Spiders and Doppelgängers – The Secrets of ENEMY Explained

Denis Villeneuve’s enigmatic film Enemy had a quiet release here so I’m probably a bit late to the party. Although it wasn’t widely seen, I’m sure those that have seen it have had a pretty strong reaction to it. In the following piece I will put forward my take on just what it all means. So, heavy spoilers to follow. As in, this will make no sense if you haven’t seen Enemy. Why haven’t you seen Enemy? Go see Enemy. As for the rest of you, let’s see if we can decipher some chaos.

Enemy introduces us to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Adam, a professor who lives alone in his apartment which is occasionally frequented by his girlfriend, Mary. He catches sight of an actor in a film who looks exactly like him. Eventually we meet the actor, Anthony (also Gyllenhaal), who shares an apartment with his pregnant wife, Helen. The film puts forward a reality where Adam and Anthony wrestle with the fact they are identical in every way which creates great tension between them.

Enemy Explained - Silver Screen Snobs

DOUBLE TROUBLE

I promise I’ll get to the spiders later. First I want to address the core of my theory.

Adam doesn’t exist.

At least, not the character we know him as. Adam is a persona that Anthony creates in order to deal with his fear of commitment and perceived loss of individuality. ‘Adam’ is Anthony’s deep, dark subconscious made flesh. Sometimes we see Anthony as himself – spending time with his wife, riding his motorbike, etc. But sometimes Anthony takes on the persona of Adam. To make matters more complicated, sometimes he sees himself as Adam, and imagines an Anthony to converse with. Bear with me.

Anthony has rented a small apartment that he goes to be Adam. He spends time there and imagines his girlfriend visiting. That’s right: Melanie Laurent’s character, Mary, also doesn’t exist. More on her later.

Anthony feels trapped in his marriage and is anxiety-ridden by the impending arrival of his child, which he feels will trap him further. He yearns for a time when was free. He has been forced to give up his dreams of being an actor and has taken a steady job as a professor. This pressure leads Anthony to delude himself to such a degree that when he ‘becomes’ Adam he has no memory of his real life. The ‘Adam’ creation helps Anthony deal with his insecurities and inability to engage with real life.

Enemy Explained - Silver Screen Snobs

The delusion hits its first obstacle when Anthony sees himself in the movie. It’s a remarkable coincidence that his co-worker recommends a film he just happened to be in. I posit that this man is also a product of Anthony’s mind. The healthy part of his mind is trying to fight back against the delusion. By forcing himself to watch the movie, Anthony is taking the first steps to eroding his own fantasy.

– MILD SPOILERS FOR HITCHOCK’S VERTIGO IN THIS PARAGRAPH:

On a side note, a poster for Hitchcock’s Vertigo is clearly visible in the video store. Vertigo features two separate characters, played by one actor (Kim Novak) who are revealed to be exactly the same person. I doubt this poster’s placement was a coincidence.

– END SPOILER –

After becoming obsessed with the ‘doppelgänger’ he visits the actor’s talent agency (in reality, his own) where he is recognised by the security guard and given a key. The key is very important, pay attention 007. The guard remarks that he has not been there for six months. Later, we learn the Anthony’s wife is six months pregnant. It makes sense that upon learning of the pregnancy Anthony did ‘the right thing’ by stopping his unreliable acting work and starting the teaching job. Remember, during the ‘Adam’ scenes Anthony is not pretending at any time, he genuinely believes he is a different person called Adam.

Enemy Explained - Silver Screen Snobs

When he calls who he thinks is the actor’s wife she recognises his voice straight away, which confuses him. At this point I want to highlight Sarah Gadon’s remarkable performance. Her character feels inconsistent if you take the story at face value, but if you buy my theory, she is a tragic figure. Fully aware of her husband’s illness but trying to accommodate him, she feels it’s the best way for him to get better if she supports his fantasy.

I believe that this is the point in the story when she first realises something is not right with her husband. After this, we get our first scene of Anthony actually AS Anthony. He argues with himself on the phone. When Helen asks about the phone call, she suspects he may have restarted his affair with Mary again: “Are you seeing her?” Slowly, she understands it’s something far more upsetting. Perhaps this is not the first time he has lost touch with reality.

