11/05/2016

Enemy - Why Women Don't Exist

Thoughts On: Enemy

A college professor finds his exact double.


This is a perfect film, one of the greatest art-house pictures of all times. Moreover, this is Denis Villeneuve's best film - bar none. Incendies is magnificent, Sicario is absolutely phenominal, Prisoners was very good, but Enemy is his masterpiece. This is, and isn't, a very complex film. I feel it's easy to follow the plot and understand its main ideas, but getting into its minute details, its complex, deeper meaning is, however, a little more difficult. You've probably read and watched explanations to the movie already, but stick around as I'm not just going to say what means what, but why - and then what that means. As a result, I'm sure you understand we'll being covering mature subject matter. So, on we go. But, before we jump right into things I've got to say that I love the poster up top as it looks great and is a perfect symbol for the film, however, so is its second poster:


With the first poster you get the key colour: yellow. This is an essential colour to understand in terms of cinematography and symbolism. Yellow is both disgust and fear. We see this manifest itself over ever frame like a skin, a tainted filter, only emphasised with the use of shadow to hide characters and details from us. Yellow is also light, but again, tarnished. It's a movement away from white, from purity. The other key aspect of the first poster is the reflection of the faceless figure. This speaks for itself, but I will say that it makes clear that there is more than a reflective connection between the two, they are literally joined - one and the same. Now, in my opinion, the second poster doesn't look nearly as good, but has superior imagery. There of course is our protagonist and on his mind is the city, a gigantic spider looming over it. Both the city and spiders are huge ideas or symbols in the film - but we'll be coming back to that soon.

We'll start off with a simple clarification. Adam and Anthony are the same person. There is no question of this. If you watch the film, taking everything literally, then you could see faults in this - but this is most definitely not a film you should be watching taking images as literal fact. This is a surrealist masterpiece way up there with Eraserhead, The Holy Mountain and Un Chien Andalou in my opinion (despite how grounded it seems). That means its images are associatory, interpretable, ambiguous, connected by feeling and theme. Understanding that we can see that Adam finding a look-alike is a metaphor. To comprehend why we only need to look at what the film is about. Enemy is about cheating, living two lives, wanting two opposing ideas/concepts/existences simultaneously. There are two clones so that the duality of Adam (who we shall assume is the protagonist) can be made clear. There's his passive side: the soft-spoken teacher with a slightly distant girlfriend who he can't (but possibly wants to) connect with. Then there's his more aggressive side: the dreamer, the aspiring actor with a pregnant wife he doesn't want to connect with. These two halves must meet so that Adam can assess his life, who he wants to be and ultimately who he's capable of being. Knowing this small detail, the film really opens up. But, all we've done is scratched the surface here. Before taking the deep dive, let's analyse character just a little. The best place to start is with Anthony (the actor with a wife). This is the man Adam (the teacher) has become over time. This man cheats on his wife, is lazy, petty, and as far as we can tell, doesn't work. Moreover, he goes to dodgy clubs to indulge in a strange, metaphorical, (but strange nonetheless) fetish. This indulgence is what transformed Adam into a snide and slimy character. We mustn't forget here that Anthony is also a third rate actor with a few small parts in movies. This emphasises the aspect of fantasy he represents. Juxtapose this with Adam who doesn't watch or like movies and we see a grounded, more caring and hard-working man. What is unfortunate--yet very telling--is that the caring, respectable, Adam can't connect with women, isn't with the wife - but Anthony is. With this we can understand that both men (the one man they represent) has issues with social exchange and relationships. Adam can't give himself to another completely, nor can he accept much either. Anthony, on the other hand, takes what he wants, giving what he must for equal return. To delve deeper into the film and understand how these characters fit into this surreal world, we need to look at two symbols.

