Saturday, 26 July 2014

Enemy: Frequently Asked Questions.

Q: What the fuck did I just watch?
A: In my opinion, one of the best English language films released in a very, very long time. In the opinion of a lot of people I know, a pretentious piece of garbage. Take your pick.
Q: Why did the two Jake Gyllenhaal characters look exactly the same?
A: Okay, so the answer to this question depends on what you feel the film as a whole is about. In my mind, there are two possible explanations as to the 'point' of this movie - of course there are a lot more than that, but these are the two that make the most sense to me.
The first possible explanation is that there aren't two characters played by Jake Gyllenhall: there's only one. In this reading, the movie is about an actor, Anthony Claire, who is facing the realisation that he must settle down to a 'normal' life with his pregnant wife. This realisation is so difficult for him to grasp, that he is thrown into an identity crisis so intense that it makes two elements of his psyche manifest themselves.
The first element is Anthony Claire the actor, who must get a proper job to support his wife and the new family they are creating together. The second is Adam Bell, a man who lives with a lot fewer responsibilities. Bell has a 'girlfriend' who he has casual sex with, but he has no real commitment to the relationship: she leaves after they have sex. Anthony has to juggle these two separate elements of his life and ultimately make the decision whether to continue to engage in no-strings sex, or to support a more domesticated existence.
A couple of scenes in the film seem to support this explanation, particularly the part in the movie when Adam's girlfriend discovers that Anthony, pretending to be Adam, has a mark on his finger from his wedding ring. Although you can watch this scene and take it literally - that there are in fact two Gyllenhaals, one with a slight physical difference from the other - you can also read it that Adam's girlfriend is discovering for the first time that he has a wife. Thus, when she says "who are you?!" she's not asking whether he is an entirely different person, but more questioning how faithful the man she has been sleeping with truly is. When he replies "it's always been there," this too could be him explaining that he never lied to her, and made no secret of the fact that he's been married.

Another scene that supports this reading is the part where Anthony's wife, Helen, asks him whether he's seeing 'her' again, proving that he has been unfaithful in the past.

Similarly, we get the sense that Anthony is already someone who lives another life. The name he uses as an actor is Daniel St. Claire, another persona. By extension, it's not much of a stretch to believe that Anthony has so many personas that he becomes unstable, unaware of which is the real him.
In this reading, the film therefore ends with Anthony almost making the decision to settle down. He 'kills off' the part of his personality that is having the casual affair, and settles down to life with his pregnant wife. However, just as he is about to commit to this domesticated existence, he looks at the key to the club where the movie started, and is tempted to go back and resume his live of perverse sexuality.
Q: But you seem to be implying that Adam is the side of the personality which represents sexuality and perversion, when Anthony is the one who goes to the club with the spider at the beginning...

A: First off, I don't think it is Anthony we see at the beginning of the film. But I'll get to that later.

Secondly, the two halves of the personality do not act consistently, that's true. But that's all part of the identity crisis Anthony is having. He seems himself as a creature of sexuality and of normality, and although he wants to maintain both of these elements of himself, he realises one has to be destroyed. But he finds it very difficult to separate the sexuality and the normality - that's why Adam sometimes acts like a bit of a perve (like when he has sex with his girlfriend while she's telling him to stop) and sometimes acts like a meek and mild loner, and that's why Anthony is seen occasionally being a good husband and potential father while also creeping on women who ride the bus.

Q: Where does the giant goddamn spider at the end come into all this?
A: I'll get to that. First, let's talk about the second reading of the film.
The second explanation is that the movie is all about order vs chaos. In this reading, there are really two characters played by Gyllenhaal: both exist. The film is therefore about a man named Adam Bell, who lives a very structured existence. Every day is exactly the same - he performs the same lecture twice to his university students and he has fallen into a predictable routine with his girlfriend. In fact, the lecture he delivers is all about the very way he lives his life: it's a description of the way governments inflict order, and it shows that this man believes that the world follows a strict pattern.
This order is thrown completely apart however, when a chance conversation with a colleague leads him to discover that there is another human being who looks exactly like him. Initially, he is attracted by this idea, and begins to stalk Anthony, his doppelganger. He seems attracted to this coincidence, believing he can explain it. However, he realises that there is no explanation to this odd turn of events when he discovers that Anthony has an identical scar to his. This is the moment he realises there is no order and the world is essentially chaotic. He reacts to this realisation with terror, threatening to call the police when Anthony comes to talk to him again.
Q: Okay. Can we get onto the spider bit now?
A: Sure. The giant spider in the film's final scene can be interpreted in two ways, depending on which of the above theories you believe is correct.
If you believe that the film is about a man going through an identity crisis, then the spider at the end represents the two halves of his personality fusing together. In the first scene of the film, the spider is set up as a symbol for perverse sexuality - we see it delivered on a silver platter, and a sexualised woman steps on it in an act that seems to give voyeuristic pleasure to the men watching. When we see it again at the very end, it still represents sexuality, but this sexuality has now been domesticated. It's in the bedroom, the centre point of married life. Also, as soon as Anthony steps into the room, it withdraws, scared. It has stopped being an entirely sexual object - it has now become domesticated, and tamed. Therefore, it represents the two paths that Anthony could have taken - live a life of hedonistic sex and pleasure, or live a life of domestic normality - coming together and becoming one.
Q: That sounds a bit weak...
A: I think so too. That's why I much prefer this second explanation:
If you think the film is about chaos vs order, then the giant spider at the end represents Adam's acceptance of the total insanity of life. He has given into the chaos of existence - that's why he gives that little sigh. He's not trying to fight chaos as he did at the film's beginning: he's going along with it. The spider appeared in his dreams previously, and when he saw it while asleep, he woke in shock, as though it were a nightmare. That was back when he was still fighting irrationality. However, when it comes back in 'reality', he doesn't react with horror at all. This is just his life now.
Q: Okay. Anything else you want to add?
A: This is kind of a side note, but you can also view the film as being a cycle - its ending fits completely into its beginning. In the first scene, we see one of the Gyllenhaals in the club watching the woman and the spider, and up until the end of the film, we are led to believe that this Gyllenhaal is Anthony - after all, he's the one who knows about the club. However, at the end of the film it's strongly implied that this Gyllenhaal we saw in the opening was actually Adam.
Just before Adam walks into the room and sees the giant spider in the final scene, he gives strong evidence to the fact that he's going to the club that evening. Therefore it's not hard to imagine that the first scene of the movie follows directly after the final scene of the film - Adam walks in, sees the spider, then thinks 'fuck it' and goes to the club. This means that the whole film works as a loop; it just keeps going on and on ad infinitum.
This is also supported by the Hegel/Marx quotes that Adam delivers in his lectures, about everything in the world happening twice. It's the film discussing its own repetitive nature.
Q: Hang on, why are you reviewing a film on this blog? I thought you reviewed music here?
A: Um...well...Hey, look over there: a giant spider!

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