Anthony falls down the rabbit hole further as he researches the name ‘Adam Bell’. This is the only time in the film where we see that Adam Bell is potentially a real person that works at the school. We know it’s not just something Anthony made up because Helen sees the name on the computer as well. However, there is no photo associated with the name so we can assume that Anthony just subconsciously picked a name from the faculty list, or possibly created and added it himself, to strengthen his own delusion.

Enemy Explained - Silver Screen Snobs

Helen’s fears are confirmed when she visits her husband at work – my favourite scene in the film, Gadon is phenomenal – and he does not recognise her. This was the scene that set me on the course to forming my theory, as Helen’s reaction to seeing a man that looks identical to her husband should have been one of amazement or curiosity. Instead, she appears profoundly sad.

We then have a scene where Anthony returns home to Helen and espouses his love of blueberries. Believe it or not, this too is important. Helen is visibly distraught and does not engage Anthony in conversation as she withdraws and considers supporting her husband’s fantasy.

Soon, Adam and Anthony meet in a hotel room. Obviously for this theory to work, one of them can’t be there. I believe that the Adam persona enters but swaps over to Anthony during the scene. ‘Adam’ has to be there initially, because ‘Adam’ brings the key (the key is key). However, Anthony leaves with the key. The key is real. What took place in that hotel room was one man talking to himself.

Anthony’s jealous, petty nature starts to come to the fore has he imagines that ‘Adam’ slept with his wife. He starts stalking Mary. I believe Mary was indeed a real person that Anthony had an affair with, but the Mary we see in the film only exists in his head. She represents everything he can no longer have now that he has committed to a monogamous life.

Enemy Explained - Silver Screen Snobs

Anthony visits his mother. The film suggests that we are watching ‘Adam’, but Isabella Rossellini’s character drops some bombshells in this scene. She reminds him of his previous indiscretions (“You already have enough trouble sticking to one woman, don’t you?”) she serves him blueberries which Anthony loves (the Adam persona does not), but most importantly she tells him he should give up on this dream of being a “third rate actor”. The façade begins to crack in this scene as Anthony finds it difficult to deny the truth.

The illusion that Anthony has constructed for himself begins to fall apart. The parts of his brain that are trying to drag him back to reality are starting to win – which results in Anthony and his creation, Adam, swapping places. Ostensibly, Anthony is righting a perceived wrong by having a night with ‘Adam’s’ girl, but in reality, Anthony is taking steps to rid himself of the monster he has manifested. Once again the character who leaves the room last is the ‘real’ character.

Anthony, who is ‘Adam’ posing as ‘Anthony’ (arrrrggggh…..my brain) tentatively goes back to his actual apartment to see his wife. As far as he’s aware, it’s the first time he’s been there, and yet, it feels familiar to him. A massive clue is broadcast in this scene. He finds a photo of Anthony and Helen. Earlier in the film, when he was trying figure out who the actor was, he holds up a photo of himself to the computer monitor to compare. The other person in the photo has been torn out. It is exactly the same photo he finds now.

When Helen comes home, she recognises something in her husband that she has not seen for a long time. He’s considerate, concerned and caring. Helen allows herself to think that he might be healed. She tests the waters by asking, “Did you have a good day at school?” This confuses Anthony, who has not completely reconciled his personalities yet. When she sees that he does not comprehend, she tells him to “forget it”.

Enemy Explained - Silver Screen Snobs

The hotel scene between “Anthony” posing as “Adam” with Adam’s girlfriend Mary is actually taking place inside Anthony’s mind, who is in bed with his wife back at the apartment. There’s a beautiful piece of editing here where dialogue between Mary and ‘Adam’ actually overlaps into a shot of Anthony waking up in distress. The powers in his head are at war.

Helen wakes up and comforts Anthony. She tells him, “I want you to stay” – a weighted line with multiple meanings depending on the context. For Anthony it represents a breakthrough as he accepts his reality and destroys the fantasy. Meanwhile, in his head, Mary freaks out when she notices the tan line where Anthony’s wedding ring should be. The rules of their world are coming apart. They drive home, argue, and die in a car accident.

Anthony has cleansed the phantoms from his brain.

Of course a happy ending would be too easy. The next morning, Anthony discovers the key to the private disgusting gentleman’s sex club. He comes to an understanding that he can’t change who he is. A flash of mischief crosses his face as he tells his wife that he has to go out that night. He tried, he conquered his demons, but he will always be a monster in his soul.

