The Movie Enough Still Holds Up 18 Years Later

“You have a divine animal right to protect your own life and the life of your offspring.”

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In 2002 when the movie Enough came out I was 13-years-old and my mother had just divorced my abusive father. The film had a big effect on me and I have often thought about it over the years, especially as I became a grown woman and started working with real victims of domestic violence.

Recently I was curious if the actual film held up to my memory, and so I decided to re-watch it. Let me just say that yes, Enough still holds up 18 years later.

A breakdown of the film and how it mirrors real life domestic violence situations.

Although the words and behaviors coming from Mitch, the abusive spouse, are a little on the nose, I like that the movie made it very clear that what was occurring was domestic violence, even from the beginning. Many forms of entertainment do not acknowledge the “love bombing” stage that occurs before the cycle of violence, but they should. Enough demonstrated this well by first showing the steps taken by Mitch before the abuse occurred, or became very obvious.

At the beginning of the movie,the main character, Slim (played by Jennifer Lopez) meets her soon to be husband Mitch at the diner where she works. He comes to her rescue in a valiant way and wins her over quickly. It is implied that they get married very soon after that, and he tells he that he is going to love her “forever and ever.” At their wedding Mitch makes it clear that he wants children right away: “You gonna give me babies? How soon?”

In her study, Intimate Partner Femicide: Using Foucauldian Analysis to Track an Eight Stage Progression to Homicide, Dr. Jane Monckton Smith established the eight step process that most male abusers take before murdering their female partners, and the second stage is when the relationship between partners develops very quickly and becomes a serious commitment. The hasty wedding and the urgency to get pregnant right away are clear signs of this second stage. Slim doesn’t realize it yet, but her life is in danger.

It’s like what her friend Ginny (played by the effervescent Juliette Lewis) says later after Slim tells her about the abuse.

“Men are like landmines. Some you trigger the first week, others it’s years in. And the problem is you want a man-man. Meaning his veins run thick with testosterone, which is good. But then he can just turn around, and without any warning, just hit you.” — Ginny

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Slim gets an understanding of who Mitch really is when she calls a number in his phone and finds out that he has been cheating on her with a woman named Darcelle. She confronts him and he convinces her that it was a one time thing and that it will never happen again. Slim cries in his arms, “You said I was safe with you!” (Some foreshadowing of what was to come?)

The first time we see Mitch physically abuse Slim is when she again confronts him about seeing Darcelle. Mitch replies, “I’m a man. Men and women have different needs. And that’s okay. Darcelle is — she’s willing to take care of that. And maybe that’s better for everybody.” As Slim rages against him, Mitch reaches back and slaps her across the face. “What? I can’t hit you?” he asks her, before punching her directly in the face with his fist. She falls to the floor and begins bleeding from the cheek. “You wanna fight?” he asks. “I’m a man, honey. It’s no contest. You have to understand, Slim, and I thought you did. I make the money here, so I set the rules, right? It’s my rules. You with me?”

Not only did Mitch begin the cycle of physical abuse here, but he also used an emotionally abusive technique called “gaslighting,” which is used to make victims doubt their minds and to keep them under the control of their abusers. This tactic is extremely common in domestic violence situations.

Gaslighting is when your emotions, words, and experiences are twisted and used against you, causing you to question your reality. This can be a very effective form of emotional abuse, because once an abusive partner has broken down your ability to trust your own perspective, you may be more vulnerable to the effects of abuse, making it more difficult to leave the abusive relationship (Source: The National Domestic Violence Hotline, A Deeper Look Into Gaslighting).

Mitch’s statement that Slim had entered into some kind of unspoken contract by marrying him is pure gaslighting. She never would have agreed to be in a marriage with a man who chronically cheated on her and physically abused her, but he claimed that’s exactly what she did. His abuse of her is acceptable and she agreed to it.

After Mitch punches Slim in the face he gets up to leave for his date with Darcelle. As he leaves, he takes Slim’s drivers license and says: “Just so you don’t do anything later you might regret. Okay?” Taking her license so that she cannot leave the home is an extremely common form of isolation, another abusive tactic.

[I]solation [from the outside world] made it possible for the abusive spouse to continue his violence and control without anyone ever knowing or suspecting (Source: Legal Services Corporation, Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence).

Like many women in abusive relationships, Slim doesn’t want to go to the police because she doesn’t want to put the father of her children in jail. Beth E. Richie, a sociologist and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies violence against women, has found that this is common among domestic violence victims and that many women “fear their partners — sometimes a family’s sole earner — will be automatically arrested and thrown in jail” if they call the police, leaving them unable to financially care for their families and putting them at risk of having their children taken away. Additionally, many victims still care about their abusers and do not want to see them punished by the legal system.

Ginny convinces Slim to take the abuse seriously, and advises her to take Gracie, her young daughter, and flee. Slim realizes the seriousness of it all when she gets to Gracie’s school and Mitch has already picked her up without letting Slim know. Children are often used by abusers as an extension of the abuse, she was right to panic.

Abusive partners exert power and control over their significant others through many different tactics — and unfortunately, using children can become a tactic or an abusive mechanism to gain control. Many times, abusive partners will threaten their significant others by telling them that if they leave the relationship, they’ll take custody of the children. This threat is a form of emotional abuse that the abusive partner uses to keep the victim in the relationship (Source: The National Domestic Violence Hotline, Children as an Abusive Mechanism).

