Enemy of the People, An (1989)

Holy water from a temple is found to be contaminated in this decent adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play, situated within Ray’s cultural milieu as this straightforwardly-told drama sees science and religion cross swords. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,409

Dir. Satyajit Ray
1989 | India | Drama | 99 mins | 1.33:1 | Bengali
Not rated – likely to be PG

Cast: Soumitra Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Dipankar Dey, Ruma Guha Thakurta, Mamata Shankar
Plot: In a small Indian town, an idealistic physician discovers that the holy water at the town temple is dangerously contaminated.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
Source: National Film Development Corporation

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Science vs. Religion; Power of the Press; Morality and Ethics
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Eclipse DVD
Spoilers: No

Made a few years before he passed on, An Enemy of the People is one of Satyajit Ray’s last works that should interest fans hoping to get a sense of the final stretch of his career. 

Because of his ill health and being advised by his doctor not to engage in production, Ray stubbornly shot An Enemy of the People, albeit in controlled indoor sets. 

Here we have a rather talky film without much of the visual flourishes that defined some of his best pictures, but despite his artistic vision being curtailed by poor health, one could still marvel at how efficient Ray’s storytelling style is. 

An adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play, but situated within Ray’s cultural milieu, An Enemy of the People takes a simple premise—the contamination of holy water from a local temple—and turns it into a fervent debate between science and religion. 

“No one tells the truth anymore.”

Can science change the opinion of people who have been brought up to believe wholly in faith?  Ray’s work is also about the role of the press in reporting news that is deemed critical to public safety. 

As more townsfolk suffer from jaundice due to the contamination as traditional rituals continue to be practised, a local doctor is adamant that telling the truth is important, even as the authorities try to suppress his alarmist views in hopes that the reputation of the popular temple and the economic—and spiritual—activities surrounding it are kept as they are. 

Largely engaging and refreshing in its straightforwardness, An Enemy of the People is an appeal to calm and rational thinking in solving community, and perhaps national, problems. 

Grade: B+

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