Enemy (2013), adapted from the book The Double by José Saramago, is a movie directed by Denis Villeneuve, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon. I personally thought it was an amazing movie, but it left many people too confused to appreciate it. But worry not, for I might have a few answers for you.
Spoiler alert and also, this is my personal interpretation, I’m aware other people might have understood the movie differently.
“Chaos is order yet undeciphered”
The movie starts with this quotation from the book. You might be thinking “Who cares? Nobody even reads these anyway.” but this is one is actually very important. It is a warning. It literally tells us that the movie we are about to see is a puzzle we have to assemble ourselves. We are the ones who have to make sense of it. All the pieces are there, we just have to figure out how to put them together.
Enemy in chronological order
Since the movie is not totally, 100% chronological, I’ve decided to put it back in order. It might be easier to understand afterwards. Plus, there are a few things explained.
- Adam (Gyllenhaal) is a History teacher who dreams of becoming an actor. He played in a few movies, but always non-speaking roles.
- He is married to Helen (Gadon), but also has an affair with Mary (Laurent). He is also part of a “gentlemen’s club” kind of thing, where he is spectator to some weird sexual shows.
- Helen knows that Adam cheated on her at least once and believes that maybe, he still does.
- One night, Adam and Mary go out. She discovers that he is married, gets mad and wants to go home. On their way back, they have a car accident. They both survive, but Adam comes out with a scar.
- Adam decides to stay with Helen, mainly because Mary doesn’t want to see him anymore.
- He doesn’t go back to the casting agency for 6 months and also remains faithful to Helen during this period. He still thinks about Mary all the time though, and he even follows her to work once and spies on her throughout the day.
- After 6 months, he decides to go back to the club. Helen knows and they fight. At the club, Adam seems worried and upset. He knows his relationship with Helen is over.
- Adam moves out. His mum calls, saying that she is worried about him. He also starts seeing Mary again.
- One night, as he is watching one of the few movies in which he played, he sees himself and feels as if he made all the wrong decisions. He feels like a coward.
- He realizes that he misses Helen and calls her. He gets too nervous and hangs up. Worried, Helen goes to see him at the University where he works. They have a polite, yet awkward discussion and go their separate ways again. Helen is upset, but Adam simply seemed happy to see her.
- Later, Adam realises that his little meeting with Helen could have been his chance to get back to her. He becomes obsessed by the situation and it starts to drive him crazy. He realizes that he is not happier now than he was before.
Circles and edges
We all know that circles have no edges and no ends, obviously. They keep going on and on again, forever. The movie is a circle in itself; it starts when Adam goes back to the club and ends only a few moments before, when him and Helen are about to fight on the subject. It starts and ends at the middle of the story; the turning point of Adam’s life. It is the moment he keeps thinking about all the time. But, the movie might be a circle, it is not necessarily presented to us as such. What I mean here is that besides Helen’s pregnant belly, there are not many round or circular forms in the movie. We see a lot of edges and squares and lines. Adam sees his past with Helen as a circle in which he kept making the same mistake all the time: cheating on her with Mary. He wanted to break free from this circle, and he thought doing so by leaving Helen. But he never really broke free. He keeps thinking about her and what he could have done differently.
Adam or Anthony
The main character is presented to us under two names and two personalities; Adam and Anthony. Since his mother calls him Adam, I believe this is his real name. Anthony is a fake name he gives to his past self, in order to differentiate who he is from who he was. He does not want to accept the choices he made in the past, so he “creates” Anthony and blames him. We rarely have to guess whether we are shown Adam or Anthony, but if you ever get confused, Adam often wears a white shirt and a black tie, as for Anthony, he often wears a black leather jacket. Anthony is also more aggressive, wears a wedding ring and has messier hair.
This is probably what got most people confused; the spiders. There are many throughout the movie and they might seem to be totally useless, to make to sense at all. But they are so very important! They symbolize Adam’s biggest fear; commitment and responsibilities.
- The first spider we see is about to get squashed. The scene we are shown immediately after is one where Helen is sitting naked on a bed. The spider clearly represents Helen. The spider is about to die, just as her relationship with Adam is coming to an end.
- During the car accident, a window breaks, which make sit look like a spider-web. This is probably when his fear really kicks off. Mary realized that Adam is not an honest man, which destroys the “harmony” he thought he had in his life. Helen is pregnant, and with a baby comes a lot of commitment and responsibilities. If he still had had Mary, he could have ran away to her anytime he felt overwhelmed, but now he can’t. He feels he has no escape.
- The electric wires over the town are also pretty similar to a gigantic spider-web. Wherever he goes, his fear follows him, oppresses him.
- In a dream sequence, we encounter a woman with the head of a spider. Once again, she represents Helen. Adam is not ready to face any of the responsibilities that she represents in his head.
- One of the most obvious ones that got the most people confused is the giant, monstrous spider that is seen walking slowly in the city. This spider is inspired by Maman, a 30 feet high sculpture in Toronto. Not only is the sculpture the one of a female spider, it is a spider bearing eggs. Once again, Helen and her pregnancy.
- The last spider seen in the movie actually made me jump because I was not expecting it at all. In the last scene of the movie, Adam is talking to Helen. As she does not answer, he goes to look for her in the bedroom. There, he stands face to face with a giant spider. He does not look afraid, but as if he is accepting the situation. In fact, it is the spider that seems to be afraid; it backs off against the wall as soon as Adam arrives. The way I see it, the fear is afraid it will be destroyed. But we soon understand that it had nothing to be afraid off, as Adam decides not to confront his fear, but to avoid it by leaving Helen.
That last spider really “stayed” with me, I kept thinking about it. And for the next few days, every time I entered a room I was afraid I’d see a giant spider crawling up my wall.
The envelope and the key
When Adam goes back to the casting agency, he is given an envelope. Its content remains secret until the end of the movie, when Adam opens it to reveal a key. We understand that it is the new key for the weird club he goes to. This key represents what Adam thinks will make him free. He thinks that by going back to the club and leaving Helen, he will finally be free. But he is not.
Who is the enemy?
Adam is his own enemy. As I mentioned, he thinks that by running away from his fear, he will be free and all of his problems will go away, but they don’t. By refusing to fight his fear, he leaves behind a life that could have made him happy. Had he fought it, he could have stayed with Helen and learn to live with the responsibilities of being a husband and a father and ultimately, maybe, become happy. By leaving Helen, he is only avoiding his fear and leaving behind the only chance he had of becoming happy.
The meetings between Adam and Anthony are not real; they are all happening in Adam’s imagination. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but the movie is mainly set in Adam’s subconscious. That is why so many sequences are strange and dream-like. Anyway, back to the meetings. Adam realizes that he is still the same man he once was. Even thought he regrets his choices and hates who he once was, he is intimidated by him. Even though he tried to convince himself that he has changed, he hasn’t. Adam needs to accept the choices he made and learn to live with them, but Anthony keeps him from doing so.