An Enemy Movie Review, Discussion and Maybe an Explanation
An Enemy Movie Review, Discussion and Maybe an Explanation
Screenplay
Mindjobness
Acting
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4.6Overall Score
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Ok. Deep breath. I love the movie Enemy. But, it is literally up there with the top 10 most confusing movies since the new millennium. Maybe even top five. Enemy is wicked confusing, and with an ending to snap an inattentive viewer’s neck if they aren’t careful. This movie has it all, amazing actor (Jake Gyllenhaal – playing two different roles no less), amazing writing, intense philosophical underpinnings, mindjob premise, and an ending to end all other endings. Enemy is the movie to beat on any mindjob movie list. Hands down.

So, to get going here, why don’t we do a few wind sprints, and some running in place. Get the cardio going a bit. OK? Perfect! Here’s the trailer… and then from there on out we are only talking spoilers from beginning to end. OK? If you haven’t seen the movie, please check it out via the link I provided, and it’ll help THiNC. keep the coffee maker going for another day and a half. (And you have no idea how bad these reviews will get if that coffee maker stops spitting out that magic goodness, trust me.)

Spoiler Filled Enemy Overview

Kirst things first. As I mentioned earlier, Jake Gyllenhaal plays the part of two different characters in this movie. If we don’t sort them out right now – we’ll all be lost for the duration of this conversation. Jake1 is a college history professor who’s name is Adam Bell. Adam is quiet, reserved, and is monotonously going through his life day after day. And Jake2 plays the part of an actor with the stage name of Daniel Saint Claire. But his real name is Anthony Claire. OK? Anthony’s life is sort of the opposite (no, actually, it is literally, not sort of) of Adam’s. Which, we’ll get to in good time, and may actually be the entire point of this movie… or, maybe not. heheh. Your guess is as good as mine.

The movie starts out with an exclusive sort of sex club that either Anthony, or Adam brings a few guys with him to visit. We are never told clearly who it is that is going to this underground lair, or why. But to say that this scene is important is putting it extremely lightly, even though I don’t fully understand it. But all indications point to the fact that this is Anthony that the movie is opening with. In this show, we see a woman about to crush a tarantula with a stiletto heel. Yeah. Please, just file this factoid away as item #4234a – and we’ll get back to it later. 

The Lecture Series on Recurring Authoritarianism by Adam Bell

Our first sighting of Adam is his drudgery filled trudging towards his University in order to lecture to his students. He’s basically memorized his lectures, and reels out line after line of historical and political theories on the intricacies of authoritarianism. Adam refers to a Marx quote wherein he refers to the looping elements of history…

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

 Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

This lecture that Adam is giving actually travels to the border regions of history, and heads out into the land of philosophy, psychology, and phenomenology. If you stop a moment, and double click that picture of Bell at the chalkboard above? You can see, first hand, that he’s discussing all of these things. Hegel alone is a huge mile marker to let you know that Bell is wandering off the ranch of history per se. Hegel believed that we do not perceive the world directly. That we collectively perceive ideas of worldness, and concepts of treeness. For Hegel (and Kant as well) the only reality available to us is an abstract representation of reality. Our perceptions are only that of a secondary idea of the real. 

Better yet? Towards the bottom right of the chalk board we see a note that says Phenomenological Analysis. And to phenomenologically analyze something just means to … oh just here:

fəˌnämənəˈläjək(ə)l /adjective – PHILOSOPHY

  1. relating or denoting to an approach that concentrates on the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience.”The phenomenological approach’s reliance solely on personal experience.”

The study of consciousness and direct experience. And remember, direct experience from a Hegelian perspective is always through a virtual remove. And the last thing I wanted to point out on that chalkboard is the details on the left side of the board about the Cyclical nature of time and progress. OK? Just pointing those things out. Not really doing anything with them yet.

The Enemy Movie Hits The Accelerator

One day, a coworker asks if he’s seen the movie that’s entitled, “All’s Well That Ends Well.” He hasn’t, and so he gets the film and watches it. At some point, Adam sees an actor playing the part of a bellhop who looks identical to himself. In every single way. Intent on finding the guy, Adam starts hunting until he tracks down a Daniel Saint Claire, who’s real name is actually Anthony. Adam begins stalking the guy, grabs his mail, and begins infiltrating his life, talking to Helen (Anthony’s wife, played by Sarah Gadon) on the phone, etc. etc. And midway through all of this, Adam finds himself on a park bench, across from Helen and she realizes he does not recognize her. And as he’s walking away, she calls Anthony’s cell phone, and just as Adam steps off screen, Anthony answers the phone. (We’ll get back to this – trust me.)

