinema.