Before he struck pay dirt with Sicario and dazzled with the likes of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve was making strange, difficult art films that were appreciated more than they were, well, enjoyed. Prisoners was a dense, gripping watch that only a sadist would subject themselves to twice, while 2013's Enemy alternately frustrated and captivated due to a horrific final shot that begs for dissection.
A story of doppelgängers, Enemy follows Adam and Anthony (both played by Jake Gyllenhaal), two men who are visually identical but different in personality. As their acquaintance impacts their relationships, Villeneuve offers up nightmarish imagery involving spiders, webs, and a bizarre sex (?) club that seems to tend to the senses more than the mind. In its final moments, which you’ve probably seen GIF’d somewhere or another, Gyllenhaal turns a corner to discover that his wife, with whom he’s been speaking, is now a gigantic tarantula that, for some reason, appears terrified of him. It’s bewildering and visceral and deeply haunting. It’s also really, really confusing if you haven’t been watching with a critical eye.
There’s no shortage of message board discussions about that ending, but, if you’re looking for a smart, thorough interpretation of just what the fuck happened there, the above video essay from That Film Theory has you covered. The ending, the narrator explains, is as tied to the film’s visual language and themes as it is the story, which has pretty much become a hallmark of Villeneuve’s style.
That said, it does help to filter the ending through a few key questions about the plot, namely whether or not Adam and Anthony are actually the same person. Exploring that division naturally leads to the nature of their individual relationships and a burgeoning fear of commitment that’s grown and evolved inside Adam into something as ugly and grotesque as the spider, which hearkens back to the film’s opening, when the destruction of such a spider is viewed as pornographic. Adam’s lack of reaction to it is telling in itself, a symbol of the lack of humanity with which he affords her.
It’s a little depressing, and also complicated. Sort of like the movie itself!