This first symbol is the city, architecture. We touched on this with the second poster of the film. The city represents men (male individuals) and humanity as a whole. Our cities and architecture are the biggest mark we leave on this world, they are signs of our own control, of our contortion, materialisation, of our own reality - our own world. In the film, this idea of creation is attributed to men. As with Adam and Anthony, they provide material possessions and for women who in return provide or exchange natural life. This idea is found in the apartments that define the male characters and then Anthony's wife, Helen, being pregnant whilst Mary (the girlfriend) is used primarily for sex. This links back into social exchange. The men provide for the women with the jobs and homes that are key factors in our understanding of them and their character. It's because Adam is a teacher that we can see him as mild, his passivity, his compassion. It's because Adam's apartment is empty, dark, lifeless, that we understand him to be empty, longing, yet distant. On the other hand, because Anthony is an actor we get the impression that he's self-involved, cold and a little fake. On top of this his apartment is brighter with designer furniture, a more homely facade. But, the facade is key here - it's a lie, pretense, there is little character in his home, just a few designer pieces and magazines that look good. With their characters based in artifice, in the constructed world, we can understand why the city is their symbol - a symbol of men. To analyse the role of women we can segue into the next symbol: spiders. They are seen in a variety of ways: real (the tarantula), with women, crossed with women and as huge looming monsters. But, they are also seen through their webbing. This is a symbol linked to the city and men. The webs throughout the city are the crossing wires, reflections, lines, and with the end comes the two key versions of the symbol: in the home, on the shower door, and, after the crash, in the shattered car window (both possessions of the men). Webbing is used to show the ways in which women bind to and occupy the men and their lives. But, more than that, a spider is the perfect symbol for a women (especially with the themes presented by the film). As small insects (arachnids, I know, but it's a metaphor too) you can crush them - as in the beginning. However, at the same time spiders are these ugly, alien things that are in all honesty pretty frightening. Supersize them though and you have one of the most horrifying monsters ever. This doesn't mean that women are repulsive, disgusting things, just that, as ideas, they can be (there you go, I said it). Anyway, their size in the film also correlates with the power they hold as we often see them after pivotal interactions between the men and women such as Adam talking to his mother (who makes clear him and Anthony are the same person) or Anthony's first argument with Helen (who makes clear that he's a cheater). The more possessive and powerful women appear to Anthony and Adam, the more frightening they become, and this is because everything alien, everything they don't quite get about them is accentuated - supersized.

It's clear that women are the core conflict of this film - both as spiders and people. Whilst the spiders are horrifying, the women are stunning, astoundingly beautiful. This makes clear the conflict. On a surface level they are alluring, but, to these characters who can't connect with women, below that surface is something alien they don't understand. This, again, links back to social exchange. Both sides need each other (men, women; women, men) this rift in understanding is what transforms women into spiders for Adam and Anthony. Women want to trap, sink their fangs into and just consume them - which is what many species of spiders do - the larger females use the smaller males to provide offspring and food before eating them. This is why women are represented by sex and pregnancy. Also, this explains the opening club scene. Firstly, men watch in awe as women masturbate - a self-explanatory image of power and reverence. Also, men and women's sexual nature is what (in all senses of the phrase) brings them together. This is particularly important in the film as it's the only way Adam or Anthony can connect with women. After the initial display, a nude woman, a prostitute of sorts, brings out a tarantula and is implied to crush it. The 'crush fetish' (finding sexual pleasure/arousal in seeing small creatures crushed) is linked to domination both in a woman (who crushes) dominating a creature and man (in her superiority) as well as the domination of the man in his will being fulfilled. This adds to the theme of social exchange and characters not being able to connect as it implies that they both have complex relationships with power and domination. But on top of this, the small spider represents Mary (girlfriend) but more importantly Helen (the wife). This is why its important to recognise that the woman doing the 'crushing' is a prostitute. She is the route by which Adam and Anthony (Anthony more so) can quash these domineering figures in their lives. They cheat and go to this club in spite of the women in they are with, doing so to tip the power scales in their relationships. As a result, their convoluted sense of power is exemplified throughout the film via spiders and infidelity. From here there are two aspects of the film we need to explore, the first has to do with narrative and character arcs, the second is all about the core thematic exploration of the film.

We'll start with the character arcs, focusing on the idea that this film is about cheating. Over the film we watch the whole man (represented by Adam and Anthony) expose himself firstly to himself and then his partners. We see this best with Adam. He finds Anthony through an implied rut or depression. Note here that the teacher that tells him about the film is not a real character or person - just a device (of the writer and Adam) to move the plot forward. It's because Adam is depressed that he desires fantasy, change, more. And so, the latent concept of Anthony (whom he is completely aware exists) rises. He looks for happiness, for levity, in fantasy, a movie, and so finds the film: Where There's A Will There's A Way. The title here makes clear that it was Adam's will that brought him to the film, that he knows who he is, all about Anthony, and that the teacher is nothing more than a narrative pawn. And on a side note, in the video store where this film is found is a poster for Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958) - which is very similar to this film, but a movie for another talk. So, for change in his own character, Adam finds Anthony. In short, he wants to swap positions, he wants stability, a wife, home, a kid, love instead of the meaningless relationship he has with Mary. We know this because he has a picture of himself that has been ripped in two. Later on in the film we find the whole picture in Anthony's apartment. Who else is in this picture? Helen, his wife, the woman he's known all along. What this also means is that Anthony wants to swap positions too. He has cheated in the past, but gave that up - his wife still doesn't trust him though. He embraces the encounter with Adam because he figures out that he can exploit him - use him to cheat, exchanging his wife for his girlfriend. Now, this takes us to the end of the film. In the motel, Mary discovers the mark on Anthony's finger. This is a symbolic moment. Anthony/Adam has exposed himself as a married man. This doesn't go down to well though - hence, the crash. What this also demonstrates is Adam/Anthony's intrinsic disconnect, their inherent disability to connect with women. They can only maintain dysfunctional relationships. When Anthony (the more aggressive, dominant side) meets the more dominant female figure they don't work - he is meant for Helen, the passive wife. However, when Adam (the passive side) meets Helen, the two get along. There is recognition here too. Helen knows Anthony is gone, that Adam is an impersonator, firstly he has no ring, secondly he acts completely different, and thirdly she asks him how school was. But in this moment, he has exposed himself as a lonely man in need of affection and that's all Helen wanted: the truth and a little weakness (his guard being brought down). However, just like with Mary and Anthony, this relationship is probably doomed to fail.

