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An Explanation of Enemy

Updated on July 1, 2018
Erich Kortum profile image

I've wanted to get into writing for a while now. Movies and games feel like a good place to start.

Major Spoilers Ahead

Visionary Direction

Dennis Villeneuve has to date directed 16 films, but is best known for his most recent feature films including, Blade Runner 2049, Arrival, Sicario, and Prisoners. While each of these films are excellent in their own right, my favorites would ultimately be Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival. Each film directed by Villeneuve has tackled a variety of themes, ranging from simple conspiracies, to asking what makes us human. Yet the most personal and enigmatic story in my mind would have to be Enemy. After watching the movie 3 times now, and having read others interpretations of it, I think I finally have an understanding of what the story is. Once again, this article will be filled with spoilers so continue with caution.

Loose Interpretation

Loosely based off of the Jose Saramago novel “The Double”, Enemy tells a seemingly simple story of a man named Adam (played by Jake Gyllenhaall), who finds his doppelganger (named Anthony) and becomes obsessed with finding and meeting this other man. While this may seem rather clean cut, the heavy symbolism paints a story that is much deeper but still very personal. Upon initial viewing, or without reading about it online, the ending alone will more than likely confuse most viewers.

Anthony watching the show when we first meet him.
Anthony watching the show when we first meet him.

Hidden Meanings

A further in-depth synopsis of the plot, (and at least one viewing) definitely goes a long way in helping to understand the metaphors present throughout. In its short run time of only an hour and a half, Enemy tells a story that, in my opinion, isn’t actually about two literally different people. Instead it’s a memoir about a man who struggles with being faithful and is rather scared of devotion and responsibility. Even with that said, it’s still a bit hard to figure out the exact design of the story. The movie seems like it could be a nonlinear affair, that shows one man in different times of his life, or a story of someone living with psychosis who believes he is two separate beings.

My personal interpretation of the film, is that it’s a story about a man who has trouble remaining faithful to his wife and has been struggling with the feeling of entrapment and responsibilities that come with her pregnancy. I also believe Adam and Anthony are the same person, but simply in different times of the man's life. When Adam tried to be an actor he took the alias of Anthony Saint Claire, and still longs for the days when he wasn’t tied down to a wife and soon to be child.

Adam(right) and Anthony(left) meeting for the first time.
Adam(right) and Anthony(left) meeting for the first time.

Similar in Appearance Only

Now to explain this idea we'll have to take a deep dive into the characters, and specific points in the film. What sets the two apart at first, is the vast differences in their personal lives. The first person we’re introduced to, is Adam, who leads a rather repetitive cycle like life as a college professor of history. But Anthony has a seemingly more fulfilling life as he once was an actor, but it's never explained what he currently does for work. Past their occupations, the disparity between the two is found mostly in their home lives. Adam has a rather empty apartment, owning only a phone, a bed, a chair and a laptop. To contrast this, Anthony’s apartment is much more decorated and furnished, and feels more like a home. Aside from this, the most important distinction between the two, would be their love lives. Adam has a girlfriend, who’s relationship is mostly revolved around sex and not much else. While Anthony has a wife who, despite having issues trusting him to be faithful, still seems to love him, and is also 6 months pregnant. This puts their relationship leaps and bounds ahead of Adam and Mary's.

A Handful of Clues With No Definite Answers

The film gives clues to its meaning throughout, but never goes out of its way to give audience members any definite answers. For me the biggest clues are in the beginning, when Adam is giving a lecture, where he describes how many are afraid history will only repeat itself, only to give the same lecture over and over again. As well as what I stated earlier, when we see him go through his days without any change. Shortly after he finds the talent agency Anthony works through, he gets mail that is left for Anthony, as the security guards confuses Adam for Anthony. Now the exchange Adam and the security guard have, reveals that Anthony hasn’t been to the talent agency in roughly 6 months. Maybe its coincidental but remember that’s the exact amount of time Anthony's wife has been pregnant, as she later reveals to Adam when she goes to see if he's a real person.

Adam in the middle of his day.
Adam in the middle of his day.

