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The Ending Of Enemy Explained

Since making "Enemy", director Denis Villeneuve's career has skyrocketed. He's got "Dune" coming later in 2021, and he's already made films like "Sicario", "Arrival", and "Blade Runner 2049." When "Enemy" was released, though, Villeneuve was more of an unknown quantity, and audiences were less sure of what to expect from his unique genre aesthetic.

Even in "Enemy", though, it's clear that Villeneuve has a specific vision for the look and feel of his films. The movie was loosely adapted from José Saramago's story "The Double," and it contains an ending that would leave even those who watched it carefully scratching their heads. In a career filled with sometimes complicated movies, "Enemy" stands out for its use of metaphor, and for the abrupt and somewhat shocking nature of its ending. With a handful of confusing shots and some ambiguous details, it's no wonder fans are still debating the nature of this movie's last act to this day. Fortunately, we've got your back.

Here's the ending of "Enemy" explained.

Enemy follows two Jake Gyllenhaals

At the beginning of "Enemy", we meet Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a history teacher who lives in Toronto and just seems very sad. He has a girlfriend, Mary, played by Melanie Laurent, and he seems to be sleepwalking through his life. Eventually, though, Adam discovers that he has a doppelganger, a man named Anthony Clare who is also played by Gyllenhaal. 

Anthony has a pregnant wife named Helen (Sarah Gadon), and seems to be living a much nicer life than Adam, at least on the surface. Adam reaches out to Anthony, believing that they should meet, and Adam initially declines. Eventually, though, he changes his mind, and the two of them meet. 

Then, Anthony convinces Adam to let him take Mary on a romantic getaway, and the two of them have sex. Adam then goes to Anthony's apartment and sleeps with Helen, but Helen is aware that Adam is not her husband. Mary then discovers that Anthony is not Adam, and the two get in an enormous fight. They end their romantic getaway, but on the way home, they get in a car crash and die. Adam then returns to Anthony's apartment, only to discover that Helen has transformed into a giant spider. So, yeah.

What's up with all the spiders?

Helen's transformation is certainly surprising, but it isn't the first time in the movie that a spider has pops up. There's a scene early in the movie where we see either Adam or Anthony at some sort of sex dungeon, and there are spiders around. We also get a couple of dream sequences that feature spiders, including one where a giant spider is hovering over the city of Toronto. You could call the arachnids a prominent visual motif.

Although the premise of "Enemy" dives into science fiction, the spider imagery is the film's most surreal touch, and also one that seems to connect the film to age-old ideas about femininity. Spiders are both dangerous and frightening and distinctly feminine, thanks in part to the Greek myth that explains their origins. Helen's transformation into a spider after cheating on her husband (and after her husband has cheated on her), suggests that Adam is still incapable of seeing women as full people. His relationship with Mary was purely sexual, and he's incapable of seeing Helen as anything more than a saintly mother figure or a worthless sex object. 

This reading is echoed by the names of the film's female characters, Mary, the mother of Christ, and Helen, the adulterous owner of the face that launched a thousand ships. For Adam, neither of these women is full people, and Helen's transformation into a spider suggests that she has become just another sex object for him. 

Where did Adam and Anthony come from?

Although the spiders may be the most obvious mystery at the end of "Enemy," the movie also doesn't provide any definitive answers as to where Adam and Anthony came from. Thanks to a key scene where Mary notices a mark left by Anthony's wedding ring, we know that they are actually two separate people. Adam doesn't have the mark, because he doesn't wear a wedding ring. 

Now buckle up, because this part gets weird: They may be separate people in the movie's present, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the two were always separate entities. They have the exact same scar on their chests, suggesting that they may have had the same injury when they were younger. Now, we've got to get biblical. In the Bible, God creates Eve by taking one of Adam's ribs. Given the location of Adam and Anthony's scars, it's possible that Anthony was made from Adam, who shares his name with the first man.

After Anthony was created, the two lived separate lives, developing different personalities. The two may also share a mother. When Adam goes to see his mother (Isabella Rosellini), she believes he likes blueberries, when that's really Anthony. She also references his nice apartment (Adam's apartment isn't nice, but Anthony's is), and his acting career (Anthony's an actor, but Adam isn't). Adam's mother seems to have confused the two, suggesting that she is the mother of both Anthony and Adam.

We don't get a clear explanation for the duplicates — and it may just be a case of uncanny doubling, a classic literary trope — but the biblical explanation is as compelling as any other if you're looking for some closure.