A doctor discovers deadly pollution in the local spring of his small resort town, but to do something about it he must stand alone against his own community. [ An Enemy of the People credits: Dir: George Schaefer/ Steve McQueen, Charles Durning, Bibi Andersson/ 91 min/ Drama/ Individualism]
“You have an ingrained tendency to go your own way, Thomas. And that simply cannot go on in a well-organized society. The individual really must subordinate himself to the overall, or more accurately, to the authorities who are in charge of the general welfare.” So says the town mayor early in this film, thus defining both his own character (authoritarian) and that of the good doctor (individualist), and so foreshadowing the coming conflict between the two.
The doctor wants to publicize the truth about dangerous pollution in the local spring so that no one will be hurt by it. The mayor wants to stop him, because news of the pollution will destroy the town’s resort trade. At first it seems that the mayor will be the doctor’s only opponent, but as the story unfolds, the doctor finds that even among ordinary people his effort to tell the truth earns him few friends. The reason is that everyone in the town depends in one way or another on the business brought by resort visitors. Indeed, by the end, the town is so united against the doctor that he is voted “an enemy of the people” and must either stay and defend the truth alone or be driven from his home.
Based on Ibsen’s play of the same name, An Enemy of the People is the classic one-against-all drama and a metaphor for the experience of all those who have fought for and defended unpopular truths, from Galileo to … well, practically everyone in the libertarian movement!
Steve McQueen, who also produced, gives a credible performance in the leading role, but in other respects production values are just average. Nonetheless, this is a great story that makes philosophic points dear to the hearts of libertarians.
“The great strength of An Enemy of the People is that it’s based on a classic play full of thought-provoking ideas. Particularly so in the impassioned speech Thomas Stockmann gives to a hostile townsfolk about how the saying ‘the majority is always right’ is a falsehood. Well delivered by McQueen, it’s the high point of the film.”