But after Adam reaches out and talks to Anthony directly, Anthony is the one that begins infiltrating Adam’s life. He follows Adam and Mary (Adam’s girlfriend, played by Mélanie Laurent) and he obviously finds Mary attractive. Anthony is so invested in Adam’s life now, that Anthony wants Adam’s permission to take Mary out on a date, spend time with her. And eventually Adam consents to going out with Helen while Anthony goes out with Mary. Meanwhile, Adam goes to Anthony’s place, and the concierge let’s him in without a key because he recognizes him. When Adam enters the house, Helen asks Adam to come to bed. And then surprises him by asking “did you have a good day at school?” So OBVIOUSLY, Helen knows something is up. Later in the night, Adam goes out to the living room, crying. Helen asks him to stay (!?!?) and then they make love.

Meanwhile, Anthony takes Mary out on a date to a hotel. Mary snaps during sex when she notices that Anthony has been wearing a wedding ring. She wants to know who he really is. Mary tells Anthony to take her home, but during the ride, the two have a car crash and we can assume that both Anthony and Mary die in the crash. 

The Head Splitting Ending of the movie Enemy

Maybe we should breathe into a bag for a minute or two before we continue on? Cause, yeah. No seriously, the ending is simple enough to narratively explain. But it’s nearly impossible to understand. 

The day after Adam infiltrated Anthony’s life, Adam dresses in Anthony’s clothes and opens that letter he nabbed earlier in the movie. And inside is a key to the underground key where the movie started. Helen gets out of the shower and tells Adam to call his mother, then heads into the bathroom. Adam, now intent on going to the club tonight, asks Helen if she is doing anything later. Because he thinks he might go out (to the club, obviously). Helen doesn’t respond. So, Adam rounds the corner, and there, in the bedroom, instead of Helen, he sees a room-sized tarantula tensed up against the back wall of the bedroom. Adam? Upon seeing the tarantula, sighs with a resigned look on his face. Fin.

The Ending of the Movie Enemy Explained

When I first did this review (my site chewed it up and spat it out somehow… maybe it’s infested with tarantulas?) I basically threw 5 different possibilities out at you all. Metaphors. Totalitarianism polemics. Gender-politics. Mother issues. I just shot-gunned the possibilities out at you all. And actually, I bet I could make this movie say literally anything I wanted. “The Movie Enemy is an inflection point and discussion about the excesses of Play-Doh in our society today and a call to action against the Play-Doh corporation!!” Really I could say anything I wanted without much effort. (My personal favorite random theory though? Aliens, taking the shape of spiders, have overtaken the world and have instituted a level of mind control across the entire populace. Heheh.) Regardless, I do think I actually have Enemy nailed now. I think I get it. So why should I just confuse matters by giving you all the possibilities. That’ll just make matters worse. So here is what I think happens in the movie Enemy.

The Looping Subconscious War Theory

So the ending is the beginning, and the ending is the beginning. Or something like that. The other detail you need to understand is that Adam is Anthony. Anthony is Adam. I mean, have you noticed that you never once see Adam and Anthony with someone else in the room? Did you notice that when Helen calls Anthony, Adam turns the corner out over view before Anthony picks up? Yeah, they are the same. Right, and with those two details in mind, I think we can walk through this re-envisioned timeline to see how it plays out.

“That’s why the movie is constructed like a spiral,” the director adds. “That’s why it’s a challenge for the audience, it’s an enigma, but I hope that the audience will have fun trying to solve this enigma.”

Denis 
  • A visits Helen, she asks how school was
  • A goes into the living room and cries
  • A dresses slickly, and tells Helen he has plans tonight
  • A makes love to Helen (and he sees she has a face of a tarantula)
  • A gets a few “friends” and takes them to the club
  • Woman smashes tarantula on the platter
  • The next day, A heads to his lecture
  • After his class, a coworker asks if he’s seen All’s Well
  • A decides to move out to an apartment and to have an affair with a woman (named Mary) 
  • A watches the movie, sees an actor that looks like himself
  • A decides to pursue a side career as an actor
  • He takes on the stage name of Daniel Saint Claire, under the “real name” of Anthony Claire
  • Begins acting and is picked up in a movie entitled “All’s Well That End’s Well” as bellhop 
  • A gets a PO box and an “office”
  • A apires to become an actor, but it just doesn’t seem to be working
  • A’s mother thinks her son should resign himself to being a professor and give up the “acting” hobby
  • In search of a different high, A gets invited to an underground sex club
  • In a bid to reinvigorate his marriage, he takes Helen out to dinner and hotel
  • Helen, still worried A is still cheating on her calls off the sex
  • A & Helen have a car accident (return to the beginning)

