Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fischer
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

An Enemy of the People

Wick's World


Although Henrik Ibsen was a well-known playwright in the late 19th century, little would he imagine that in the 21st century his high-intensity drama “An Enemy of the People” would remain as pertinent as it was back in his day. An adaptation of the play is currently showing at the Guthrie Theater. Set in modern-day Norway, it has all of the facets of government progress clashing with environmental safety.

I asked my wife (one of her degrees is in English Literature) if “An Enemy of the People” ever appeared in book form as a novel, either back then or now. Although it hasn’t, she assured me that a screenplay is not all that much different reading than is, say, a novel. But, like most playwrights, Ibsen’s musings were meant to be performed, not read.

Of course, anything, be it a novel or a theatrical play, can eventually be turned into a movie. Sometimes even successfully. I walked out of the Guthrie Theater Saturday evening thinking to myself, Hollywood actually did a movie 20 years ago that carried all of the elements present in this play. In 1998, Hollywood put to the screen a psychological thriller called “Enemy of the State” that featured a star-studded cast of Will Smith, Gene Hackman and Jon Voight. In this version of Ibsen’s 19th century play, one of the enemies was a congressman who refused to be blackmailed into supporting very undemocratic legislation. Although the movie digressed transiently into a spy chase thriller, like the stage performance at the Guthrie last Saturday evening, one walked back to the reality of everyday life understanding the price we pay for truth.

Although “An Enemy of the People” was written 130 years ago, it remains as pertinent today as any political situation America has found itself wallowing in, and that includes the present state. It is probably even more pertinent, considering the turn American policy has taken. We now have a man in the White house, like him or not, who has no fear and lacks no hesitation in getting things done the way he wants them. For better or worse, we are living in an era where truth has given way to expediency.

Without compromising the substance of Brad Birch’s adaptation of “An Enemy of the People,” I will give you its modern-day setting and circumstances. Sometime in the present, with a small resort town in Norway as the background, the water from a local spring that has become the economic savior to the area is found to contain toxic levels of copper. The resort’s operator is a geologist and a brother to the village idiot, also called the mayor. Should the truth be told about the toxicity of the water, economic disaster would be the result to the town. We find business, government, and the press entangled in a web that, at all costs, must remain intact. As the mayor tells his environmentalist brother, “We are all in this together. That is how the way things work.”

The questions that will circle your brain as you exit the Guthrie Theater are as timeless as humans and the society in which they currently find themselves. Although we like to think that as Democrats and Republicans we live in a “them” against “us” world, it has always been “us.” In this interconnected world of ours, we are all complicit in one way or another.

To put it in another way, in a Guatemalan rain forest a hummingbird flaps its wings and sets in motion the beginnings of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Think about that for a while.


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