An Analysis – A Closer Look Into Enemy
***Warning: the following contains massive spoilers***
– Chaos is order yet undeciphered –
When I first walked out of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy (2013), I was over come with different emotions: befuddlement, confusion, and most all fascination. I knew I had witnessed something special, a tightly crafted work that seemed arbitrary at first, but somehow worked. My first reactions dealt with the style, tone, music, acting, and cinematography. Everything flowed together in an eerie and often times frightening cohesion. Although I had plenty of questions, I was convinced this was one of the best films of the year, if not the best. As of this writing, my feeling has only solidified.
With the recent release of the film on video, I decided to revisit and dig deeper into what it was about, and what it was trying to say (if anything at all). Why was Jake Gyllenhaal playing two different characters that looked exactly the same? Why did their lives strangely intersect? Were their loved ones aware of what was going on, or were they just as confused as I was? And what in the world was going on with those spiders? After further research, along with a second and third viewing, I’ve come to an interpretation that works for me. Of course, interpretation is subjective, and I’m sure this enigma of a story can be read in any number of ways.
The first things to regard are – obviously – the main characters. Gyllenhaal plays dual roles. Adam is a history professor at a local college. His days are based on routine: going to work, lecturing his class, and then returning home. In class, we hear him mention dictatorships, totalitarian societies, and how governments suppress their people. The very first words we hear Adam say are “Control, it’s all about control.” On his way home, Adam passes a mural depicting a man raising his arm as a fascist emblem. Adam is a reflection of this idea. He’s introverted, non-social, and spends his waking hours sitting at home grading papers. It’s almost inconceivable that he has a girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent). Their arrangement doesn’t fit the usual definition of a “relationship,” as it’s mostly consisted of emotionless sex, after which Mary quickly leaves his apartment. As described in his teachings, Adam has become “controlled,” or “suppressed” by his own life.
Compare him to Anthony, the second character. Although Anthony looks identical to Adam, his personality is different. He’s more outgoing and assertive. Instead of a teacher, Anthony is an actor, playing bit parts in forgettable movies (it will be his appearance in one of those movies that triggers Adam to seek Anthony out). While Adam has a girlfriend that comes and goes, Anthony has a wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), who is six months pregnant. Adam lives in a small apartment whereas Anthony lives in what looks to be a fancy condo. Strangely, an emphasis is made on how Adam hates blueberries whereas Anthony can’t get enough of them. A key sequence occurs when Adam, under some uncontrollable urge, decides to look for Anthony, and in doing so ends up at a payphone speaking to Helen. Notice the way Helen talks to Adam, mistaking him for Anthony. Soon after, Helen confronts Anthony about the calls, questioning if he was “seeing her again.” Her accusation of Anthony’s infidelity, as well as her conversation with Adam over the phone, leads us to surmise what many others are probably thinking.
Adam and Anthony are the same person.
I was initially resistant to this notion, as characters with split personalities are a common and tired trope in film. But the evidence is too much to ignore. From their appearances (including the beard and the scar on their torso) it’s clear these are two parts of the same mind. While there are many examples, two big pieces of information support this. Remember the torn picture Adam had of himself? The same picture resides in Anthony’s home, this time as a complete whole. Adam’s psyche – just like his picture – has torn in half. The second example is the conversation Adam has with his mother (Isabella Rossellini). After talking to her about meeting Anthony, Adam’s mother explicitly tells him that she has only one son, that he has a good life, and he should give up the fantasy of being a third rate actor. Pay attention to how she also urges Adam to eat blueberries, and talks about how he has a nice home. Earlier, we heard her (in a voicemail) talk about his apartment negatively. It is as though she is urging Adam to not only embrace the life Anthony has, but to replace it.
It’s important to read everything through the prism of someone who has a broken psyche. Since Adam and Anthony are the same, we mustn’t read the visuals based in a tangible, real world. Villeneuve (as well as screenwriter Javier Gullón) purposefully shoot with a level of ambiguity. Adam and Anthony are opposing forces within this dreamlike arena. In fact, it can be argued that the actual person this is all happening inside of may not be named Adam or Anthony at all! As the plot continues further, the two characters begin to migrate away from their lives, and towards each other’s. Adam – whose life of boredom and routine – is suddenly dropped into a strange conspiracy that may be beyond his control. Anthony – who has had issues with his marriage – is in desperate need for escape. Anthony finds it in his foolish plan to switch places with Adam so he can date and sleep with Mary. This is where the main crux of the film resides, where the stakes are laid to determine whether Adam or Anthony will become the dominant personality. And it all has to do with the spiders.
The spiders are a metaphor for Adam/Anthony’s relationship with women.