Yesterday, while scrolling through Netflix, I stumbled upon Enemy (2013) directed by Denis Villeneuve, which is based on the novel written by José Saramago. This relatively short thriller is based on a simple idea: a man seeks out his doppelganger after seeing a glimpse of him in a film he’s watched.
Enemy has been recommended to me many times whenever I ask for films that have the same twisted, multilayered tone of Shutter Island. So, on a whim, I began the movie and dove deep into a world that I can’t stop thinking about, especially after I read a quote dissecting the underlying message of the entire story.
Note: Before I begin analyzing Enemy from my perspective, I do want to preface by stating I haven’t read the book, so my analysis is based solely on the movie itself, and there will be spoilers, so beware.
Analyzing the Characters in Enemy
Enemy follows a meek, awkward professor named Adam who lives a monotonous life in a beige world devoid of any uniqueness. Every day he wakes up in his vacant apartment that has no personality to it, he goes to the university he works at where he lectures about totalitarian regimes and how they’re created, he goes home, grades papers, fucks a woman whom he doesn’t seem to have any emotional attachment to, and the cycle begins again.
In his initial lecture, Adam states to his students,
“Control, it’s all about control. Every dictatorship has one obsession and that’s it. In ancient Rome they gave the people bread and circuses. They kept population busy with entertainment but other dictatorships used other strategies to control ideas, the knowledge… how do they do that? Lower education, they limit culture, censor information, they censor any means of individual expression and it’s important to remember this, that this is a pattern, that repeats itself throughout history.”
Sound oddly familiar?
It’s because, according to Forrest Wickman in his analysis of the film, “[Enemy is] a parable about what it’s like to live under a totalitarian state without knowing it.” Adam is living in an oppressive state that stifles creativity and any means of expression, hence why he lives in his own form of Groundhog Day in a bare apartment where he as an empty relationship with a woman, doing the same monotonous activities that leave him unfulfilled.
Wickman goes on to say, “The central irony in all this is that even the main character, though he is an expert on the ways of totalitarian governments, doesn’t see the web that’s overtaken the city until he’s already stuck in it.”
Adam’s dull world turns upside down when he sees a film, which another professor recommends, and notices that an extra looks exactly like him. Adam becomes obsessed. He’s found a purpose, a conflict to his dull storyline where he lacks confidence and has no direction in life. He must find out who this man is. That man turns out to be Anthony, an actor who lives a fulfilling life, has a pregnant wife, a stylish apartment, a motorcycle, and is apart of some secret sex society that’s never truly explored.
Anthony is everything Adam isn’t.
Anthony is living an ideal life just out of Adam’s reach. While Adam has a barely-there girlfriend, Anthony has a young, angelic-looking wife who is pregnant with his child. Yes, she nags and is suspicious of Anthony, but she’s invested in their relationship, unlike Adam’s girlfriend.
Meanwhile, Adam, unable to speak a sentence without stumbling over his words, has a dreary apartment empty of any decor while Anthony is confident, arrogant, and lives in a high rise any person would dream of having.
Anthony’s world reminds Adam of his total inadequacy, his lack of motivation, his life that has no meaning because the society he lives in has stripped him of his potential, the potential that is Anthony’s reality.
The Central Conflict of Enemy
The moment these two men decide to meet, face-to-face, is the moment both of their worlds fall apart. Adam wants to get a closer look into Anthony’s lavish life while Anthony feels threatened by this man who seems to want to take over his life.
So, Anthony uses his arrogance, his dominating personality to overtake Adam, like society does to him, as well. He controls Adam by intimidating him and by following Adam’s girlfriend to work. He controls the conflict of the film. Control, something Adam doesn’t have.
As the film progresses, Anthony eventually orders Adam to allow him to take his barely-there girlfriend on a romantic getaway simply because he’s a domineering, sexually fulfilled man while Adam can seem to be sexually frustrated due to his rocky relationship with the woman who stays over his apartment every night.
In retaliation, Adam infiltrates Anthony’s life by going to his apartment, changing into his clothes, sleeping beside Anthony’s beautiful, pregnant wife who looks eerily similar to Adam’s girlfriend, only she’s younger, has fuller lips, has brighter hair, and is the idealized version of Adam’s partner. He does the same thing Anthony is doing, dipping their toes into a vastly different life from their own, because, in a way, Anthony is just as unfulfilled as Adam and wants the chance to play a different role in the play of life.
Deep Diving into the Meaning Behind the End of Enemy
It’s only when the movie gets to its last scene that made everything click for me. The moment Adam walks into Anthony’s bedroom to find his wife, Helen, he stumbles upon a gigantic tarantula cowering in the corner of the room, abruptly ending the movie quickly followed by brightly colored credits.
Enemy is a film about a man unwittingly living in a totalitarian regime stifling his creativity, thus forcing him to live out an idealized fantasy in the form of a doppleganger. Anthony, in my opinion, doesn’t exist. He is a figment of Adam’s imagination, and this chase he goes on to uncover who this mysterious actor is is simply a chase to find purpose in his own life.
It’s only when Adam hits the climax of his ideal life– when he’s in Anthony’s lavish apartment, wearing his clothes, playing house with a young, pregnant wife– that he is “kicked” back into reality by seeing the tarantula overtaking the life he’s subconsciously dreamed of having.
The end is jarring, enough to startle me on my couch, like a dream that one has been enjoying only to be abruptly awoken by your blaring alarm dragging you back into reality.
Director, Villeneuve, said in an interview that, “Sometimes you have compulsions that you can’t control coming from the subconscious… they are the dictator inside ourselves.”
Adam can’t help but create an idealized fantasy of a life he wishes he would live but instead is caught in the web of a totalitarian, oppressive regime that aims to stifle creativity and self-expression like a tarantula weaving a web that gnats unwittingly fly into, trapping themselves in for the rest of their insignificant lives.
But, in a way, Adam’s explosive journey to uncover the life of his alter ego, his idealized self, is the biggest form of self-expression and exploration; it’s only when the tarantula comes to haunt him that he realizes, it was all in his head, just out of his reach.
Let me know what you’ve thought of Enemy? Do you have any theories? Have you read the book? I’d love to start a conversation in the comments!