This takes us to the final moments of the film. With Anthony and Mary dead (the extramarital relationship and that aspect of Adam gone) the future looks good. But, the last artifact of Anthony, the letter, has been preserved. Inside the letter is the key, the way back to the club where Adam can indulge in his convoluted issues with power and social exchange - and may also cheat. He is presented with a chance to cycle, to split off into an Anthony and Adam again. This is why the webs on the crashed can and shower door are so important. The women have made their marks on the men, they have been trapped. And so, Adam decides he's going to go out, to go to the club, to devolve. When confronting Helen with this he of course comes upon a  huge tarantula who backs into a corner, fearful, but in defence, liable to attack. She is both the ugly thing Adam is frightened of and wishes could just be squashed, but she is also huge - she has power. This is because Adam opened up to her. For him to do this completely she'd probably become the huge spider he envisioned, looming over his whole world (the city). And so he's faced with a choice. He sighs. Will he cycle back to Adam and Anthony or will he brave the storm? Is he willing to live with a growing spider? Will he ever be able to see the woman, the actual person? This is the narrative message of the film. It demonstrates the character arc of a cheater, one who will most probably end up cheating again. But, this isn't the end all and be all of everything.

The film tells you itself what it's about with the opening - with Adam's class. This is where we truly get to understand the characters and the conflict of the film. Adam is talking about dictatorships and how a dictators one obsession is control. The women are the dictators in Adam/Anthony's perception, they are the enemy, they are the controlling force, In short, all they want to do is sensor his individual expression and do this by limiting information, ideas and knowledge. This is where we can understand why Anthony cheats, why Adam has issues with women. They have never explained themselves or opened up to him. We see this by not seeing this. In other words, what do we know about any of the women? Next to nothing. There is a serious lack of communication and that's exactly why the men and women cannot understand each other. This can be put down to the way Adam/Anthony behaves. Both are mysterious, closed off figures and so they attract similar women. We can reinforce this with the mother. She is cold, distant and, again, mysterious. For Adam to question his mother on who she gave birth too (twins or not) symbolises the ambiguity with which she raised him - he does not know who he is, and his mother hasn't helped with this. Moreover, people often (subconsciously or not) seek out partners that remind them of their mother or father - that which Helen and Mary do. They are both a little distant, but still need Adam/Anthony (they always return or call).  Mary is a particularly interesting character here as seen with the early sexual conflict. It seems that she only comes over to have sex with Adam, but with a key transformative moment of Adam's (discovering Anthony) she too decides to change. She chooses to stay over and then deny Adam. This moment comes close to sexual assault or worse, rape, because Adam doesn't seem to understand just what is going on in her head, but also because he starts to inherit the aggressive aspects of Anthony. It's this moment that makes clear to Adam the dangers of becoming this person, giving reason to his reluctance to befriend or get close to Anthony when they meet. But, what the film is establishing here is that not only do women decide, use sex to control, and withhold information, but that they control a huge aspect of Adam/Anthony's character. They define him. Now, it's at this point that you could just call Adam/Anthony a misogynist as he continually objectifies, fears, and looks down on women. This is a valid point, but I don't think it reflects the complexity of this film. In no way do we need such rich symbolism, imagery, such a complex, subtextual, plot, to say that women deserve respect and that cheating is bad.

The reason why woman are objectified, seen as spiders, in Enemy is the exact same reason Fellini had Guido fantasise and cheat in 8 1/2. (I highly recommend both the film and clicking on that link). Enemy has nothing to do with women because, as I say all the time, they don't exist. The enemy is not Helen, Mary, Adam's mother, Spiders, prostitutes, women of any kind, but Adam's self. The way he interacts with women merely reflects his own character. Him wanting to dominate them, squash spiders, has little to do with the actual women, but the idea of them. The same can be said for all interaction. We merely deal with projections of our own psyche, constructing bodies, people, shapes, figures, based off of the information they supply, but we sift through. What Enemy makes most clear is that it's most important to apply this concept to sexual relations. In the same way women feel they wear make-up or dress slutty to feel powerful or to boost self-esteem, men also watch porn, stare in awe at women and compliment them to feel powerful or their own self-esteem. The irony of sexuality is that it's so self-absorbed, so apparently selfish but requires other people - an apparent selflessness. I can only say it again: we are our own worst enemies. This is what Enemy is about, why surrealism, subtext and metaphors are so important. So, what do you think? Do you agree?





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