You should check out this in podcast form or on youtube, because I have a conversation with The Forgotten Cinema Podcast about the movie! This post is not a transcript of that, just my own notes that I wrote up for the conversation I had with them.
**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
The Double by Jose Saramago (2002
Enemy directed by Denis Villeneuve (2013)
This book and movie were brought to my attention by my brother. Every New Year’s he has a Jake Gyllenhaal movie marathon and this year he texted me about the ones he watched. He said, “Enemy was a very odd movie. One of those A24 movies do you know it’s kinda wacky. I had to read some synopsis’s after to try and determine what the hell was going on.”
When I saw it was based on a book, I knew I had to cover it!
Today’s episode is also very excited because I will have not one guest, but two! Mike Butler and Mike Field from Forgotten Cinema Podcast! If you haven’t listened to them, you should definitely check them out! As you can guess from the title, they talk about movies that have been forgotten for one reason or another. They will just be here for the movie portion of this episode, so to start I will talk in detail about the book, then move on to the movie. Usually, I talk about the plot of the book and movie together and go back and forth between the two, but it will be more separate today.
There is so much to unpack with the book and movie, so this will probably be a longer episode, I have the chapters/timestamps so you can skip around if you want. I would suggest listening to it all the way through though because it think both sections are really interesting and make you think.
I believe in my conscience I intercept many a thought which heaven intended for another man. —LAURENCE STERNE
A history teacher, Tertuliano Maxima Alfonso, watches a movie in which he sees a background actor looks exactly likes him. He becomes obsessed and learns the man’s name, Antonio Claro, and where he lives. He calls him up, but the actors wife answers, she thinks it is her husband because they sound so alike. He later calls back and the actor is home and tells him they look exactly alike and should meet. The actor is hesitant but eventually calls back later to arrange a meeting outside of town.
His wife is very shaken by the thought of a man who looks exactly like her husband and begins taking medication to numb herself. The actor and teacher meet in the assigned place and see that they are identical and were even born the same day, but 30 minutes apart.
After this meeting, Alfonso seems to be more at peace and has no interest with this man anymore. He appears to have “awakened” from the “sleep” he was living life in and proposes to his girlfriend, Maria. The actor though, has now become obsessed and thinks of his duplicate as his enemy, simply for existing. He is also resentful for how the knowledge of a double has upset his wife.
He goes to see Alfonso and tells him he is going to take the girlfriend away for the weekend and will have sex with her. If Alfonso doesn’t assist him by letting him borrow his car and clothes, the actor will call Maria and tell her that Tertuliano has a double. Alfonso apparently would rather have the actor sleep with his girlfriend, then have her know the truth (which seems odd, but I guess he sees how upset the actors wife is and doesn’t want that happening to Maria). He agrees and has the actor leave all of his personal items at Alfonso’s apartment. The actor felt in control at the start of this meeting, but by the end can feel that he has someone lost control of the situation. Nonetheless, he drives to pick up Maria.
Alfonso waits about an hour, then puts on the actors’ clothes and drives to the actors home.
He ends up having sex with the wife, and stays the next day, waiting for the actor to walk in and see him there. Once it is past noon, he leaves, wondering why the actor has not yet returned. He learns that there was a car accident and the actor and Maria were killed when they went head on with a truck. We later learn that in the morning, Maria saw the tan on his finger from his wedding ring and has the chilling realization that this isn’t the man she thought he was. This scene in the book by the way, was so well written. You feel the chill run down her spine as she quietly realizes this man isn’t who she thought he was. In the movie, this scene is more dramatic and though well done, I thought the scene in the book was even more disquieting.
When Alfonso learns of their deaths, he goes to a hotel and tells his mom he is still alive and that it was his duplicate that died (after meeting the actor, he had confided in his mom about the man).
He goes back to Helena, the wife, and tells her the truth and that her husband has died. She asks him if he can stay and live life as if he is the actor and that she can help him to which he agrees.
Later, his mom and Helena are at the funeral, when Alfonso receives a call asking for the actor to which he says it is he speaking. The man on the phone says that they look exactly alike and should meet. The pick a park to meet at and Alfonso takes a loaded gun with him to go meet this man.
Thoughts on the book
This book is a slow burn, and even when things start “happening”, it’s still pretty slow. However, just because I say it is slow, that doesn’t mean I was bored. There were a lot of interesting conversations and thoughts the main character has that you can really dwell on.
This book was published in 2002, and without the internet, it takes Tertuliano Maximo Alfonso like 30% of the book just to find out the name and address of his actor double.
Throughout the book I believed the two men were separate individuals, however that phone call at the end really through me off! Then I saw the movie, and that made me even more confused about the book!
I kept searching the internet to find a concrete answer to the book but based on a reddit thread I started about the book, apparently this is a book that is open to multiple interpretations. I also had a hard time finding anyone even talking about the details of this book, so I am left to my own devices to figure it out seeing as only one other person replied to the reddit thread.
The characters are all often called by their full name, specifically Tertuliano Maximo Alfonso, Maria da la Paz, and Antonio Claro. Which seems significant… There are quotes from the book and other observations I will share because they seem significant, even if I haven’t even come to a decision about in what way it is significant.
The Two Men
For starters, when Alfonso calls the second time, the wife answers and speaks to him before passing the phone to her husband. That right there shows that they are two different people. Or that Helena is the crazy one thinking she is experiencing this but I don’t think that is the case.
The man driving the truck that was involved in the accident near the end, lives and says he saw the two people in the car having a bit of a scuffle before hitting him. This shows that the accident really did happen, and the two people in the car are real.
Those two facts I think prove that they really were two different men, right? I don’t know, maybe through the course of writing this blog post, I will come to an understanding.
Something that is interesting, is that initially Alfonso thinks nothing of the movie. Not till he wakes with a start and has a feeling someone has been in his apartment. He then rewatches the movie and sees the face he knew he would find.
In the Claro house, after the two of them speak on the phone, it is Helena who wakes up and has the feeling that another man has been in their house and has been sitting in their living room. I thought it interesting that it was the wife who had this feeling, rather than Antonio Claro being the one. This makes me think the two men are one and the same, similar to the movie where it is two sides of the same person.
Some interesting passages about Alfonso (because we spend more time with him than with Claro) read,
“Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is not what one would call a bad person, we could even find him honorably included in a list of good people, if the list was drawn up according to some fairly undemanding criteria…” I’m including this one mainly because I thought it was funny, but it also does give a look into Alfonso.
“It seemed to him that the shop was smaller than when he had entered it for the first time, not even a week ago, it really was incredible how, in such a short space of time, his life had been transformed, at that moment, he felt as if he were floating in a kind of limbo, in a corridor joining heaven and hell, which made him wonder, with some amazement, where he had come from and where he would go to next, because, judging by current ideas on the subject, it cannot be the same thing for a soul to be transported from hell to heaven as to be pushed out of heaven into hell.” This quote makes me think if this book is more existential than I originally thought. Is Alfonso indeed in limbo? Or is he in a version of hell?
“…when these eschatological reflections were replaced by an analogy of another type, this time taken from natural history, the entomological section, which made him view himself as a chrysalis in a state of profound withdrawal and undergoing a secret process of transformation.”
“So a man is anyone who isn’t subject to weaknesses, A man is also someone who isn’t dominated by them, In that case, a woman capable of overcoming her female weaknesses is a man, or is like a man, In a figurative sense, yes, you could say that, Well, it seems to me that common sense has a very chauvinistic way of expressing itself, That’s not my fault, it’s just the way I was made, That’s hardly a good excuse from someone who does nothing but offer advice and opinions, But I’m not always wrong, This sudden rush of modesty suits you, Look, I would be better than I am, more efficient, more useful, if you helped me, Who, All of you, men and women, after all, common sense is just a kind of arithmetic mean that rises and falls according to the tide, Predictable, you mean, Yes, I am the most predictable of all things…”
Alfonso often has conversations with “common sense” whereas even when we are spending a good amount of time with Claro, he never talks to common sense. When thinking about the movie, before realizing his double is in it, Alfonso thinks, “…for the comedy was not just light, to use the mathematics teacher’s conciliatory expression, it was, above all, absurd, ridiculous, a cinematic monster in which logic and common sense had been left protesting on the other side of the door, having been refused entry into the place where the madness was being perpetrated.” When you take into consideration that Common Sense appears as an actual character in this book, it seems meaningful that the character of Common Sense has been locked out of the movie and wasn’t involved in its making.