Then Helen turns in to a giant fucking spider.

Enemy Explained - Silver Screen Snobs

THE AMAZING SPIDER-WOMAN

So… the spiders. I was re-watching this film with my wife in order to research before I wrote this piece. My wife had not seen the film before. We were watching the scene in which Anthony observes a woman walk down the hallway with the head of a spider, and my wife turned to me and said, ‘Oh, okay, so he sees women as spiders then?’
It took me a lot longer than that to figure that one out. The spider imagery for me is nowhere near as fascinating as the split personality elements, but it still begs dissection.

I don’t think I’ll have many disagreements when I say the spiders represent Anthony’s feelings about women, specifically his afore-mentioned fear of commitment, which he sees as entrapment. The web imagery also highlights this. In the opening scene we find Anthony at the sex club, watching a naked woman squash a spider with her high heels. Anthony seems to be thoroughly enjoying this. The stripper represents his inherent promiscuity (i.e. freedom) while the spider represents his wife (imprisonment). Later in the film we see a striking image of a spider with spindly legs roaming the Toronto skyline. This shot immediately precedes the scene with Anthony’s mother, a woman he also resents as he perceives her to be controlling. Could the giant spider be his mother?

Enemy Explained - Silver Screen SnobsHelen takes the form of a giant spider in the final scene. The most unsettling element is not her transformation, but the fact that she recoils at the sight of Anthony. She is terrified. She knows that he’s gone back to his old ways and she’ll never have a husband that cares for her, or one that will protect her child. Indeed, she seems to fear for her life.

The final shot only serves to elevate the horror, as Anthony regards his spider-wife with a detached acceptance. A sly smile begins to cross his lips as we cut to black.

Anthony truly is his own worst Enemy.
You know… like the title.

This film is a mind-fuck of the highest order. The score will make you want to sleep with the lights on. It’s also beautifully shot, superbly acted and crafted by a creative team completely in control of their story. Every line of dialogue matters. I look forward to revisiting its gifts many times over.

– Tom Roe

Thoughts? Let me know if you have any other takes on the film in the comments below, I’d love to hear some other ideas.

58 thoughts on “Spiders and Doppelgängers – The Secrets of ENEMY Explained

  1. Damn straight. After re-watching it recently I’m 99% sure this is what Villeneuve was talking about when he said “the answer to every question is in the film”, or something along those lines. A few quick thoughts of my own:

    – I believe Mary does exist in at least some of her scenes (definitely not the end, though). Some of the earlier scenes with her in Adam’s apartment are possibly memories but I think she is definitely there (in the present) when Anthony stalks her as she makes her way to work (Adam is seen but I don’t think he’s really there). It’s this action that triggers Anthony’s desire for one last night with her. Even if it is only going to be in his mind.

    – The cityscapes seem to mimic the “landscape” of Anthony’s mind. As you say, just before he sees his mother her presence is seen as the goddamn massive spider looming over the city. I might need a third watch to get this idea down a bit better but immediately after the car crash where he has removed Mary from his life we see a clear, calm city sans spiders. A weatherman even comes on briefly to say the forecast is for a clear day. There are moments throughout when we see the city without spiders though, so I’m not entirely sure about this one yet.

    – What’s the deal with the traffic guy on the radio that Helen turns on at the end? He says there was a car crash. Helen is real so I’m assuming that the guy on the radio is real. If that night between Adam and Mary doesn’t exist (and it can’t) then why is there a crash being reported? The only explanation I can think of is it’s a coincidence and the guy is reporting another accident that actually happened. The details are vague so that could be it. But in a movie where everything is so painstakingly put together it seems an unlikely answer.

    – I fucking love the shit out of this movie.

    • teddy

      I’m pretty sure the voice on the radio announcing the accident is also voiced by jake gyllenhaal. So also in Anthony’s head?

    • boyet

      i believe that they really have an accident with Mary, but it was happen six month ago.

  2. Here’s my takeaway from your Enemy theory: I DO NOT POSSESS ENOUGH I.Q. POINTS TO WATCH THIS…OR PROBABLY ANY OTHER…MOVIE. Maybe I could handle “Transformers”, but I don’t want to. I think your hypotheses are spot on. Well done and well written. I don’t like to throw the word “HERO” around willy-nilly, but….

    Thanks for the article. Good stuff.

