Lately, I’ve been writing essays primarily for my friends’ online culture magazines, The Thought Erotic and Vannevar. Below is an excerpt from one of my first Vannevar contributions, in which I seek to explain Denis Villeneuve’s cryptic but ultimately entertaining 2013 film Enemy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
The Enemy Within
“Every dictatorship, there’s always one obsession and that’s control. Control over the people. In ancient Rome they gave bread and circuses. They kept the populace busy with entertainment. In other dictatorships they have other strategies to limit information, to limit ideas and knowledge. And how do they do that? They lower education, limit culture. They censor any means of self-expression. But it’s important to remember this—this is a pattern that repeats itself throughout history.”-Adam Bell
Enemy tells the cryptic story of two inexplicably identical men in a Toronto laden with spiders. For those of you who haven’t seen the Lynchian film, I encourage you to watch it and come back here when you’re ready to scour the internet for answers to its befuddling ending, unless you’re a fan of dramatic irony and revel in spoilers.
In short, Jake Gyllenhaal plays identical strangers Adam Bell—a quiet, timid history professor who lectures frequently on totalitarianism—and Anthony Claire, a third-rate actor and philandering husband entangled in an illicit sex club.
The story is wide open to interpretation, and while many of the film’s mysteries remain frustratingly unexplained, at its core, it’s a parable about a totalitarian regime fueled by sex and misogyny.
What’s the deal with the double?
I don’t take Adam and Anthony’s identicalness literally. I’m not sure it matters why these characters are identical. It may be purely symbolic—a vehicle to speak about the nature of totalitarianism.
The director Denis Velleneuve said, “You don’t know if they are two in reality, or maybe from a subconscious point of view, there’s just one. It’s maybe two sides of the same persona.” Given that we have no explanation for Adam and Anthony’s identicalness, and no real clues to unlocking it, it makes more sense that the film is a parable in which Jake Gyllenhaal portrays two sides of the same person. Adam represents our potential—for good, for knowledge, for breaking the cycle of history’s tragedies. Anthony represents the corruption that resides within us all and that we have to be careful to not succumb to.
Read the full article at Vannevar.