A few weeks ago, I finally watched Denis Villaneuve's Enemy, his low-budget follow-up to last year's Prisoners. I've been talking it up on a few podcasts of late (it's currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime instant video). It's a real mindfuck of a movie and one of my favorites of the year.
The movie, about a Toronto teacher (Jake Gyllenhaal) who discovers he has an exact double living in the city and trying to make it as an actor, carries with it a sense of dread that recalls the work of David Lynch. Though very watchable for its photography, a really good performance (actually two good performances) from Jake Gyllenhaal and a fascinating sense of "what is happening?" suspense, it's the kind of movie that's guaranteed to leave audiences confused and possibly frustrated. It's obtuse in a way that few movies are willing to be now, and it rocked me.
This is the world we live in now. Contradicting interpretations, available at a second's notice. Unlimited information. Good for movies? Or GREAT for movies?
I remember going to see David Lynch's Lost Highway by myself in 1997 and loving it. I didn't understand it, but I loved it. The movie literally kept me awake all night as I obsessively tried to decipher its meanings and connect the dots. I came up with a reading I could live with, even though I would eventually come to realize it was completely wrong (I was taking things far too literally). At the time, it was almost the best I could do. Sure, the internet existed at the time, but I had no access to it. My friends weren't seeing the movie, so I couldn't talk to them about it. I found a David Lynch fan magazine called Wrapped in Plastic at Tower Records that had an article about the movie in it, but I don't remember finding any real exploration of its themes or meanings in it. I might as well have been reading Premiere.
Now I don't need to go to Tower Records. That's good, because Tower Records is gone. Also gone? All record stores. But I don't need to leave my house to research theories on a movie's meaning or to get into a discussion with like-minded movie fans about the movie I just saw -- or any movie, for that matter. It's all available just by opening up my laptop or turning on my phone. Does that convenience diminish the hunt for meaning? Is it too easy now?
But that's also on me. I can resist the urge to Google theories about movies for as long as I want and come up with my own interpretations. I'm just not that strong. My immediate impulse is to go back and read reviews, to find writing about the movie, to read the theories about what's "actually" going on. In the case of Enemy, it immediately made me appreciate the movie more; while I had a gut feeling about what the movie was trying to say, hearing other movie fans point to specific textual evidence that either clarified or actually flat out explained certain aspects didn't just make me realize how much I liked the movie, but also made realize just how good a movie it is. There is an attention to detail I did not pick up on in one viewing, and which (if I'm being honest) I probably wouldn't have picked up on no matter how many times I see it.
Sometimes this convenient platform for theorizing gets out of control, creating extraneous noise that threatens to drown out the dialogue. In the post-Inception world, movie fans got a little carried away with reading every movie as a puzzle to be solved. There were theories about the last moments of The Dark Knight Rises being a dream, presumably because Christopher Nolan had directed it (and because some people were trying to rationalize an ending that felt out of step with the rest of the film -- no, it's not Alfred's fantasy and Bruce Wayne is not dead). It didn't matter than nothing about the text supported the interpretation. "Figuring it out" became the name of the game, even when the movie left nothing to figure out.
So the hunt has changed. It's faster -- practically immediate -- and far more expansive. I still love it. The hunt allows for nonstop movie conversation, even if you're never really talking to anyone. I had a whole discussion about Enemy after I saw it and never opened my mouth. I read articles and watched videos, engaged with them in my mind, read more, responded internally. Not every movie requires such pursuits. Though every movie deserves to be talked about, it's only the rare and special film like Enemy (or Lost Highway) that lends itself and benefits from the hunt...provided you're willing to look.