  3. Wiebes

    Best review/ synopsis I have read (and I’ve read about 30 of them trying to figure this out). I watched it the first time believing they were two separate people the entire movie. I re-watched it through the paradym of Gyllenhall being one person. Every scene is radically different. What an absolute treat. Great writeup, thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks mate! Yeah it is a real treat to rewatch this one with a different point of view. Glad I could help you figure it out some more 🙂

      • Dominic Schembri-Adams

        Wow I feel like a geek again reading all this. I studied film for 8 years and during that time I’m confident i would have worked this out better myself but these days, having finished my studies in ’07 I am rusty at dissecting meaning etc. It was great to have a challenging viewing experience again. This read of yours reminds me of the days when i put heart and mind to paper at college, well done sir.

      • Atul Kumar

        Hi Tom , Just watched this movie….a bit late , i know. What about a phone call by Helan to his husband at school when Adam starts walking to take his next class……some one answered Helan’s call but not Adam.

        • Monkey Business

          “Adam” goes just out of camera shot when the phone is picked up and answered by “Anthony.”

        • Jess

          Adam has already disappeared out of sight behind the wall when Anthony answers

      • Aaron Waters

        The giant spider looming over the city before Anthony visits his mum is a reference to the sculpture “mamen” which is French for mother. I don’t know if someone else has mentioned that, but I thought I’d go ahead and clear that up.

  4. Steve

    Great article! Love this film, well, I loved it about 12 hours after I watched it.
    I agree with everything but I think the car crash was real and he survived, hence the scar, and that’s how his wife found out about the affair.
    He’s therfore dealing with the fact that he killed her.
    I could be wrong, but I like the theory.

    • Tim

      Nice theory Steve! Now im definitely confused. Two great theories but yours throws a spanner in the works of Tom’s Theory… 🙂

      • Yeah I conveniently ignored some aspects that don’t subscribe to my theory 🙂 Tim may be on to something with that, Dave as well. I’ll have to reevaluate one day. Such a dense film!

      • I mean Steve may be on to something. Whoops

  5. Steve M

    Brilliant writing! Really helped to explain what I’ve just watched. Makes sense them being the same person.

  6. Heather

    After finishing watching this movie at 1am last night I sat on the couch very confused! I immediately googled the movie to see if there was some explanation on what the hell happened and why there were spiders in it! So after reading many theories I think I ‘get it’. What started out as ‘this movie is stupid’ turned into ‘this movie is really good’ lol. I’d like to watch it again but I’m not sure I can handle seeing the spiders a second time (I have huge arachnophobia).

    • Juan

      Wow this is literally me, today at 1 am.
      Googled and found this right away.

      I’m still amazed

  7. Noel

    Enjoyed reading the article. I’d also like to raise the point that I think the spiders do not just represent his feelings toward ‘women’ but rather ‘suppressions of individuality’.

    This ties in nicely with the scene near the beginning of the film where he is lecturing about dictatorship and totalitarian states, of which the monologue repeats itself for impact. Therefore the large spider over the city could represent a ruling over what is depicted as a lifeless, suppressed state throughout the film, which rubs off on the frustrated ‘Adam’ who seems to show hardly any expression of his own (bare apartment, lack of interests and conversation).

    The spider at the end both represents another figure that he sees to suppress his individuality (his wife) and the fact that it is so large, yet so scared of him, suggests he has come to grips with a huge demon in his mind.

    An exquisite film, which, ironically, is like one giant spider web itself as all the themes and messages are ultimately linked and portrayed through the main character’s web-like mind.

  8. SPOILERS ANALYSIS:

    While I can’t be sure of what the ideas in this movie really mean, I have read multiple interpretations and have a few of my own. First off, the characters are one and the same. Anthony is Adam and vice versa. The scar is a major clue about that. If they both have the same scar then it’s too big of a coincidence. Were they both in the same accident and injured in the same place? This is something that would have to happen after birth, so the twin brothers theory goes right out the window.

    Another big clue comes later on in the movie when Adam goes to visit his mother and she tells him to stop thinking about the low paying acting jobs. Adam has just confronted his mother about the idea of him having a twin brother and she says there is no way. And yet she is saying these acting things to him, as if he were Anthony. Adam isn’t the actor. He’s the teacher. But it doesn’t matter because the truth is they are one and the same.

