Enemy – What does it all mean?


Enemy, as in ‘you are your own worst’.

If you’d watched the trailer for Enemy it looked like a superior but relatively conventional thriller with a curious twist. Some guy finds his doppelgänger and he turns out to be a bit of a psycho. It seemed as though it was going to be an extended episode of the Twilight Zone maybe or Single White Female meets The Parent Trap.

That’s not what it is at all though. This film is not conventional and the twists are not so much curious as completely dumbfounding. Enemy is a surreal work to rival David Lynch at his most perplexing.

There are clearly a handful of pages online trying to put some sense to it, the most thought out of which is probably the (spoiler filled) one about hidden totalitarian oppression that can be found on slate.com. I didn’t have a problem with it though, I was happy as the increasingly bizarre scenes played out in front of me. That isn’t to say I instantly understood it all and knew exactly what was going on, I just had a range of possible contexts going through my head that allowed me to take the film largely at face value.

The first thing that came to mind was that I was watching a case of split personality, not unlike the genius Fight Club. Certainly no one other than the audience sees these two identical men together at any point. Maybe it is a Walter Mitty thing where the more confident of the two is a fantasy of the other or maybe some supernatural occurrence has divided this man in two separate beings.

Alternatively it could be a clone story. The original book by José Saramago supports this as a third version of the same man turns up at the end and there is discussion within its pages about who is the original.

It might be that we are looking at the convergence of parallel realities. These two men were once the same but circumstances sent them down different routes and magic/sci-fi has brought them back together again. I like this idea. (I’ve long had a story idea gestating in my head about people taking holidays in alternate versions of their own lives.)

On the other hand it could be time travel. One of the guys is an actor and we learn at one stage that so had the other one tried to be (maybe). If you consider that the time travel process could give one amnesia then this fits quite nicely.

The problem is the spiders. In the film’s weirdest moments there are giant spiders. Certainly one memorable scene, which I wont give away here, is an arachnophobe’s worst nightmare and in fact the easiest explanation of all of it that the entire thing is a dream. That feels like a cop out though. There is no escaping it, the spiders are harder to rationalise than everything else.

It could simply be that there are big spiders in this world. The protagonist doesn’t seem all that shocked by them so maybe they are just common place in his universe, aliens or experiments gone wrong. I think I’d like to give these bugs a more symbolic interpretation though.

I see the spiders as representations of powerful femininity, like Hitchcock’s birds. Reading arachnids in this way is clearly not a new idea with the motif of the Black Widow and its reputation for killing its mates.

Spiders in this film loom large over the male leads and both men are chauvinistic in their behaviour. One uses his girlfriend for sex and the other has been unfaithful and will not take his wife’s concerns seriously. That same guy is also seen visiting a pornographic live show at the beginning of the movie, what a gentleman. This is clearly highly degrading to women and at one point in this scene the naked performer places her shoe over a tarantula. Presumably she is set to kill the creature which is a display of her subjectification. Significantly, in this early scene we do not see the arachnid destroyed. Ultimately though, in this reading, women are suppressed and clearly unsure of their own strength, despite their obvious stature and strength. The spiders cower when they don’t need to in the same way that some women do from men.

In the end that’s what I like about this film; it makes you think, even if they actual end makes you scratch your head.

The Ripley Factor:

The two women in the film are relatively headstrong but they do allow themselves to be oppressed by men. There is also quite a lot of female nudity so I don’t think its a very feminist picture, spiders or not.

Is this one for the kids?

No! Naked women! Big spiders!

Enemy is in cinemas and on Video on Demand now.

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