The subconscious of a character is made literal in Denis Villeneuve’s cinematic puzzle Enemy (2014), as one character’s memories, ideas and personal anguish is visualized on screen. The film follows the lives of Anthony Claire and Adam Bell, both of whom are portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal, as one creates the other in his subconscious.
The character of Adam, however, which is a fabrication, is visualized. The film approaches the notion of dual personalities on a literal level. The fictitious self is made literal and portrayed as a second person. In this sense, the character of Adam doesn’t exist; rather, he exists entirely in Anthony’s mind.
In terms of architecture and the use of space, the majority of Enemy’s narrative takes place within the space of one character’s subconscious. The opening title card of the film, “Chaos is order yet undeciphered,” hints at its puzzle-like narrative, which is later repeated in the classroom lectures. The shuffled pieces create room for various theories and readings of the film.
In terms of architecture and production design, Denis Villeneuve has discussed the role of the city of Toronto. In José Saramago’s novel The Double, which Enemy is based on, the city is described as a “megalopolis, a never ending city.” Enemy opens with shots of the smoggy landscape of Toronto, its yellowish hue establishing the look of a hazy dream world. In this sense, Toronto becomes a character in itself; even the closing credits are displayed over the architecture of the city.
In addition, despite these characters being one and the same, there are two apartment spaces that are shown. The first apartment space that we see for the first portion of the film is, for the sake of discussion, the small apartment that Jake Gyllenhaal’s character rents after breaking off his relationship with his wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon). The apartment lacks any sort of personality. There is essentially no life in his living space. In one instance, he digs deep into his possessions, which he keeps stored away in boxes. It’s interesting to note that this apartment space “belongs” to the character of Adam; if he is a fabrication, it’s no wonder his living space is minimal and sparse.
In comparison, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character’s actual home is the apartment where he lives with his wife. This space is much more realized. The production design speaks to the character. The apartment is nicer and much more modern, one that suits a college professor.
In our floor plan, we looked closely at the first encounter between both characters; because they aren’t two separate individuals and one is an extension of the other and exists solely in his subconscious, it’s clear that this meeting doesn’t take place in the physical world. Their meeting, therefore, is in a nondescript motel room.
The motel room is later revisited when Jake Gyllenhaal’s character has a rendezvous with Mary (Mélanie Laurent). In keeping up with the idea that Anthony and Adam’s meeting doesn’t take place in the real world, it’s likely that the affair with Mary is also fabricated in his mind. If so, this motel room becomes a nonexistent place that the character accesses through his subconscious.
Denis Villeneuve’s choice of including spiders as a visual motif comments on Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters emotional state of mind. In throughout the film, we are repeatedly presented with images of spiders. The opening scene displays a spider on a platter in a seedy club as a woman nearly crushes the spider with her heel. The spider motif is later used again as we see a massive spider hovering over the city landscape.
The image of a massive spider bears a striking resemblance to the sculpture Maman by Louise Bourgeois, which is located at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. The sculpture, which measures over 30’ high and 33’ wide, has an imposing style much like the spider shown in the film. Maman -- which is French for Mother – was apparently an ode to the artist’s mother. Louise Bourgeois had noted that “spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.” In Enemy, spiders are connected to the female characters in the film. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character repeatedly lectures about control, dictatorship and the censorship of individual expression. Denis Villeneuve has confirmed that the spider in Enemy was inspired by Louise Bourgeois’s sculpture. In this sense, we can assume spiders have a correlation with the women in his life -- his own mother and, of course, his pregnant wife (mother-to-be). The final scene of the film depicts Helen transforming into a spider. It’s clear that spiders directly relate to these ideas; representation of women or feelings of repression (or both ideas merged together).
The film also plays off this theme; while spiders themselves become a thematic motif, the image of the spider and the spider web are repeatedly used in a number of ways. In an early scene, he exits his classroom, which cuts onto a shot of streetcar wires. The composition of the image suggests a spider web that looms over his life. In one of the final scenes of the film, after the car crash, we move in close on one of the car’s window, which has been shattered and again resembles a spider web. The film itself is a spider web; its narrative is intertwined and difficult to navigate in a logical sense. In addition, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character continuously becomes twisted and tangled as he rages a battle with himself in his subconscious.