    I believe that Anthony is a failed actor who got his wife pregnant six months ago, and was forced to give up acting and become a professor. Only his wife thinks he’s still acting. He is leading two lives now. As a professor, he imagines that he is still single. His girlfriend, Mary, is made up. Notice how little they say to each other. Notice how she often says things that he is probably thinking, like, “I think I’m drunk.”

    So Adam works as a professor, and has forgotten that he used to be an actor. When he goes to the talent agency, posing as Anthony, the guard there says that he hasn’t seen him for six months. Exactly the amount of time that his wife, Helen, has been pregnant. So when she got pregnant, Adam gave up acting and became a professor, and stopped going to the agency.

    The idea that his wife does not know he is working as a professor is made clear by the scene where she goes to see him at work. He has multiple personality disorder and is in the mind of Adam at the time, so when his wife sits down on a park bench beside him, he does not recognize her. She is deeply saddened by this and realizes what is going on with her husband.

    There are clues in this movie about blueberries, and those are something I still need to look into. My understanding is that one of them (Anthony) loves blueberries, and that Adam does not. These come up a lot and are meant to help guide us through what might really be going on.

    So now for the accident at the end. Is it all fake? Some theorists believe that the accident is a sort of flashback to a woman who Anthony was having an affair with and killed. The movie does tell us that Anthony used to have an affair with a woman and that Helen knows about it. She even accuses him of being on the phone with the woman or with the woman’s jealous husband, when Anthony first speaks with Adam on the phone. And if the accident really is a flashback, then maybe it explains the scar Anthony has on his chest.

    There’s also the bit about the photograph. When Adam first discovers that there is an actor named Anthony out there who looks just like him, he finds a photograph in his apartment, that is ripped in two. The half that remains shows Adam. The half that is missing must have had another person in it. The way Adam holds the photograph up to a computer image of Anthony, with Anthony filling in the void left by the missing person, it’s meant to look like maybe it was him in the photo. Later on we see another copy of the photo in Anthony’s apartment and see that it is Helen who was the other person. This makes sense, because Adam, the single guy, has repressed the memory of his wife and the fact that he is married.

    Finally, the spiders. Now, here’s the thing. Considering how deep this movie already is, the spiders didn’t really need to be in there and were kind of unnecessary. Except for one important reason… that last image of the giant spider in place of where his wife was is so powerful and so scary that it gets us to want to know more. And wanting to know more is what leads us to finding and figuring out all of this, about how the whole movie worked. The end spider is a freaky image, mostly because we have no idea what it means.

    What it means is that Anthony considers women to be like spiders. That’s what he sees them as. In the strip club opening scene, a woman lets a spider loose before she potentially crushes it with her heal. There is an image of a giant spider walking over the city skyline right around the time Anthony speaks to his mother on the phone. And there’s a dream Anthony has of a woman walking down the hallway, upside down, with the head of a spider. When the car accident occurs, towards the end of the movie, we zoom into the glass and stay on a crack in the windshield that looks like a spider web. The idea here might be that when Mary died in the car crash it was also killing off the part of Anthony that thought women were like spiders. Only at the end of the movie, Helen turning into a spider shows that this part is back.

    And Helen knows it. There’s a very important line that happens at the end when she is in bed with Anthony. At the time, we are meant to think she is in bed with Adam, who is posing as Anthony. And Helen says something about him at school. Now, Anthony doesn’t go to school. He’s the actor. So the line implies that either Helen knows she is in bed with Adam, or knows that Anthony is living another life as a teacher, and is ready to try calling him out on it. I believe this second line of logic, since he gives her a stunned look, like he is not ready to own up to that yet.

    There’s so much going on in this movie, that a second viewing after figuring it all out, makes a world of difference. When Adam calls Anthony’s home for the first time and speaks to Helen, for example, the scene is amazing if watched under the scope that Helen believes she is talking to her husband the entire time. Even at the very end of the phone call, she still says “Anthony?” before he hangs up. Helen is the one character who is on top of things and is very real, and it is most fitting that the movie ends with her becoming a giant spider.

    • Cranky M

      You basically just repeated exactly what the article says. Did you even bother reading it before posting? Because there literally isn’t a single original thought in your comment. You’re reoeating exactly wha the article says, for no reason.

