After providing the raw fodder for Charlie Kaufman’s characteristically cryptic film I’m thinking about ending thingsCanadian novelist Iain Reid serves up more mind-bending material in Garth Davis’ Enemy. Anchored by emotionally raw performances from Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal, with Aaron Pierre as a stranger bringing both seductive charm and understated menace, this brooding psychological sci-fi about a dying planet and a floundering marriage is initially unsettling but gradually transitions into dullness. confusion and self-righteous solemnity.
A parched area of outback Australia, littered with trees like gnarled skeletons, effectively replaces the decimated American outback in the harrowing images of Hungarian DP Mátyás Erdély (Son of Saul). The year is 2065 and with a shortage of fresh water and habitable land, new settlements are being developed in space. That’s where Pierre’s enigmatic character, Terrance, comes into the picture, who recruits colonists for OuterMore, one of the companies that has now taken on the role of government.
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Location: New York Film Festival (Spotlight)
Date of publication: Friday October 6
Form: Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, Aaron Pierre
Director: Garth Davis
Screenwriter: Iain Reid, Garth Davis, based on Reid’s book
Rated R, 1 hour 50 minutes
For reasons that are never entirely – okay, even vaguely – made clear, the company has chosen the country’s scruffy sixth-generation man Junior (Mescal) to be shortlisted for its mission to build a purpose-built space station that will function as its own planet. .
When the unnervingly friendly Terrance drives unannounced in his sleek, self-driving vehicle to the middle-of-nowhere family farm where Junior lives with his wife Hen (Ronan), the couple is immediately suspicious of his talk of climate migration strategy. Junior refuses to be part of it, but Terrance tells him that being drafted means it’s not an option. The stranger also drops the bombshell that Hen will be left behind for the two years her husband is away.
Some of the film’s most arresting sequences are those in which Erdély’s camera observes Junior and Hen at their workplaces. Since their scorched earth estate is a farm in name alone, Junior ekes out a living in a monolithic chicken processing plant that makes factory farming look alien, while Hen waits tables at a restaurant in a state of dreamy distraction , a relic from earlier times. , similar to the vintage tunes played on the couple’s stereo turntable at home.
Even though a difficult distance has crept into their marriage after seven years, the tenderness and longing remain, perhaps even more so since they learned that Junior could be taken away at any moment. However, the entire foundation of their union is turned upside down when Terrance returns a year later in the middle of a dust storm. He informs them that he will be moving in with them for the accelerated final phase of testing, and expects that they will be grateful for the government compensation, not to mention the chance to be part of an experiment that writes history.
It’s when the nature of that experiment is revealed and OuterMore’s priorities are called into question that Davis, who co-wrote with Reid, begins to lose his grip on the increasingly contrived material. It’s also the moment where the director unapologetically embraces sentimentality – something that some critics took issue with Lion – becomes tacky and ultimately a bit silly.
It doesn’t take a blast from Skeeter Davis’ 1962 country-pop crossover hit, “The End of the World,” to figure out that Enemy is not so much a sci-fi investigation into corporate puppet masters or climate disaster or alien colonization, but rather a dystopian love story steeped in the now inescapable curse of artificial intelligence horror. The people we share our lives with are often not the same people we fell in love with, but maybe science can fix that.
Just don’t call it AI, Terrance chastises, explaining — spoiler alert — the biological replacement that will be provided to keep Them company while Junior is away. “OuterMore has a duty to those left behind,” he says, smiling and reassuring, emphasizing that the “new breed of self-determining life form” is not a robot.
Terrance’s psychological tests regularly push the distressed Junior over the edge, heightening the sense of retro sci-fi paranoia. Hen is excluded from that process, but instead answers detailed questions from the corporate interloper that reveal much about her intimate desires and dreams and the ways in which they have diverged from what Junior wants over the course of their marriage.
But before you can say “Rick Deckard,” the script heralds revelations about synthetic replacements that operate under the tragic belief that they are human.
In one case, the truth plays out in a cold, clinical expose that proves traumatic for everyone involved. In the other case, ambiguity abounds, to a degree that is too vague to be intriguing or satisfying. Yes, you can replay the movie in your mind and figure out what’s what based on clues placed throughout, more or less indicating when the big switcheroo (or switcheroos?) happened. But if Enemy trudges on well into the second hour, it becomes clear that there’s barely enough substance here to sustain a Black mirror episode.
The film is saved to some extent by the unwavering efforts of Ronan and Mescal, who indulge in an environment that is both physically and psychologically suffocating. But the screenplay becomes so overwrought that it suffocates any emotional connection with them.
Watching Hen and Junior go at it in a dried-out lakebed, on a devastated farmland or on a rickety bed at home, attention can only be held for so long, no matter how charismatic the actors are. Mescal launches into a big anguished monologue about the disgust Junior feels toward his fellow humans, but even if this is plausibly the result of Terrance tightening the screws, the speech comes more from the writers than from the character.
Just as Ronan and Mescal (two Irish actors who convincingly play American roles) remain always watchable, so the British actor Pierre (The underground railway) is a strong presence, his piercing eyes and beaming grin betraying just a hint of malicious manipulation, then revealing a chilling aloofness once he calls in the technical crew to complete the experiment.
There’s plenty of atmosphere in the imagery of Erdély’s cinematography and Patrice Vermette’s brooding production design, and in the eerie sounds of a sweeping score by Oliver Coates, Park Jiha and Agnes Obel. But the questions Enemy Thinking about creating human consciousness, connections, and even love in artificial replacements is too determined to be provocative. Better to look at a more daring, imaginative consideration of the subject, such as Ex Machinafor stimulating answers.