Published May 28, 2002
Enough, directed by Michael Apted (who ought to know better), brings us another of the legends of the anti- Patriarchy and of the romance of single motherhood in which our heroine passes through the archetypal feminine experience of our time in learning not to trust men and to depend only on herself — well, herself and the billionaire father called Jupiter (Fred Ward) who, after a lifetime of neglect, suddenly pops up in her life just when she is on the run from her brute of a husband. You’d think that a billionaire might be able to provide her with something more in the way of a defense against this guy than lessons in self-defense, but, hey, a girl has got her feminist pride to think of.
Among the less well-recognized but more regrettable consequences of the sexual revolution has been the female paranoia flick, or “empowerment” fantasy like Double Jeopardy or Sleeping With the Enemy, of which Enough is a virtual re-make. To the warnings of mothers and grandmothers of the terrible dangers of sex outside of marriage, now must be added equally dire warnings about the dangers of marriage itself. But anxieties born of the dissolution of legal, religious or merely conventional ties between men and women in an acid bath of personal and psycho-sexual authenticity must be assuaged as well as desire, and movies like these must have some palliative effect in spite of their ludicrous implausibilities.
I wonder, however, if giving the it girl of the moment, Jennifer Lopez, a chance to show off her balletic fighting skills is worth the risk that some moron will take it all seriously. Hey, gals! In a troubled relationship? Being beaten up by your husband or boyfriend? Well take a tip from J-Lo, honey. Just find yourself a personal trainer who’s into martial arts and in a month or so you can challenge the creep to single combat, mano a mano, and kick his butt — even if he is twice your size, has apparently unlimited resources and is bent on murder. It would be hard to exaggerate the foolishness of this conceit but at least any woman stupid enough to believe in it will do the gene pool a favor by not living long enough to reproduce.
But the movie is not really meant to be taken seriously. Like most fantasy, it is only designed to relieve the anxiety and fear that give rise to it during the time it takes to watch it. Any note of realism might spoil the illusion that the film was designed to create. For the same reason, the brutality of the husband, Mitch (Billy Campbell) is unaccounted for in any realistic fashion. Presumably Mr Campbell took the part in an attempt to forestall any type-casting in the soppy, sensitive-male role he plays in the TV series “Once and Again,” but he may have found himself frustrated by the fact that “what’s my motivation?” was obviously not a question welcomed on this set.
Instead, he is a mere caricature, advertising his wickedness like a demon from hell in a medieval mystery play by saying, for example, in response to his wife’s discovery of one of his many infidelities, “I’m a man; I make the money here, so I set the rules, right?” Then, when he strikes her and she feebly attempts to resist, he adds: “I’m a man, honey, it’s no contest” You’d think that there might have been some interest in the twisted psychology that gives rise to his casual brutality, but there isn’t. This too, I think, is deliberate. For the audience, the surprise of an apparently normal and decent man’s descent into domestic violence is a kind of analogue of the violence itself, but without the blood and broken bones.
In a way the surprise is even what women fear most. “You’re safe with me, Slim,” he whispers to her as they dance at their wedding. Could he be any more of a monster? There is only one point at which the carefully constructed ironies break down, and it comes when Slim first confronts Mitch in his own home in her Ninja gear, proposing fisticuffs, which he at first declines — perhaps still believing that a more sneaky way of doing away with her is available to him. “You could hit me before though, couldn’t you, when you thought I was defenseless.”
Suddenly he sees that she is serious and says to her with equal seriousness: “I don’t understand, Slim; how does this work for you?” The audience when I saw the film laughed at this inadvertent introduction, if only for a moment, the note of reality that shattered the illusion of J-Lo as Wonder Woman. But soon we were back on the heavy-duty, industrial grade irony: “We both know I only have to hit you once and then it’s all over,” he says. But somehow he can’t hit her, and she taunts him: “I’m confused, Mitch. Aren’t you a man? Can’t you hit me even once?”
That, of course, is what the paying customers will have come to hear and feel empowered by. In movieland, at least, he’ll never hit her again. “You’re safe with me,” whispers Hollywood. And, oh, how we want to believe!