  9. Mario

    Just done watching this after a few months stored in my HDD, the movie is so slow n confusing.. But after i read the theories on your review, it finally make sense. Still i had 2 disapointment:
    1. Why didn’t villeneuve make this movie as exciting as Fight Club to watch..
    2. Helen seems kind and caring in the movie, imho she doesn’t fit an image of a spider, that is controlling, manipulative, deceitful or even demanding..

    • Nathan

      Mario your first gripe with the film not being as exciting as fight club is pretty irrelevant. It isn’t fight club, its enemy.

      The second point I can get why you think that but the whole point isnt that shes demanding or controlling etc but that when you have a baby with someone and in a long term relationship your tied down. Hes going to be tied with this woman and meant to be a faithful loving husband and father, thats a big commitment. He shouldnt be off down strip clubs etc… But thats exactly where he is off to and they both know it

  10. Mohamed J

    Thank you, it makes much sense to me. Excellent analysis you should be proud of it.

  11. Mitch

    Like what you’d expect from the enemy
    (More than malign or benign)
    Til they clawed back all that they emulate
    The eye is alight and afire
    What you fought is not what they came to see
    It’s so divine by design…
    Like what you’d expect from the enemy
    Smacks of conspiracy…

    • Anne

      Interesting analyses…will definitely watch again with these comments in mind. Along with Fight Club, Enemy also brought to mind David Cronenberg’s 2003 film Spider. The film theorists among you may like to attempt a comparative analysis 🙂

  12. This is definitely the best analysis of this movie that I’ve read.

    Thank you for shedding some light on this – the film now actually makes sense..!

  13. Michael Hackney

    Fantastic article Tom which helped me decipher the many questions I had after watching this. I was extremely confused about the spider scenes but after reading and a bit of thinking, i kind of get the point about the spiders representing imprisonment / fear or commitment!

  14. Riman

    Hi Tom, thanks a lot for this article! It makes sense and invites me to re-watch hell out of this. One question though: What did you mean here, why would Anthony’s wife appeal to Adam persona to see if the husband is healed? I mean she lives with Anthony, why would she try talking to Adam? Or is it her way to say, she prefers Adam to Anthony and wants Adam to stay?
    ::::::::::QUOTE: When Helen comes home, she recognises something in her husband that she has not seen for a long time. He’s considerate, concerned and caring. Helen allows herself to think that he might be healed. She tests the waters by asking, “Did you have a good day at school?” This confuses Anthony, who has not completely reconciled his personalities yet. When she sees that he does not comprehend, she tells him to “forget it”.

    • Riman, sorry if this isn’t clear its been quite a while since I wrote this/saw the film. I think you mean why would she ask him about school when Adam is the teacher? But Adam is only the teacher from our perspective. Remember, in my theory it is Anthony who has left acting 6 months earlier to take the teaching job. But his delusion is so strong he’s not aware of this when he’s living his normal life with his wife. I assume he still thinks he’s acting as his normal job. So when she asks him about school, she’s seeing if he remembers that he’s teaching now. Trying to see if he’s back in reality. She’s not addressing the Adam persona but her actual husband, Anthony.
      Hope that’s clear, thanks for commenting 🙂

      • Edo

        I noticed he does ‘Adam’ doesn’t have ring on when he’s with (Anthony’s) wife . There is also no ring mark, strangely enough. How to incorporate that in the theory. The frustrating thing about this movie is it’s like the answer is right in front of you, but none of the theories click 100 %. Which is in one way awesome, but also , like I said, frustrating.

  15. David

    2 things that don’t sit right.

    1. A history professor at a big uni is a huge job, an amazing achievement, a career, a lifetime of struggle and would put someone right at the top of academic and wider society. So the theory that a jobbing actor just gave up and became a professor cos wife got pregnant is crazy!!!! 99% of people who try to become a professor will fail!

    2. Helen, after seeing “Adam” for the first time goes home to Anthony and says ‘ he does look like you’. Why would she say this if she knows it is him? The theory she is going along wiv his fantasy is troubling me!

    • Kt

      David, Adam may have studied while acting for a hobby on the side. (Isn’t acting sometimes an excuse to meet women?) His acting resume is extremely thin, so he got further in academic within the same time.

