There are some fantastic explanatory pieces on the internet for Enemy. In spite of which I’ve received a lot of requests for an article for this film. I’m not too fond of putting a write up for movies that are metaphorical in nature because of the inherent subjectivity. However, I am damn scared of spiders and is a reason compelling enough to complete this article. Please do feel free to correct or put forward alternate theories in the comments section. Here’s explanation to the plot and ending of the film Enemy.
Enemy is brought to us by Denis Villeneuve, who also directed Arrival. Enemy makes Arrival look pretty straightforward. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon in the lead roles. The story sees two identical people running into each other and what this does to their personal lives. It’s a good film but will need you to think quite a bit once you’ve watched it. Do check it out. Spoilers ahead!
What’s going on?
Let’s get one thing out of the way straight off. Adam and Anthony (both played by Jake) is physically the same person. Parts of the film actually happen but the remaining happen inside Adam/Anthony’s subconsciousness. Check the poster out, you see Jake’s character with his mind painted with the imageries of the city. There is a thin blurry line that separates the real and subconsciousness. Much of the film’s subjectivity emerges from that. The film is about the struggle that Jake’s character goes through trying to keep together his relationship and other elements of his life.
Who is real – Adam or Anthony?
Well, the answer is neither and both. Parts of Anthony and Adam make up the real character. The remaining parts of Anthony and Adam are his wants and his regrets.
While Anthony is well-off, smart, confident and well-groomed, he is unable to get himself to commit to a relationship with his wife who is now carrying his six-month-old baby. Anthony has cheated on his wife earlier and as a result, his wife is suspicious of him. He aspires to be an actor but other than three small roles he’s not been able to attain much success.
On the other hand, Adam is messy, timid and boring. However, he has a girlfriend who he’s loyal to (although it’s a lifeless relationship which is mostly physical). He’s got a respectable career as a History Teacher.
The Spiders – Yikes!
I know that last scene has given a few you sleepless nights. I gave me. Who on earth would expect an unsuspecting scene to end with a giant spider inside the bedroom! But this is not the only time there is a spider in this film. There is that really large one that is roaming the city. There is the opening sequence in the sex club with a tarantula that is about to be stepped on. There is that woman who has a spider head. There is also the indicative webs of wires and the shatter pattern on the windshield.
So why spiders? If you notice, in films and video games, spiders have been used as an element of fear. Films like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Games like Skyrim. What makes a spider scary for me is the way it traps its prey. That sticky web makes the prey helpless. All that is left after is to be devoured alive. So how do spiders connect with Enemy? It connects to how Jake’s character feels. He feels trapped in the web of the responsibilities that surround him. He feels he is going to be devoured. That said, the responsibilities that are baring on him are those posed by the women in his life. So in a sense, each of the spiders represents a woman in his life.
Jake’s Character’s Story
For sake of simplicity, let’s assume that Anthony is the real-life name of Jake’s Character. Adam is the name of the personality who has been created in his subconsciousness. Anthony wants to be a movie star. He wears expensive clothes, lives in a suave apartment, has a fancy bike, the works. But his stint in films is in just three movies in a tiny role. He is married to Helen (Sarah). Anthony’s weakness is women. He’s unable to be committed to his relationship with Helen. He cheats on her. Helen finds out and their relationship is thrown into turmoil. Anthony stops being unfaithful to Helen and they reconcile.
Time passes. Anthony is unable to stay faithful to Helen. He continues with adultery. Helen becomes pregnant and she’s now 6 months in. Anthony quits his acting hopes and takes up a job as a history teacher. The opening sequence, with Anthony (who is clearly married, ring on finger) in the sex club, is indicative of his adultery. This is Anthony drifting away from his commitment to his marriage. The squashing of the tarantula is indicative of squashing the commitment that is making him feel trapped – the wife and the baby. In my opinion, the sex club is only representative of Anthony cheating on his wife. In reality, Anthony is simply having another affair. Note when his wife asks him “Are you lying to me?” Anthony is not quick to say “No”. He stammers. After this, his wife asks him “Are you seeing her again?”. This scene shows us that Anthony is guilty of having an affair(s).
However, Anthony is not sleeping around with Mary (Mélanie). The Mary we see throughout the film is only a part of his subconsciousness. Mary represents the temptations and carnal relationship that Anthony is having with other women behind his wife’s back. This is the reason why we are never really given an insight into who Mary is.
