Thursday, May 01, 2014

Enemy (2013) Analysis Notes Part I

“Enemy” is a 2013 movie directed by Denis Villanueve and adapted by Javier Gullón from José Saramago's 2002 novel “The Double”.  It features Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of two men of opposite characteristics who look exactly alike, down to their scars. The movie is stylish, cryptic, and surreal.

The following are my notes in attempting to decipher it. I’m sure some of it—if not a lot of it—is just me reading too much into the film. But I was approaching the material with the intention of not missing anything that may be significant.

ENEMY (2013)
Part I:

The first shot is of the city (which we'll learn later is Toronto) covered in a nicotine-colored haze. This sickly yellow tinge will permeate every shot in the movie. The city seems to be abandoned. Of course, we'll see later that the city isn't empty. But there are places where it's strangely devoid of activity. From my first viewing, I know that one of the major themes is alienation. Painting the city this way is symbolic of the existential desert where this story is unfolding.

History teacher Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is in his car, listening to his mother's voice mail. The woman claims she loves Adam but she also criticizes him for his living conditions. What living conditions? We'll see more of this later.

A shot of a pregnant woman in bed, naked. We'll know later that this is the doppelganger Anthony Claire’s wife (or is Adam the doppelganger?).

Before we go on, let’s consider the two men’s names:


Adam. The first man. In Kabbalistic thought, however, there is a distinction between Adam Kadmon and Adam HaRishon. From what little I understand of Kabbalah, Adam Kadmon is the cosmic man, the template from which all humans have been created. The mold, if you will. Adam HaRishon is the physical man, the source of all of humanity.

Bell. Bells have various shapes and sizes but they all have the same purpose. Ringing a bell is a signal, often a warning. Bells are also made similarly, by pouring liquid metal into a mold. Adam Kadmon and Adam HaRishon, see?

Which is Adam Bell, the mold or the creature that came out of the mold? We assume he’s the original because we get to know him first. What if he’s the doppelganger? But who created him? How? Why?


Anthony. A reference to Cleopatra's lover? I can't see how it fits. Besides, that’s Mark Antony. Maybe the temptation of Saint Anthony the Great? Saint Anthony beset by demons in the Egyptian desert is a subject that has been repeated throughout the history of Western art. In Salvador Dali's take on the subject, the nightmare is more sexual in nature and the naked old saint is using his large cross to ward off a parade of animals bearing naked women, obelisks, etc. The animals (elephants led by a white horse) all have stilt-like legs. You’ll see a shot later on in the movie that supports my claim that Anthony’s name is directly related to this painting.  Also, both Anthony the actor and Adam the teacher have misogynistic qualities. Anthony is a predator with a history of infidelity while Adam is disinterested in his girlfriend and acts as if having sex with her is a chore (and at one point begins to rape her).

Claire. Etymologically speaking, it means “clear”. Not muddled. It is at is appears to be. Is this a hint that Anthony is the original and not the copy?

Daniel. The prophet from the Old Testament who interpreted the dreams of kings in Babylon. Two events in the Book of Daniel seem to be related to this movie. The first is when Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as a prophecy that the king would become mad and would live like an animal for seven years. It came true. The second is when Daniel was summoned to interpret Belshazzar’s vision wherein a disembodied hand wrote MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN on a wall. Daniel said it was a warning that Belshazzar has been judged and found wanting by God. Belshazzar was slain by his enemies. Animalism and death, something that we will see Anthony Claire suffer later in the movie.

St. Claire. St. Claire of Assisi was a nun and a follower of St. Francis. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies (Poor Clares). She’s been displayed for centuries as an incorruptible. It was later found out that she was a skeleton inside a wax mask. Anthony, we’ll see later, is capable of great deceit.

Now, on with the movie.

The line appears: Chaos is order yet undeciphered. Chaos, in this case, is the bizarre events we will be watching in the next 90 minutes. The movie seems to be promising us that there is logic to be found here, that there is a method to this madness if we have the capacity to decipher it. Challenge obviously accepted, Messieurs Villanueve and Gullón.

Anthony is carrying a mysterious key. We know it's Anthony because he has a wedding band on his finger and dresses well. He has a companion, whom we'll learn later is the security guard in Anthony's posh apartment building. With the key, Anthony and his companion enter a dimly-lit room where other gentlemen are gathered around a stage. On the stage, a woman--naked except for high-heeled slippers--is masturbating (a woman objectified). Then two women, also wearing high heels, appear. The take off their robes. One of them puts a covered silver tray on the stage floor. A fat spider crawls out. Anthony watches intently as one of the women begins stepping on the spider with her stiletto heel. Is it really a woman? Is this really Anthony? Was the spider really crushed? We never really see it happen.

The city again. The haze is much thicker now. Is this just smog? Or is it something else?