Zero Trust Agreement

But now why did Helen go see Adam just to see if he's a real person? When she overhears Anthony on the phone telling Adam never to call the house again, she questions Anthony about who was on the other line, but she doesn’t entirely believe his answer and asks "are you seeing her again?" to which he gets highly upset with. Later that night she finds a note Anthony wrote down before their argument that has Adams name on it, and after some sleuthing she finds that Adam is indeed a real person. This disbelief she shows proves that once again, Anthony isn't the most faithful husband. But yet later, when Adam goes to talk to his mother about finding his doppelganger, she tells him that "the last thing you need to be doing is meeting strange men in hotel rooms" and that he " already has enough trouble staying with one woman as it is". In this same scene Adams mother also tells him he has a respectable job and a nice apartment, as well as he "should give up the fantasy of being a third-rate movie actor". Now to me this a strong indication that again, they are the same person. It's also important for this theory to note that Adam and Anthony only meet in private and are never seen together by anyone else.

Changing Places

In the end we see Anthony use his acting skills to threaten Adam by asking " did you fuck my wife?!" to which Adam refuses to answer. Anthony tells Adam that he's going to take his clothes, his car and his girlfriend and take her out for a romantic weekend. In return Adam goes to Anthony's home, but is much more nervous about what he's doing and spends the night with Helen. We see Adam and Helen lay in bed together and she eventually asks him how school went today, this is inter-spliced with scenes of Anthony and Mary having sex in a hotel.

Anthony threatens Adam, forcing a deal.
Anthony threatens Adam, forcing a deal.

Who Are You?

But when Mary notices the tan line on Anthony's finger from his ring, she freaks out and jumps out of bed asking who he is and at this moment Adam wakes up in bed with Helen still. From here we see Adam sitting on the couch visibly upset, and when Helen comes to comfort him, he starts to cry and begins to apologize to her. Now at the same time, Anthony and Mary are in the car and begin to argue, which results in them crashing the car and both dying. Afterwards we see Adam and Helen getting ready for their days, where there is a radio reporting on a car accident Adam turns it off before we hear any details. She tells him he missed a call from his mother, while he finally looks at the package from earlier and decides to open it, inside he discovers a key.

Adam sits with Helen.
Adam sits with Helen.

Internal Struggle

From here we see Adam debate what to do, and ultimately, he gives in to his desire and chooses to go out that night. But where does the key lead? Well according to the exchange between the buildings security guard and Adam, this key leads to none other than the sex club where we see Anthony in the start of the film. When Adam tells Helen, he has to go out tonight she stops responding to him, prompting him to go see her to carry on the conversation. Except for when he does, instead of his wife he sees a giant tarantula that cowers at the sight of him, ending the movie with a close up of Adams face which seems to have an expression of acceptance but also fear.

Fitting The Puzzle Together

So, how do all these pieces fit together and why have I talked about the movie in a way that’s not very orderly? As I said earlier, I don’t believe the plot is strictly linear but yet also is an endless loop Adam is stuck in fighting with his adulterous ways. Notice the outfit he wears at the end is similar to the what we see him wearing at the start of the film, once again in the sex club. As well as the security guard who told Adam he needed to go back, was also seen with him in the start of the film. To me this means that the end of the movie is also where we see the story start showing that Adam will never fully get over his temptations and will fall back on them over and over again. In the end becoming another part of history that just repeats itself.

An Aracnophobic Nightmare

Now what's with all the spider imagery then? I believe the spiders (especially the one in the end) are simply a manifestation of Adams fear of responsibility and commitment. As he also seems to fear spiders he simply just combined the two in his self-conscience. At the start of the film Adam watches through his fingers, as a woman in the sex club begins to step on none other than a tarantula. Why else would he watch the show in this fashion, if he wasn’t uncomfortable with what he was seeing? It's also worth noting that any other time he sees spiders are in his dreams.

A literal amalgamation of Adams fear represented through dreams.
A literal amalgamation of Adams fear represented through dreams.

Intentional Misdirection

I believe the film is told out of order to prompt viewers to give thought to the movies meaning, rather giving it away immediately. To support this, it's important to remember the opening titles of the movie with the quote from the novel, "chaos is order yet undeciphered". I’ve also read multiple theories and explanations of the story, and while this is my take on the film(I'm also aware I've left out more clues) I'm certain it's not the only correct take on the film. But I really enjoyed digging into the movie and trying to decipher its narrative, and I believe that’s what the intention was in the end. I strongly suggest watching the film after having read this or another explanation, as it helps bring clarity to the purposely obscure plot.

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