Making Sense of Chaos: Enemy Explained

in #philosophy4 years ago (edited)


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Good films can often be interpreted in different ways and the film "Enemy," staring Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon, is no exception. The film made its debute to the big screen in 2013 and is based on a book written by Jose Saramago titled "The Double." It was directed by Denis Villeneuve who also directed the films Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015), Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

There are many things that I like about the movie, the biggest being the fact that it is a bit of a thinker. Parts of the film are unclear and require the viewer to decipher their meaning. This naturally gave me something to think about long after I finished watching it. The ending of the film is also quite unusual and has a creepiness factor that is unlike any other movie I know. That is not to say that it is gruesome or grotesque, just that it is – in a strange way, disturbing. Lastly, the part that I like most about Enemy is that it is one of those unique films that gave me a sense that there is more to the story then what is merely being told by the plot. While watching it I got a sense that there is a deeper message being conveyed just beneath its superficial surface. It is a meaning portrayed through the subtle symbolism contained within it.

"Chaos is order yet undeciphered."

A quote at the introduction to the film gives one a sense that the writer/director is challenging the audience to make order out of the chaos, something that this article will attempt to do as well. Throughout this article I will analyze and decipher the symbolism contained within the film and offer my interpretation of its overall meaning. I hope you enjoy.


Brief Synopsis

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Adam Bell and Anthony Claire are the two main male characters in the film. Both are played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Adam Bell is a meek and modest college professor who lives a repetitive and mundane life. He has a girlfriend named Mary who is played by the French actress Melanie Laurent. Adam Bell on the other hand is a confident and assertive, yet relatively unremarkable D list actor. He is married to Helen who is played by Sarah Gadon. Despite their differences in personality and demeanor Adam and Anthony are completely indistinguishable from one another. They are true doppelgangers and the only way to really tell them apart is by the wedding ring that Anthony wears on his left hand.

Adam learns of Anthony’s existence early on in the film when he rents a film titled "Where there's a will there's a way." Confused and intrigued by the actor who looks exactly like him, Adam tracks down Anthony in order to learn more about him. When the two meet, it is Anthony who recognizes an opportunity in Adam and aggressively persuades him to trade places with him for the weekend so that he can sleep with Adams girlfriend.

After Mary suspects that Anthony is not who he claims to be the two die in a car crash during an argument on their way back to the city.

Adam is then left with Helen and the two seemingly develop a new, albeit familiar relationship together.

Spiders and Webs

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Symbolic imagery is a big part of the film Enemy. For instance, spiders and spider webs appear quite often throughout the movie, especially right before something important is about to happen or right after.

At the beginning of the movie Anthony is seen enjoying a sort of sex show in a seedy underground location where a scantily dressed woman threatens to squash a large tarantula under her high heels shoes.

The electrical lines of a street car criss cross their way through city streets like webs spun by a gigantic spider and the city itself is filmed from above which gives the impression that a large predator is patrolling over it.

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After Anthony dies in the car crash the camera lingers for a moment on the cracked windshield that resembles a web and webs can also be seen around Anthony’s wife Helen when she takes a shower.

Anthony himself takes on the appearance of a fly or bug of some sort during the stalking scene where he sits on his motorcycle and watches Adams girlfriend Mary. Even the rolling action of removing his gloves reminded me of the way a fly cleans itself.


Some of the spider imagery is a little less subtle. For instance, one night Anthony dreams of a woman in lingerie. She is walking on the ceiling of a hallway and has the head of a spider. At one point a large spider is seen prowling over the city and of course, there is the dramatic ending of the film itself.

Dictatorship and Totalitarianism

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Along with spiders, totalitarianism and dictatorship is also widely portrayed throughout the movie. At the beginning of the film Adam gives a lecture to his students and states

“Control. It’s all about control. Every dictatorship has one obsession, and that is it…”

He goes on to explain that dictators use different strategies to control the population - through censorship, entertainment or some other means that limits individual expression. He cautions his students to understand that this is something that repeats itself throughout history.

Shortly after this scene Adam passes a wall of graffiti on his walk home. Here we see an array of business men in suites raising their fists into the air, a clear sign of totalitarian imagery.

Later in the movie during another one of Adams lectures on how dictators often use entertainment as a strategy, we see an image of a large red hammer on the wall that looks to be associated with a communist regime. On the blackboard behind Adam the words “chaos, censorship, power, security” are written in a web like fashion. Two scenes of the movie depict writing on the blackboard in this fashion.