Another point in the book that could lead to the belief this book is about death and even suicide, is that Alfonso struggles with depression. “You’re right, I have been feeling a bit low, Health problems, No, I’m not ill as far as I know, it’s just that everything tires me and bores me, the wretched routine, the repetitiveness, the sense of marking time…”
The reason the math teacher suggests the movie is as a way to try and distract the history teacher from his depression. Although the next day the math teacher says how one of the characters looks exactly like Alfonso. Showing it wasn’t just suggested as a way to cheer him up, but also because the math teacher too noticed how the actor looked exactly like Alfonso. In the movie, which was made five years prior, the actor has a mustache. Alfonso doesn’t have a mustache, but the teacher says how five years ago Alfonso had had a mustache just like the actor had. (In the movie, the teacher just suggests the movie and we never hear from him again. In the book, Alfonso and the math teacher are friends, or at least close acquaintance but that was not the case in the movie.)
Another line about Alfonso depression reads, “Yes, I know, I know, said Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, it’s all my fault, the fault of this apathy, this depression that puts my nerves on edge, I get oversensitive, mistrustful, I imagine things, What things, asked his colleague, Oh, I don’t know, just things, for example, that I’m not being treated with the consideration I think I deserve, sometimes I even have the feeling I don’t really know what I am, that is, I know who I am, but not what I am, does that make sense…”
This line could also be used to ague that the two men are the same and Alfonso is suffering an identity crises or some sort.
After seeing Claro, and visiting his mother whom he tells about his double. He seems to have awakened from his depression and now realizes what he has with Maria and wants to marry her to which she happily agrees. Prior to this he had been very wishy-washy. Seems meaningful that now that he has committed to this relationship, Claro steps in and she ends up dying. Though he then commits to Helena. So, I don’t know if I would say the book is about Alfonso’s fear of commitment the way the movie is…however, after committing to Helena he then leaves to go kill another double, or possibly to kill himself if there never were doubles in the first case. But someone did die…ugh, I don’t know lol.
Also, we learn that Alfonso has been divorced for six years and the reason for the divorce is that he stops caring due to becoming depressed and therefore apathetic. If they are the same person, we can assume he was an actor when married to the first wife. They divorce and he quits acting due to this depression. Then, here we are six years later when Alfonso confronts his past self and past life.
Doing things in order/chaos
The book talks about how Alfonso does things in a certain order. One quote about order reading, “He could, of course, do it afterward, at another time, but order, as people also say of the dog, is man’s best friend, although, like the dog, it does occasionally bite.” Showing perhaps that his need for order, can end up harming him.
We also see him in a staff meeting where he makes the remark, “In my view, he said, the only important choice to make, the only serious decision to be taken as regards the teaching of history, is whether we should teach it from back to front or, as I believe, from front to back, everything else, while by no means insignificant, depends on that choice, and everyone knows this to be true, however much they may continue to pretend it is not.”
We learn he has made this remark many times before and certain facility members are tired of hearing it and the headmaster even takes him aside and says that while he doesn’t disagree with Alfonso on the subject, he asks that he not make the comment anymore.
This thought of Alfonso’s leads me to wonder if we are being told this story back to front, rather than from beginning to end. In which case, are both men the same man but at different points in his life? Was he at one point an actor and then became a teacher? But that thought also originated from having seen the movie. In some ways I wish I would have worked out the book first before seeing the movie because I think seeing Villeneuve’s interpretation has gotten too much in my head!
Anyway, the topic of doing things in order, and how “chaos is order undeciphered” leads one to think the book is not in order, or at least not being told in the “right” order.
Another quote along those lines, about time, reads, “Every second that passes is like a door that opens to allow in what has not yet happened, what we call the future, but, to challenge the contradictory nature of what we have just said, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the future is just an immense void, that the future is just the time on which the eternal present feeds.”
One is a duplicate
Both men wish to know, which of them is the original, and which is a duplicate. Alfonso says he was born at 2pm, to which Carlo says he was born at 1:30pm. Carlo then is the original. Alfonso wonders if this means he will die thirty minutes after Carlo does and that for those thirty minutes, Alfonso will be the only one, no longer a duplicate.
Before they meet, Alfonso thinks, “Am I really a mistake, he wondered, and supposing I am, what significance, what consequences does it have for a human being to know that he’s a mistake.”
Another thought Alfonso has, after speaking to Carlo but before meeting him in person, “There’s a man who looks so like me that even you couldn’t tell us apart, and quite a different thing to say, I’ve met him and now I don’t know who I am.”
The movie often mentions enemies, and how Claro and Alfonso are enemies simply because they exist. Thanks to my kindle, I search how many times the word enemy is used made a note of each time, getting direct quotes of the more interesting times it is brought up.