There are a million details that corroborate the facts of this timeline, photos, clothes, scars on their rib-cages (creation story anyone?) etc. But the one that sticks out the most is definitively the blueberries. Adam hates blueberries. Anthony can’t get enough of the things. These are all just details of a man trying to figure this thing called life out. We see A, trapped by his wife, and his accusations about affairs completely asphyxiating under the weight of it all. We also see A lurch out into a life of his own, trying to figure out who he is and what he’s all about. He has an affair with a woman who comes and goes. And ultimately the affair collapses when Mary realizes that A is actually married. With that not cutting it, what about an elite sex club with strange rituals and patterns, tarantulas and the like?

In this interpretation of the movie, The Tarantula is simply a metaphor for woman. The leg, the form, the power of woman, the stinging drug that women wield, all symbols that point to women as a powerful, controlling and in control creature. And A? He is wrapped up in the web of both Helen and Mary. He is restrained and entrapped. And, lost in this web of chaos, A is constantly looking for something that will make sense out of his own life and purpose. Will a child help it make sense? What about a career as a professor? What about a career as an actor? How about an affair? Maybe reconciliation? All of it deepening the hole he’s already in. And all of it a never ending cycle of spinning webs, and lies that get him nowhere.

Final Thoughts On The Movie Enemy

I think I originally considered this movie to be a polemic on totalitarianism and the quiet web that it had woven across the globe. Slate actually sees it this way. But I don’t buy that anymore. This movie is just a story of a man who is lost and trying to find himself. Even Villeneuve has come out and said that Enemy is about repetition. He stated that it poses the question of how to live and learn without repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Which speaks to our A character, adrift in this repeating cycle of chaos. Wife, affair, wife, sex club, wife, affair, as each on cinches the rope ever tighter around his neck.

No? Disagree? Let us know in the comments. It’s taken me a couple years to come to this conclusion, which only means one thing. It’ll take me another couple years before I finally come to another conclusion! hahah.

Edited by, CY

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One Response

  1. Pazuzu Smith

    I am really enjoying reading your thoughtful and well-written explorations, and also (a relative rarity in much of the Internet) the equally thoughtful and well-written comments 🙂

    I loved Enemy – and I concur with your final summing up at the end – both Adam and Anthony are the same person. Re: the spider image: I think it doesn’t represent woman, but the ‘archetype’ of the mother, specifically. The vision with the colossal spider towering over the city brought immediately to mind Louise Bourgeois’ scupture Maman – the whole look of the skyscraper-sized spider is so similar to the sculpture it seems to me that it’s an intentional visual reference. The reason for the ‘split’ between the two aspects of the same person – Adam and Anthony – then appears a metaphor being played out about his ambivalence about his impending fatherhood, linked with the psychological issues he has with being unable to integrate his idea of sexually attractive women (associated with ‘freedom’ from being ‘tied down’ – or perhaps ‘caught in the web’ of commitment?) with the notion of those same women being mothers.

    The woman in the sex/strip club crushing the tarantula under her high heel then symbolizes her ritually disowning or turning-away-from the archetype of motherhood (at least in that performative context, which is really what the men are there for: a performance that is really geared around catering to their desire to explore the uncommitted side of their sexuality: women playing the role of idealized sex objects, rather than real, complicated, messy people.

    I’m fascinated by Villeneuve’s comment about the film being about repetition, though: I’ll have to give it another viewing with that in mind… It’s always striking – and a feature of good filmmaking, or storytelling in general, I think – when the director or author produces something that is rich enough in its imagery and complexity that it can support multiple readings, even, perhaps, beyond those they publicly state, or even maybe consciously intended. Repetition is certainly a defining feature of addictive behaviours, and the sex/strip club could be viewed in that light as a kind of ‘vice’ or addictive behaviour those men are continually engaging in – even if it’s not actually real, but more a metaphor for escapist fantasies of being ‘free and easy’ that married men with, or expecting, children might continue to entertain… and perhaps then the film could be metaphorically talking about the failure to fully commit, and the ‘split’ between the uncommitted, freedom-seeking, idealizing, and perhaps rather immature aspect of the male psyche, and the more grounded, more mundane, but also more mature aspect.

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