Adam, the history teacher, is the actual job that Anthony actually holds. Anthony finds this extremely mundane and has associated this life with an alternate personality called Adam. Anthony sees himself as an interesting guy and all the parts of himself he’s not happy about and considers boring, he’s passed it onto an alter-ego by the name of Adam.
This character gives a good insight into what’s actually going on in the film. The film starts with a voice message from the mother as follows:
Hello, darling. It’s your mother. Thank you for showing me your new apartment. Um… I’m worried about you. I mean, how can you live like that? Anyway, would you call me back? Let’s get together again. I love you.
Later, Adam meets his mother and she tells him this:
You are my only son. I am your only mother. You have a respectable job, you have a nice apartment, and since we’re being Frank here, I think you should quit that fantasy of being a third-rate movie actor.
So why the difference in her opinions? Well, the first time could be many months ago. This could be at a time when Anthony was unsuccessful and was living in a small shoddy place. The second statement is much later when he’s a teacher (respectable job). At this point, he has not been acting for a long while and his mother doesn’t approve of his acting career. His mother also goes on to say this:
You have enough trouble sticking with one woman, don’t you?
This points to the difficulty her son has been having with his wife. She is referring to the problems he’s having with his marriage.
Adam The Teacher
When the movie begins, the story takes off from Adam’s perspective. He’s shown to be a teacher with a dull and repetitive life. Even the sex is shown to be repetitive. Adam says the following in class:
It’s all about control. In ancient Rome, they kept the populace busy with entertainment. Control by censoring information.
This is indicative that Anthony is censoring information from himself. He feels in control by not letting himself know that his life and work is not really flamboyant. His reality is that of a history teacher and Mary represents mindless affairs he’s having.
The Movie Suggestion
Later, a co-worker suggests a movie to Adam. Adam says that he doesn’t go out much and he doesn’t like movies. The movie the co-worker suggests is “Where there’s a will there’s a way”. This is a movie where Anthony has a tiny little role. This “suggestion” of the movie is a mild awakening in the deep recesses of the mind. A small trigger that the Adam’s personality is being given to understand that he’s connected to Anthony.
Aggression with Mary
Adam watches the movie. He goes back to bed with Mary. He’s aggressive with Mary in bed. There is a slight shift in Adam’s personality. The subconsciousness is slowly beginning to connect with the main personality of Anthony, the assertive one. This is very subtle with Mary and he snaps right back to being Adam. She leaves. This scene with Mary is happening in the subconsciousness. She doesn’t presently exist. We’ll talk about why later.
Adam sees Anthony in the movie
Adam remembers a scene in the movie where he sees someone who looks like himself. He plays the movie to confirm that one of the bell boys looks like him. He checks the movie credits to identify that the actor is a person by the name Daniel. Daniel is the movie name that Anthony uses for his films. Adam searches for Daniel on the internet and finds pictures. Adam uses a portion of his own photo to verify that he looks like the actor.
The torn photo is one part of the photo of Anthony with his wife. Remember, this is happening in the subconsciousness. The Adam personality has repressed the existence of his wife. In the subconscious mind, Helen has been removed. This goes back to “censoring information”.
From the internet, Adam get’s the information about the talent agency that Anthony work’s with and notes the address down. Adam visits the agency. Anthony, as the personality Adam goes to the agency. He’s greeted by the security who calls out to him as Anthony and says that he’s not come by to the agency in about 6 months. 6 months is how far along Helen is into her pregnancy. This only means that Anthony gave up on his acting career soon as Helen conceived. He took up another job that gave a consistent income (perhaps a teacher, perhaps not). The security hands Adam an envelope. This envelope is temptation. We’ll get back to this in the end.
Call to Helen
From the envelope, Adam gets Anthony’s address and phone number. He calls the phone number. Helen picks up. She hears Adam. But it’s actually Anthony as Adam’s personality. So she recognizes his voice and calls out to Anthony. Adam can’t understand how the lady on the other side is confusing his voice with another person who looks like him. So he realizes not only does he look like this Anthony, he also sounds like him. He hangs up.
