The cast of An Enemy of the People
Steve McQueen, Bibi Andersson, Charles Durning, Richard Dysart
What is An Enemy of the People about?
It's winter in a small southern Norwegian town in the late nineteenth century. After years of struggling, Dr. Thomas Stockmann and his family - his wife Catherine, their young adult daughter Petra, and their two adolescent sons Ejlif and Morten - have returned to town after being away for five years up north, he now well respected and successful as the medical resident of the Health Institute at Kirsten Springs, where he is also a board member. He devised the springs and institute as a center of therapeutic benefits on his own, but developed it with his brother, the town mayor, Peter Stockmann, who is the board chair. They have reinvigorated what was the financially crumbling town. Peter takes credit for giving Thomas this air of respectability, something that has never been important to Thomas, who would rather be seen as a man of conviction in doing the right thing. In this respect, Petra takes after her father. Thomas often writes articles for the local activist newspaper, The People's Daily Messenger, as part of doing the right thing. The Messenger's editor, Hovstad, who is attracted to Petra, sees the mayor as part of a group of townsfolk in positions of power solely for their own benefit - an old boys' club. Thomas' latest article, not yet published and what he wanted to investigate during the springs' off season before tourists start arriving in the spring, concerns the water supply at Kirsten Springs. As he feared, in the board's decision to locate the institute's water supply in the cheapest site and in the process dismissing Thomas' original recommendations, the water is being polluted, contaminated by being located downstream from a tannery. Through the story, Thomas wants to protect the overall public health, and does not want to be seen as a hero or extraordinary in doing so. When Peter finds out about the article, he does whatever he can to quash the story, including fear mongering, intimidation and using the power of being both the mayor and the board chair. His primary concern is increasing the viability of the institute by increasing the number of visitors, while doing as little as possible to increase costs, fixing the water problem, which he is not convinced even exists, being cost prohibitive. Although not his direct motivation, Peter is not averse to ruining Thomas' reputation in the process, making Thomas an enemy of the public which would make it easier to protect his own interests even more.