An Analysis – A Closer Look Into Enemy
The examples are everywhere. Nearly every moment we see spiders on screen, it is directly linked to the imagery of women. Oddly, the spider symbolism was not a part of José Saramago‘s novel “The Double“, which the film was based on, but it plays as a critical factor. When Anthony visits the underground sex club at the beginning, we see a stripper stand (photographed in a position of power) ready to squash a spider under her heal. During a dream sequence, a naked woman walks along the ceiling, with her head resembling the head of a spider (to which both Adam and Anthony wake up). Right after Adam’s mother orders him to get a grip on himself, we cut to a shot of a giant spider crawling over the city. And during the car scene, where Anthony and Mary perish in a deadly crash, the camera zooms in on a smashed window, with the cracks resembling that of a spider web. Interestingly, the crash happens just as Mary takes a verbal jab at Anthony’s manhood.
The depiction of spiders in coordination with women does not mean the film is dismissive or objectifying of them. However, we are presented with a character that encompasses those traits. The battle that Adam and Anthony have is one of commitment, specifically toward their loved ones. In Anthony’s case – just like a person would react to a spider – he is repelled by the attachment he has to his wife. He sees Helen, six months pregnant, as a symbol of his life being locked down (keep in mind that it has also been six months since Anthony has been to his agency). Look at Anthony’s apartment, in one of the backrooms there is a baby’s crib. In the doorway of that room is a pull up bar. We can assume that the room used to be his work out area, and his soon to be child is encroaching that space (aka his life). That is why he was unfaithful, and it also explains why he visits the sex club. He despises the life he has, but is too much of a coward to be honest with Helen.
Adam, as it were, is the opposite. He is a representation of that commitment. He desires to have a connection deeper than sex, but is unable to reach it. There’s even a scene where Mary stops their session right as it’s happening, because the two are on different wavelengths. In this story, Adam is the protagonist, and Anthony the antagonist. In the scene where Anthony confronts Adam at his apartment and lays out his plan to take Mary out on a romantic evening, Adam does not simply fold back. Anthony says that once the night is over, they’ll never see each other again. That is not an offer to live different lives, but that the dominant personality will take over, and the submissive one will simply disappear. Adam recognizes this, and as a result visits Anthony’s apartment as a means to fight back. He encounters the apartment’s guard (who was also at the sex club), enters the home, and changes into Anthony’s clothes. Adam is assuming Anthony’s identity as a means to counter and suppress Anthony’s traits (“It’s all about control”). Both this and Anthony’s interaction with Mary are happening at the same time, clueing us into the war being waged between the two.
Watch Helen’s reaction with Adam during these scenes. It’s a gradual shift between curiosity, concern, recognition, and finally acceptance. Gadon is excellent with her ability to portray these different emotions. The way she takes Adam’s hand, places it on her stomach, cuddles next to him, and asks “did you have a good day at school?” tells us she’s aware this is not the same person as before. There is a significant change, one that may even point toward happiness. When Adam wakes up, goes to the couch and starts crying, he is going through the struggle of stripping himself of Anthony’s darkness. The “death” Anthony goes through is really Adam becoming the dominant personality, strengthened by Helen literally asking him to “stay.” In an earlier scene, Helen displayed tremendous fear when she first encountered Adam at the college, but now accepts him over Anthony, whose presence will (and has) lead to heartbreak.
But oh, what about that closing scene? In the theater, I practically jumped out of my seat when I saw that gigantic spider suddenly emerge in front of Adam. But what does it mean? Sadly, based on what has come before, this symbol can only point toward tragedy. Consider what happens right before. As Helen finishes taking a shower and dries herself, Adam pulls out an envelope, an envelope that has mysteriously been present throughout the entire film. When Adam opens it, he discovers a key. This is the key used to open the main door to the sex club, the same sex club the apartment guard (just a few scenes prior) eagerly tells Adam he wants to visit again. Adam thinks for a moment, and then asks Helen if she is doing anything that night. When he turns and goes to the bedroom, she has magically morphed into the giant spider. This is a representation of Adam coming back, falling for the same sexual temptations that plagued Anthony. Returning to the sex club means he has not overcome his fear of commitment and obsession with other women. There is no happy ending here, Adam is destined to go through the exact same internal struggle (as Anthony) that we just witnessed. If anything, this final shot is not just terrifying, but ironically hilarious as well.
Denis Villeneuve has made, if not a masterpiece, then a masterwork with Enemy. It’s a bizarre examination of a disturbed character, and although many strings can be tied together, there is enough uncertainty to allow viewers to project their own understanding. All the pieces fit together, even if the overall picture is different for each person. Nothing feels unnecessary, or put in simply for the sake of being weird. Time is the ultimate judge, but in my estimation, this deserves to be mentioned along the likes of other great mindbenders such as Eraserhead (1977), Magnolia (1999), and Mulholland Drive (2001) to name a few. The arc Adam makes is a circular one, where his own faults and insecurities take him back to the starting point. As the title so cleverly reveals, Adam is his own worst enemy.