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Throughout the film the camera also makes a point of showing the viewer the many ominous surveillance cameras located around Anthony’s apartment building - a sign of censorship and control and an indication that perhaps someone is being watched very closely.

Two of the Same

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Though Adam and Anthony appear to be two different people in the film, many subtleties found throughout allude to the idea that they are actually just one individual. It’s a strange concept that doesn’t make a lot of sense if taken literally, unless Adam is suffering from a form of dissociative identity disorder (split personality). However, it may be an idea that is meant to be taken metaphorically in that, maybe Adam and Anthony represent an archetype of human behavior?

Once scene that demonstrates this point and which is quite confusing on first view, is the scene in which Adam discusses his doppelganger situation with his mother. Here Adams mom states

"You have enough trouble sticking with one woman don’t you?”

This scene comes after one in which Anthony’s wife Helen acts jealously and accuses Anthony of lying about who he was talking to on the phone. Here we get a sense that Anthony has cheated on Helen in the past.

Even more strange is when Adams mother states

"You should quit that fantasy of being a third rate movie actor.”

Wait, what!?!? What just happened here? Even Adam looks taken aback by the comment. Who are we talking about in this scene Adam, or is it Anthony? Strange. There is also the weird case of the blueberries.

Other subtleties that suggest that the two are one and the same:

The name Adam is a biblical reference. In the Bible Adam was the first man and God created Eve using Adams rib bone. Interestingly, Adam and Anthony share a scar on their rib cage which may mean that one of them was created from the other.

Lastly, at the hotel where Adam and Anthony meet, the camera lingers on a sign out front that reads "Free Satel ite." In this case the missing ‘L’ in "satellite," may subtly hint that the two characters are actually one person.

Making Sense of Chaos

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Though it took me a couple of viewings and quite a bit of time to make sense of the movie Enemy, I think that I now have a pretty good understanding of what is going on in the film. Let’s get to it.

The movie is about infidelity in a relationship, an idea that is summed up nicely by a song that plays in the background when Adam rents the movie "Where there's a will there's a way." The song is called “The Cheater” and it is by Bob Kuban. In many ways this song actually acts as a rule book to the film, holding many interesting parallels to it. See the song below and read the lyrics if you are interested.

In simple terms, Adam is a cheater in the film. But there’s more to it than that.

Adam and Anthony are one person metaphorically speaking. Adam represents the part of the individual that is trusting and faithful in his relationship whereas Anthony represents the part that is lustful and engages in acts of infidelity.

Spiders symbolically represent women, or at least the way that Anthony sees women. He sees them as a predatory creature that trap men in their webs of control. This is probably why at one point Anthony is portrayed as a bug when he lusts towards Mary and shortly afterwards is surrounded by a web when he is killed.

This scene is actually a metaphorical representation of Adams fantasy along with his intertwined guilt. He imagines having an affair with another woman but it is a fantasy that ultimately leads to his death (or perhaps the death of his relationship?).

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In the film, spiders also intermix with the idea of totalitarianism and dictatorship, so we can conclude that Anthony sees marriage or any serious relationship as a totalitarian regime. This idea is likely amplified by the fact that his wife is pregnant at this time and seemingly, no longer a source of satisfaction for Anthony’s lust. Control, surveillance, censorship and ultimately a loss of freedom are the dark side of any relationship to Anthony. This explains Adams mother’s statement about not being able to stick with one woman and also explains why Anthony is aroused by the idea of a woman stepping on a tarantula. At the seedy sex show, Anthony succumbs to his lust and exercises his personal freedom by secretly defying the totalitarian regime of his marriage. But the more that Anthony steps outside of his relationship the more he and his wife drift apart, until eventually the two lose their connection with one another entirely.

Near the end of the film, after Anthony has died, Adam becomes more involved with Helen. This means that his lust for other woman has subsided or has been put back in check. He is more present in his relationship and becomes the man that his wife originally fell in love with and whom deep down still loves. Love and sexuality are rekindled between the two.

However, when a letter arrives for Adam which contains a key to the next underground sex show, the lust within him is sparked once again. Like a switch being thrown, Anthony again makes an appearance. The last moment of the film is very revealing as we discover that Anthony sees his wife as a spider. He sighs.

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This last scene with Adam transforming into Anthony once again brings us back to something that Adam said earlier in the film during one of his lectures

“It’s important to remember, this is a pattern that repeats itself throughout history.”

Adam is a cheater. He has cheated on his wife in the past and is about to do so again. The character of Anthony is a manifestation of the part within Adam that cheats on his wife.

Thanks for Reading

Images from the movie Enemy

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