“Anyway, how do you square your intention of keeping the beard, as if it were some kind of relic, with calling it a letter of challenge sent by an enemy, which is what you said when you opened the box, I didn’t say it came from an enemy, No, but you thought it, Possibly, though I’m not sure it’s the right word, the man’s never done me any actual harm, He exists, He exists for me just as I exist for him…”
“If you invite your enemy into the house, don’t come complaining to me about it afterwards, you were warned and took no notice.”
Helena tells Carlo he has no enemies, to which Carlo thinks, -“It’s impossible not to have enemies, that enemies are born not out of our will to have them but out of their irresistible desire to have us.” Alfonso ends up “having” Carlo by in the end taking over his life.
I think it is so interesting that just by existing, they are each other’s enemy. Alfonso either thinks, or says, three different times that he wouldn’t wish this experience on his worst enemy. But by existing, and reaching out to Carlo, he has caused this to happen to his “worst enemy”.
Early in the book there is a discussion of movies and it is said that special effects are the enemy of the imagination. With movies that have impressive special effects, it causes our imagination to be of no use. Not quite sure how this applies to the story here, but I feel like it must be symbolic…
In the movie, there is a lot of symbolism with spiders. In the book there are no spiders, but monkfish are mentioned on several occasions. Alfonso seems fearful almost of the monkfish, fearful or disgusted by them. Monkfish are described as deep-water bottom-dwellers who don’t swim but walk with their fins along the ocean floor and are voracious feeder and will eat anything that comes their way.
“[the monkfish] is a most disagreeable animal to look at and one that Tertuliano Máximo Afonso’s palate, nose, and stomach have never been able to tolerate. He is gleaning all this information now from an encyclopedia, finally prompted by curiosity to find out something about this creature that he has detested since the first day he saw it. This curiosity dates from times past, from years back, but today, inexplicably, he is giving it due satisfaction. Inexplicably, we said, and yet we should know that this is not so, we should know that there is no logical, objective explanation for the fact that Tertuliano Máximo Afonso has spent years and years knowing nothing about the monkfish apart from its appearance and the taste and consistency of the pieces put on his plate, and then suddenly, at a certain moment on a certain day, as if he had nothing more urgent to do, he opens the encyclopedia and finds out more.”
This seems to parallel how he one day happened to find he had a double and learns more. Also, the more I think about it, I think the monkfish is symbolic for depression. Which leads me to believe this is book is more about depression than I originally thought. Depression feast on whatever comes its way and is dark and lives as a “deep water bottom dweller”. Alfonso has such an aversion to it, because he has been caught by it and is struggling to free himself from the depression he has been under for years now.
The other caller
When Alfonso is using the phone book to call the Daniel Santa Clara’s that are listed (because that is the actors stage name and at this point Alfonso thinks it is the actors real name) one home tells him they received a call from another man a week or so prior also asking for the actor. The guy tells Alfonso that the man’s voice sounded a lot like Alfonso’s but that the other caller seemed to be trying to disguise his voice. This does not come back around until the very end when Alfonso, now taking the place of the actor, receives the call.
A reddit user said they saw the ending as showing that Alfonso is leaving to commit suicide by shooting himself and that the caller was just in his head.
Maybe, he finds his connection to his past life of being an actor and married to Helena. When he confronts his past self, he is at peace and proposes to his current girlfriend. When this other part of his ruins that relationship (because Maria dies), he then returns to the wife, Helena. However, once he has committed to her, his depression comes back which is why he is once again confronted by a “double” and this time decides to kill him/himself. Also, earlier when meeting his double, the actor tells him he will bring a gun with him, but it won’t be loaded. Why tell him it won’t be loaded?? Telling the person you are bringing an unloaded gun doesn’t not present any protection because he told him you won’t actually have bullets! I’m sure this is also symbolic of suicide in some way.
The Denis Villeneuve movie Prisoners was released before Enemy, but Enemy was made first. This is quite the movie debut!
I heard from multiple people that the book and movie were very different, so I was surprised when on the surface, the movie follows the book very closely. It wasn’t until after, as I dwelled on each, that I realized the movie was more different than I realized. The movie makes it clear the two men are two sides of the same man. One representing his sexual desires which he can’t resist, and the side that wants to commit to his pregnant wife. The book alludes to the fact that Carlo has slept around, but it’s not known if his wife is aware of this. In the movie, his cheating and attending sex clubs is a bit part of the movie and is really the focus of the whole thing.