      If the premise is Helen is cheated on by her husband repeatedly, then we can assume whatever face he puts forward is the mask. So Helen lives with Adam (who believes himself a goody-2-shoes) with Anthony’s persona (playboy insists he doesn’t cheat.) The Adam she met on campus, is her “real” husband without the mask so familiar to her (for 6+ months?) The irony is, the first time she meets “real” Adam, it’s right after he’s just secured a meeting to find out who Anthony is. Overall, it makes sense she’s frightened that his split selves are beginning to merge: to accept he cheats, is to shed his mask (Anthony), and return to Helen (not for long.)

  16. Erin

    Fucking Brilliant article! Just finished watching and the first thing I did was google a synopsis, as i was totally confused. Reading this has made me realise what a brilliant film this is, and reassures me i didnt just waste 2 hours of my life. Thank You!

  17. 1kg

    i don’t think mary changes her clothes once in the film, another hint that she is a figment or a memory. thoughts? also he assaults her in her sleep just after viewing the film, perhaps a desperate attempt to re-affirm the adam fantasy to avoid confronting his anthony reality?

  18. Jake ellis

    Also after the crash there is a similar city shot without the spider, trying to show he has rid of his troubles, yet when the radio is explaining the accident (i think the man speaking is Anthony trying to tell himself that he has rid of Adam) its like he disregards it and changes the station and goes straight for the key, showing that he cant remove his problem.

    P.S im in no way good at all this, just my attempt at some input. This movie definitley makes you think! Will absolutley watch again with a different mindset.

  19. francis

    if mary is only the figure inside anthony’s head and of which died in the accident why would helen ask anthony if he was seeing mary when he was talking to adam on the phone…

  20. Andre

    This article is enlighten my soul from the “Fucking Giant Spiderrrrr”…

  21. Saikat Ghosh

    I think it’s the other way round, remember Adam being referred as ‘Adam’ by his mother in the beginning of the movie. So I think its ‘Adam’ who is the reality and ‘Anthony’ who doesn’t exist!

  22. @contrarah

    Hello! Brilliant review, totally agree with it all. My only addition is about the timeline. Before Helen comes home from swimming, Adam (pretending to be Anthony) sees the photograph with Helen in the frame. I *think* that when he first sees this photo – to compare it with Anthony’s online acting agency picture – it has been ripped. So does that not mean that the earlier part of the film is actually chronologically later on in the story (you can’t make a ripped picture become unripped). Of course, if the first part is all Anthony’s unconscious mind then it can be ripped. Continuing this theme, I think it’s possible that the film starts chronologically with the Anthony bathroom phone scene. The end scene, seeing Helen as scared spider – can run on seamlessly to the gentleman’s club and stepping on the spider (the same spider but now much smaller). Primer is one of my favourite films and it employs a similar muddling of chronology. Or the timeline is on a time loop. I’ll watch it again and see!

  23. CR Stamey

    I think Mary exists in the scene near the end, but it’s out of sequence. Remember near the beginning she told him to stop and did so again near the end before the crash. Was that the same scene acting as a sort of bookend? Maybe there was a wreck earlier (6 months earlier?) and that was how he got the scar?

  24. Suzie

    Just finished the film. Had to run to the internet for solace immediately, of course. I’m 3 theory articles in, and this one really speaks to me. I didn’t think I would rematch this film, as I do with most Jake G movies. But your perspective has me intrigued. Once the creeps dissipate, I think I will have a rematch.
    Thanks!

  25. meh

    A valiant effort, but I’m afraid you’re way off base. While art is, of course, open to interpretation, you’re ignoring interviews that Denis Villeneuve has done regarding this film which sheds quite a bit of light on the deeper meaning of the story.

    You take the film so literally, picking and choosing what is reality and what is fantasy, while completely ignoring the fact that the entirety of this film takes place in the subconscious mind of the protagonist, something Villeneuve himself has eluded to. To further support your claim that this film ‘must’ be based in reality, you write the protagonist off as being some kind of delusional schizophrenic. You assume the protagonist is literally meeting another version of himself; foregoing any attempt to look at it in an abstract way. You assume his mistress is a product of his delusion. But the director himself says otherwise. His mistress and wife are both real (to quote Villeneuve, “The story’s very simple – it’s the story of a man leaving his mistress to go back to his wife”.) What we see throughout this film is one man’s subconscious struggle with infidelity and insecurity towards women in general. Since this story takes place in the subconcious, it’s safe to assume that the events taking place don’t necessarily occur on a linear timeline. The car crash near the end of the film likely already happened, and is the source of the protagonist’s scar. At the very end of the film, we see the protagonist take his first step towards repeating the cycle of infidelity, which triggers Helen to transform into the symbolic spider that we see throughout the film.