Call to Anthony
Later, Adam calls Anthony. This part is in the subconsciousness. This is basically Anthony being reached out by Adam from within his subconsciousness. Adam wants to meet Anthony. We are immediately shown Anthony talking on the phone. When Helen asks him if he was lying about who was on the line, Anthony struggles to answer. Perhaps he regularly lies to her about certain phone calls. He cheats on his wife. This one time he perhaps did not but he usually does. Hence he stammers. Helen gets suspicious and accuses him.
Later, Anthony looks up for Adam on the internet. In secret, Helen looks into Anthony’s trouser pockets to locate Adam’s details. She too looks up Adam. Both of them locate the university he teaches in.
Next day, Anthony calls Adam saying that he wants to meet (again, a conversation with the subconsciousness). Helen lands up at the university to see Adam. She talks to Adam and is heartbroken. Observe here that Helen is not surprised, she’s upset. She’s seeing Anthony who appears to be acting and talking like an Adam. She beings to understand that this version of him seems to be an alternate personality kept away from home. He’s compassionate and converses sweetly with Helen. He cares for her pregnancy and asks how far along she is. Helen calls Anthony’s phone. Only after Adam leaves from Helen’s sight does the phone get picked up. Anthony answers. This is confirmation enough for Helen that her husband has multiple personalities. This scene is not within the subconsciousness. Helen is a character outside of Anthony’s mind. This scene confirms that even in real life, the Adam personality exists as a teacher.
Helen suspects multiple personalities
Back at home, Anthony appears back after a run. He asks for organic blueberries. Helen is upset. She later tells Anthony that she went to see “that guy on the phone at his work”. She says that he even had Anthony’s voice. She asks Anthony “what’s going on”. When he says “I don’t know what you are talking about”, she replies with “I think you do”. This is Helen trying to deal with the knowledge of an alternate personality to her husband’s. She is not sure what to do or say.
In a quick scene, we are shown a naked lady walking past. She’s shown to be sexy but has a spider’s head. Again, yikes! This is a dream sequence that just emphasizes the role that the various women play in Anthony’s life that makes him feel trapped in their webs. Both Anthony and Adam wake up to this. You know this because Adam wakes up alone and Anthony wakes up with Helen by his side. This bit is a little easy to miss. The point is that Adam and Anthony are getting closer to an interference now. They are getting affected by common events.
Anthony meets Adam
Adam drives up to the location Anthony has decided for the meet. It appears to be a hotel where people show up with escorts. We see a sexy lady pass by Adam much like the spider head woman. Anthony picks this place that Adam is unaware of. Perhaps Anthony has come here for his many one night stands.
Adam waits. Anthony shows up. They meet. While the hotel room might be real, the meeting is not physical. This is happening in Anthony’s head. Anthony and Adam compare their looks, voice, and hands. Anthony asks Adam about a scar and understands that they both are identical. The Adam personality is spooked by its surfacing to reality. Adam gives the envelope to Anthony and leaves. The envelope from the talent agency.
After this Anthony returns home and tells her that “the guy” won’t be calling again. Helen remains fearful. Anthony follows Adam and notices Mary. She is the temptation Anthony begins to follow. He’s unable to resist looking at and observing her. This is happening inside his mind.
Adam and Mother
Adam goes to meet his mother. We’ve already covered this earlier. Just a thing to note here is that Adam doesn’t like blueberries but his mother insists that he does. Right after this, a large spider is shown walking past town. This spider is a representation of his mother. Anthony feels trapped in the web of expectations that his mother has for him – job, work, health, etc.
Anthony vs Adam
Anthony is practicing what he’s going to say to Adam in front of a mirror. This is symbolic of facing himself given the odd situation he is in. He plans to scare the subconscious Adam into giving up Mary. He wants to give into the temptation that Mary represents for one last time. Here’s what Anthony asks Adam “Did you sleep with my wife?”. Adam is unable to respond with a clear “No”. He’s being intimidated. Anthony continues…
You brought my wife into this, man. So I’m gonna bring your girlfriend into the picture as well. You want me out of your life? This is what’s gonna happen first. You’re gonna give me your clothes and your car. I’m gonna take your girlfriend on a little romantic getaway. I’m gonna bring her back home tomorrow, and I’m gonna come back here, and I’m gonna bring back all your stuff and I’m going to disappear from your life forever. Then we will be even.