Villeneuve said of the movie, “We all have multiple identities inside of us. I think it’s about the power of subconscious and how our actions represent that side of the self – and who is really in control? The influence of the past on our lives and the strength of the past, is something that really impressed me and terrorized me because it means that we aren’t totally in control of our actions. I think you can find power over it, but it’s a process.”
Jake Gyllenhaal is incredible as Adam and Anthony, how has this guy not won an Oscar yet?? Even though the characters look exactly alike (aside from how they are dressed) you can tell them apart by how Gyllenhaal plays the two men. This role was offered to Christian Bale who wanted to do it but had scheduling conflicts. I think he would have been great in this as well.
Sarah Gadon is amazing as the actor’s wife, Helen. She was a real standout in the role of the wife who is confused and trying to make sense of what is happening to her husband.
Melanie Laurent is great as Mary, Adam’s girlfriend.
Isabella Rossellini is in the role of the mother and she is wonderful in her small part. She was in a relationship with David Lynch, who is known for making strange movies similar to Enemy.
I’ll start with the spiders, which play a big role in this movie. Like, literally big. If you are scared of spiders, the final scene of the movie is sure to give you nightmares and you’ll get the heebie-jeebies whether or not your scared of them!
Funny enough, Villeneuve had the cast sign a confidentiality agreement not to explain what the spiders represent in the movie. However, in the movie I saw there was an interview afterwards in which Villeneuve says that the spiders represent femineity. I have since done further research that proves that spiders are how Adam/Anthony sees his pregnant wife. Being trapped in the web of commitment and being controlled. This is why we see the woman’s heel about to squash the spider early on; his apparent sex addiction wants to kill what is holding him back from being promiscuous and going to his sex club.
In the end, he wants to revert to his old ways and go back to the club, because he is going back to his old ways-his old pattern-his wife becomes the spider once more. The giant spider is scared of being squashed, and he has the look of amusement, like, “of course”. He sees that he is just going back to what he has already done. The first time something happens it is a tragedy, the second time it is a farce-just as he said in his lecture as a teacher.
The giant spider seen above the city represents his mother. There is actually a spider stature that looks just like this in Toronto (where the movie is based) and the statue is called “mother spider”. His mother tries controlling him even more so than his wife does, hence she is giant and looming over him in the city.
In the book we don’t really see what Alfonso teaches, but in the movie, it is very telling. He lectures about patterns in history, dictators and control. This is how he views himself and his wife. He sees her as trying to control him, wanting him to settle down. There is also a pattern where he cheats, is contrite, but then cheats again, only to then again be contrite.
Theories-his past and future self
When he is the teacher, he is often seen holding his neck. It seems to be something he does when overwhelmed.
I saw a theory that said the teacher version is him now, the actor him is him from the past. He got in the accident and that is how his wife found out he was cheating. The scar is also from this car accident, and this is why he holds his neck, it still bothers him from the crash.
After the accident he quit acting and his promiscuous life to stay with his wife when finding out she was pregnant. Remember, we learn that he hasn’t been to the agency office in six months, and his wife is six months pregnant. Though this idea doesn’t make sense why his wife is so upset about having seen him as the teacher and why he talked to her as if he didn’t know her. Unless the accident causes problems with his memory.
In the above theory, when he is meeting himself, that is taking place in his mind. In this other theory, everything is pretty much taking place in his mind. The stalking of Mary and the car accident signify the symbolic death of this other side of himself. His sad apartment is also part of his subconscious? The is where he would end up if he left his wife? In this theory, is Mary real or not? If she is real, why did she freak out about his ring finger? In the movie, there are no witnesses to the accident, so it is more up to interpretation if it was literal or not.
At the beginning of the movie, he gets a message from his mom saying she is worried about him and that he has a sad apartment basically. When he sees her in person, telling her of this double, she tells him he is being ridiculous. He doesn’t need another man in his life, he already has a hard time sticking to one woman. She then says he has a great apartment and a respectable job and needs to forget his actor fantasy. This could be seen as her referencing his double who is an actor, telling him to forget about this fantasy he has of this other man who is an actor. Or is could be her telling him that he needs to stop trying to be an actor himself. Going back to the men being both being himself.
Book or Movie
This is a unique adaptation, because most of the events that happen are the same in book to movie, yet the movie tells a different kind of story. It’s hard to pick a favorite because despite the changes to story, they are so similar, if that makes sense. They will both be stuck in my head for a long time as I try to make sense of both, even though I know there are a lot of things which have no definite answer-especially when it comes to the book.