    Not every movie should be taken at face value.

  26. Pooja

    Thanks for the interpretation. It makes a lot of sense. Although there are some unanswered questions..
    Anyway I believe the character of the mother is not physically present too! Its the all too strong superego of the protagonist!

  27. Ok, so I saw this Idea somewhere else on the net and so far its the only one that makes any sense to me. This movie is a body snatchers movie period. There are actually two people it’s not all in his mind. The spiders are actually Bodysnatchers And Anthony is a spider. This is why he screams in the car “You think I’m not a man!!!” Adam is unaware he is living in this world that is now run by the spider body snatchers. The whole Idea of this secret oppressive alien Regime is what he is referring to in his class but has no real idea that it has occurred in his own world unbeknownst to him. Adam has been so depressed because he senses the fact that he is completely on the outside and the crude smile that comes over him at the end is him actually realizing that the spiders have won and he has figured it out. That makes a hell of a lot more sense to me that this attempt at a fight club style interpretation. This is actually a movie about an alien invasion. Only in Adams world, the spiders are the oppressors and hide themselves in the film industry. Not everything has to be multiple personality disorder.

  28. I will add this as well. The one scene that blows all this one guy struggling with a psychosis all to hell is; when Antony’s wife sets on the bench and calls him just as Adam walks back to class. There is no way that Adam is walking back into class and has the conversation with her as Anthony that soon. That’s not in his mind, that is Anthony’s wife making a phone call. Two separate guys!!!! So I’m sorry this whole thread of you guys saying it is a split personality movie is total crap. It’s an alien invasion movie. End of story.

  29. Mayank badola

    If adam is not real then how his name in the university website and he was taking classes. Also her mother told that now you have good job without referring any name. But his wife always calling hime Anthony. Also when adam goes to anthony house imposing anthony. He initially hesitate to be on bead with hellen. That mean he was still adam. He felt guilt of cheating a woman. Then helen confront him and told him to stay, a good part of him. Also when helen asked him about school, that may be surprised for him, that how she knows about the school as he thought that she doesn’t know that he is not anthony.

  30. Evelyn K

    As a 15 year old hoping to study film, this was very interesting to read. I watched this movie last night, and was constantly wondering why this movie wasn’t some Parent Trap like thing and why they weren’t amazed by their similarities. They seemed horrified at it. But now I think I can understand what this film is saying thanks to u! (well, almost can understand). I think I’m going to have to watch this again now.

  31. Tarra

    Wow! I can’t believe my hubby just shrugged at the end and went to bed, whilst I’ve stayed up to read just about every interpretation 🙂 so good! Definitely not what I expected…it was so much better 😀

  32. Olive

    Fantastic article and brilliant explanation. Thank you. Did you know that psychoanalysts actually consider spiders as symbols of women’s sex in dream analysis ? Definitely drives the point home, don’t you think ?

  33. Nick O

    The spider walking on the toronto skyline very closely resembles an art sculpture in Ottawa called “Mama”. So it makes perfect sense that it represents his mother. This director is brilliant.

  34. Jonathan bear geronimo ramaker

    Read about dreaming of spiders,.. maybe it helps you understand what the movie relates to,.. 😉

  35. Andrei

    Also if you guys watch carefully, there is a scene where Anthony is sitting on his couch in his apartment and on the table next to him you can see the sunglasses (the same sunglasses Adam bought at the store and was wearing when he (Adam) went to Anthony’s building to investigate). Maybe that is a clue that they happen to be the same person.

  36. Ryan

    I thought this was a version of Invasion of the body snatchers that only got revealed in the last scene.

  37. Sharon K Johnson

    Another angle is that, for a certain narcissistic promiscuous type of man, the WOMAN is the enemy? Because, as the bearer of children, she becomes particularly dependent and vulnerable and the man has to change his basic nature. Highly informative to have the man’s point of view displayed so graphically–I didn’t have a clue when I was pregnant for the first time. You just assume the man is as into it as you are.

  38. Kurt

    Also I’d like to add that some actors have been forced to change their names because their union in the US only allows one person to be registered under that title. So Adam and Anthony could be the same person but Adam reprised his real name cuz he stopped acting to become a professor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *