In the 2013 film ‘Enemy’ a mild-mannered college professor (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers a look-alike actor and delves into the other man’s private affairs.
Enemy is a sophisticated, multilayered psychological thriller that examines the ways in which the subconscious work, along with the portrayal of mental illness from the perspective of the mentally ill. Denis Villeneuve expertly investigates a story where a man is confronted with his doppelgänger, and has to struggle through various relationships. It’s crucial not to take the movie for what it presents itself as; a story about a man’s conflict with his identical persona, but instead to interpret it as an internal struggle of the mind, and a psychological journey littered with cognitive anomalies and motifs. Halfway into the movie, the viewers begin seeing large arachnid creatures the urban skyline. This spider-like imagery repeats itself throughout the film, making appearances at seemingly specific times, and a main gripe that a lot of viewers have about the film is the ambiguity of the arachnids. The meaning and relevance of the spiders in the film is often debated, however my personal interpretation, and the most likely explanation, is that the spiders represent the protagonist’s perspective of the women in his life. The spiders (women) have strung him into an emotional web, which has consequently resulted in his mental degradation. In the beginning phases of the film, Adam (the original protagonist) lectures university students about the pitfalls of totalitarianism, and notes that it’s a continuous cycle that repeats itself. The idea that ‘history repeats itself’ is constantly alluded to in the film, especially in regard to the way that Helen (Anthony’s wife) reacts when Anthony (the doppelgänger) is acting up. Her depressed reaction leads audiences to believe that his mental insanity is not a first time occurrence.
The concept of totalitarianism in a personal context is explored during the film to a substantial extent. “They censor any means of individual expression,” Adam says during one of his lectures, referencing past governments. After this speech, he becomes aware of his body double, and an internal crisis emerges consequently, most likely because he feels he’s losing his sense of individualism. In other words, he is being oppressed and persecuted by his own self.
It’s difficult to fully unpack the meaning of the spiders, despotism and Adam’s inner psychological conflict, but the main gist is that that his complications revolve around these themes.
Villeneuve does an excellent job of portraying these thematic elements in a subtle way that requires a persistent amount of thought to comprehend, which makes this film a masterpiece of modern cinema.
I highly recommend this film. It is nuanced and explores human nature, relationships, the mind, and subconscious malady in a proficient manner. Villeneuve does an excellent job of pacing the film and managing to fit such a refined narrative into a short runtime (1h30m). Despite the brilliance of the film itself, a lot of audiences might not appreciate the ambiguity of the ending. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend this as a filler film that you can watch in the background, as it requires a high degree of attention to grasp the themes and concepts that are explored.
Review by: Joshua Lamont | Movie Society