Adam’s personality is doing the right thing by taking up a profession which is consistent with the upcoming responsibilities of a baby. Adam needs to be the one with Helen, not Anthony. Anthony wants to have one last fling with the temptation Mary and then leave forever.
Anthony poses as Adam and leaves with Mary (inside the subconsciousness). Adam goes home to Helen (in real life). When at his house, the building guy meets and lets him into his house. On the way to the apartment, they have a word about a new set of keys to the sex club. This man was in the club in the first scene too. Like Anthony, this man too indulges in other women. Adam, however, doesn’t know him, only Anthony does. Adam’s personality is coming to Anthony’s house for the first time, he doesn’t know which door is the one to his house. The maintenance guy lets him in.
Adam and Helen
Inside the house, Adam changes to Anthony’s clothes. He notices his picture with Helen, the complete one. Adam’s personality is slowly taking over in real life. Anthony is moving deeper into the mind and is with Mary in a subconscious hotel room. Adam is being nice to Helen. She probably feels the way she once felt when she first met Anthony, before his cheating started. She suspects that the person who’s in her bedroom is actually the history teacher because of his mannerisms and he brings up that she is 6 months of pregnancy. She asks him to come to bed. He does. She looks at him longingly. Then she asks “Did you have a good day at school?”. This confirms that Helen knows which personality she’s with.
Anthony and Mary – the accident.
In the subconsciousness, Mary notices that she’s not with Adam. She sees the ring mark on his finger. She’s freaking out. Anthony tries to calm her down. Adam wakes up in real life and goes into to the living room. Inside his mind, Mary is angry with Anthony and the two leave the hotel. They’re driving back. Adam is slowing beginning to recollect all the affairs he’s had as Anthony. He’s crying. He apologizes to Helen.
In his subconsciousness, Anthony and Mary begin to fight in the car. Mary is annoyed that Adam is not with her. In real life, Helen tells Adam “I want you to stay”. Helen and Adam begin to make love. Mary tells Anthony he’s not a man. Anthony gets pissed off and as he asks Mary to get out from the car, it swerves and crashes fatally. Mary and Anthony are presumed to be killed off in the subconsciousness. Adam is free of his temptation (Mary), and the part of him that gets tempted easily (Anthony). As we see a close up of the crashed car we see the windshield broken in the pattern of a web. This indicates that the result of this accident is just another web.
The reason I have been stressing Mary is not real is because of this accident. Anthony and Mary meet with this accident while Adam is safe at home. This shows that the accident is only inside the mind. Mary is only inside the mind. The news talks about an accident but the radio is turned off before further information is heard. We can assume that is was a different real-life accident.
Adam finds the envelope he gave Anthony earlier. He opens it to find a key. This is the key to temptation. The access to the sex club. Just as we begin to think Adam, the nice guy, has taken over. That he’s been able to battle and defeat his temptations. The key to temptation soon sways him. He asks “Helen, did you plan on doing something tonight? ‘Cause I think I have to go out”. He’s instantly going back to his ways of adultery. Recall his lecture – And it’s important to remember this, that this is a pattern that repeats itself throughout history. He’s probably done this over and over again. To get over his temptations and giving right back in creating an alternate personality.
Ending Explained: What the hell is up with that giant Spider?
Now for the scene that left me sleepless. Adam goes out calling to Helen into the room we see her going into. And what do we see? A frikkin’ gigantic spider instead. A supernatural ending? Is the world being turned into giant spiders? Heck no. This giant spider represents Helen. Observe that the spider is scared as hell. Adam seems cool as a cucumber. Not the kind of face one would have seeing his wife turn into a beast spider. Helen is the one who is spinning the biggest web of responsibilities for Anthony/Adam. Hence she’s a gigantic spider. Adam/Anthony is seeing Helen as the covering spider. The fear represents Adam/Anthony’s knowledge of how he’s destroying Helen. He’s going back to the “club” and is going to enjoy watching the “tarantula being squashed“. The squashing of the tarantula is indicative of squashing the commitment that is making him feel trapped – the wife and the baby. He acknowledges this with a straight face and goes back to his adulterous ways. As he says in his lectures earlier “And then, Karl Marx added, the first time it was a tragedy, and the second time it was a farce”. Adam/Anthony accepts that this is repeating and it is no tragedy. He is his own Enemy.