Adam is lecturing some college kids about dictatorships. It's all about control, he says. In Ancient Rome, the masses were entertained with bread and circuses to dissuade them from revolting. Other dictatorships use other methods to control ideas and knowledge: lowering education, limiting culture, censoring information, censoring expression. This is a pattern throughout history, Adam points out. On the blackboard, we can see the words THESIS  ANTITHESIS. Alright, we're getting somewhere. Who is the thesis and who is the antithesis? What will be the synthesis when Adam and Anthony clash? Also on the board, Adam has written that history is not truth.

A shot of electric wires that look like spider webs. This spider theme will be obvious throughout the film.

Walking home, Adam passes by some graffiti stenciled on a wall: men in business suits, each one with a fist raised in the air like a revolutionary. But in business suits. Bansky-esque irony. Maybe a statement about how the revolutionaries of today are the reactionaries of tomorrow?

We finally see Adam's living conditions, which we heard his mother deploring earlier. He lives alone in a dimly-lit and largely-unfurnished apartment.

Adam sighs a lot in this movie, a deep, soul-weary sigh.

Adam's girlfriend, Mary, arrives. They eat. They fuck. She leaves.

Adam is delivering the exact same lecture to another class the next day.

Again, the Mary arrives. They fuck. She leaves. They seem bored in this relationship. It happens over and over again. Remember Adam's lecture: Dictatorship's limiting of information and expression is a pattern that repeats itself throughout history. Adam and the woman's relationship is a dictatorship? Who is the dictator? Or is it more meta? The movie prevents us from getting all the information. The writer and director are the dictator in our relationship with the story? In many dictatorships, being free means getting the info by ourselves, sifting through the bullshit to get to the truth. To get at the truth in this story, we must earn it.

Jesus Christ, I've already written a lot and it's only the first ten minutes of the movie.

In the next scene, a smarmy-looking man, probably another teacher in the school, seemingly manipulates Adam into watching a movie, even when Adam admits that he's not into movies. Bread and circuses, Adam earlier said. What is a movie if not the modern man's bread and circuses? At least, in this movie's logic. In reality, movies can be more than mere escape. But that's just my opinion. Anyway, if we follow the symbolism--that a movie and the viewer's relationship is a dictatorship--this could be interpreted as Adam rejecting movies and therefore rejecting dictatorial control of his life. Maybe this is why he seems so dejected. He is a man controlled by some unseen but potent force. He senses this controlling force but cannot pinpoint what it is. He is kept in the dark. But he suspects someone or something is keeping the truth from him. As it goes, Adam finally relents and says he wants to see something cheerful. Smarmy co-teacher suggests a comedy called "Where There's a Will, There's a Way". A prophetic title since the story will unfold with Adam trying to get at the miasmic truth by sheer will.

Later that day, as he's walking home, Adam enters the video rental shop and looks for the smarmy man's recommended movie. Note: it may not be actually important but (like the scene with the spider and the high-heeled woman) we don't actually see the implied action taking place. In the next scene, Adam is entering his apartment with the rented movie. Maybe I'm just reading too much into these truncated scenes.

When Adam's girlfriend goes to bed, Adam says he's still got some papers to grade. He then watches the DVD. The movie, from what I can gather from it, is about a wealthy and mysterious married woman. After the movie, Adam goes to the bedroom, looking like he's about to do a chore. He strips and starts making love with his girlfriend. He hurts her. She says “no” a few times before Adam stops. The woman leaves Adam's apartment visibly upset. Adam dreams of a scene in the movie he watched earlier. The bellhop in the movie looks exactly like Adam, sans the beard. Adam looks at the scene again and confirms it. The bellhop does look uncannily like Adam.

The next day, Adam lectures his class about Hegel, who said that all the greatest events in the world happen twice, to which Karl Marx added that the first time is a tragedy and the second time is a farce. Note the words on the blackboard in an earlier scene. THESIS and ANTITHESIS. A man and his doppelganger represents the dual nature of the universe: God and Satan, dark and light, good and evil, man and woman etc. We saw the dictatorship lecture being delivered by Adam twice. Adam also mentions that many of the world's thinkers are worried that this century is a repetition of the last.

Interesting. The last century was marked by violence:

-The rise of Two World Wars
-The rise of Nazism, facism, Communism, and other dictatorships
-The violence of American wars in Vietnam, Korea, and the middle east.

Yet (again, reflecting the duality of the universe), that century was also marked by a step towards peace, justice, and equality:

-The philosophy of peace and love spread by the hippies
-The fall of dictatorships
-Huge gains in civil rights

That night, Adam finds out the name of the actor that looks like him: Daniel Saint Claire (which is the stage name of Anthony Claire). Adam pulls a wound-up cable and connects it to his computer, allowing him Internet access. This is strange. Adam doesn't watch movies, there's no TV in his home, there's no radio, and he doesn't use the Internet. He's living in an information bubble, just like the citizens of a totalitarian state. Is Adam his own dictator?

Adam Googles the name and finds out that the talent agency that represents Anthony is called Volga.

With that, I end Part I of my rambling analysis of "Enemy". Let's do this again tomorrow. We'll continue at the 19:55 mark.

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