That night after Mitch returns home with Gracie, he lets Slim know that he was upset when he couldn’t reach her on the phone and then admits to spying on her while she was visiting her friend Ginny at the diner. Stalking has been identified as a risk factor for severe, even lethal violence.

One recent study identified stalking as a lethal precursor to attempted and completed femicides. More than 75% of the murdered or nearly murdered women were stalked, and two-thirds were physically assaulted by their partners in the 12 months preceding the lethal or sub-lethal assaults (Source: Mindy B. Mechanic, Mary H. Uhlmansiek, Terri L. Weaver, and Patricia A. Resick, The Impact of Severe Stalking Experienced by Acutely Battered Women: An Examination of Violence, Psychological Symptoms and Strategic Responding).

The next part of the movie is one of my favorite parts because it so accurately describes how our legal system fails domestic violence victims. I am quoting the entire bit of dialogue because it is so accurate.

Slim goes to speak with police about her options: “I have a friend whose husband beats her up.”
Officer: “She should come in here and file a complaint. And if she has physical evidence of abuse on her person, we’ll go out and arrest him.”
Slim: “And if he has money, he can bail himself out, and then he’s free until it goes to trial?”
Officer: “That’s true. If it goes to trial. It’s up to the city’s attorney’s office whether to prosecute.”
Slim: “Okay, so she comes in here, she has him arrested and pisses him off, and then there’s no guarantee he won’t come after her once he’s out on the street.”
Officer: “She could get a protection order.”
Slim: “What’s that? A little piece of paper that says he can’t come around? And when he comes around, what does she do, throw it at him?”
Officer: “She calls us.”
Slim: “And what about the kid? Is the paper good for the kid too?”
Officer: “That’s a matter for the family courts. But unless she can prove that he’s a danger to the child, she can’t legally bar him access.”

Whether or not it hurts you to hear, every single bit of that interaction is truth. In the real world, just as in Slim’s world, victim’s often have no where to go and little remedy is available to them in the courts. In addition, victim’s actually risk having their children taken from them if they attempt to protect them from their abusive partner. It is no wonder that it this point in the movie that Slim decides to flee in the night with her child.

The very first night Mitch hurt Slim, he warned her that he would never live without her.

“You know, love is a scary thing. How powerful it is. What it does to you. That’s what happened here. You see, if I ever think of — I just — I can’t — I refuse to live without you. I think you understand what I’m saying.” — Mitch

And he is true to his word. The night Slim tries to escape, Mitch catches her and if not for her friends intervening he would have likely killed her then. As was clearly demonstrated in the movie, leaving is the most dangerous time for a victim.

Leaving can be fatal. In 45% of the homicides in which a man killed a woman, an immediate precipitating factor of the fatal incident was the woman leaving or trying to end the relationship. For clinic/hospital women who were abused on followup, 69% of those who had left or tried to leave an abuser in the previous year but whose abuse continued despite their attempted departure experienced severe incidents compared to 44% of women who had not left or tried to leave (Source: Carolyn Rebecca Block, Risk Factors for Death or Life-Threatening Injury for Abused Women in Chicago).

Slim’s friends are able to get her and Gracie out, but not before Mitch brandishes a gun. In real life an abuser’s access to a firearm makes it fives times more likely that their victim will be killed.

Every year, more than 600 American women are shot to death by intimate partners — roughly one every 14 hours. In fact, firearms are used to commit more than half of all intimate partner homicides in the United States (Source: Giffords Law Center, Domestic Violence & Firearms).

As they leave Mitch threatens to frame Slim and put drugs in her dresser so that he can gain custody of Gracie. In his desperation to regain control, Mitch freezes all of Slim’s bank accounts and credit cards. This kind of financial abuse is very common in domestic violence situations, and it is an extreme barrier to victim’s finding safe housing.

Abusers may monitor transactions on a joint account to track down survivors who are living in confidential locations. Abusers also often overdraw accounts, leaving survivors penniless and the accounts in poor standing in Chex systems. The “poor standing” designation precludes survivors from closing down current accounts and prevents them from opening new accounts (Source: The Financial Clinic, Banking Security and DV Survivors).

Because of her lack of realistic options, Slim is forced to flee the state and stay with a friend, Joe. Like many abusers, Mitch just won’t stop and he sends “hired goons” to search Joe’s house. (As a side note, Jeff Kober is really good in this movie at being a creepy hired goon.)

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We eventually find out that like many domestic violence victims, Slim has a history of trauma in her life and she also never knew her father. Abusers will often prey on victims vulnerable with trauma because they are easier targets.

Slim calls Mitch’s mother and is warned that at the “big custody hearing” Mitch is going to accuse her of depriving him of his rights as a father. She encourages Slim to let Gracie talk to Mitch on the phone, and Slim agrees. When she calls him, he has the phone traced by his cop friend, Robbie. In real life, police are often complicit in helping friends engage in domestic violence, if they are not engaged in it themselves. According to Alex Roslin, author of the book Police Wife: The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic Violence, abuse is roughly 15 times more pervasive within police families than in the general population.

[A major] study found that 40 percent of cops [self-]reported having participated in domestic violence in the previous year. An FBI advisory board later found that roughly 40 percent of officers who filled out questionnaires in a number of different settings admitted to being physically violent with their spouse in the previous six months. The general population data for self-reported abuse is closer to 4 percent when people are asked to report on the last 12 months.

Robbie finds Slim and gives her location to Mitch. He shows up at her home one morning, threatens to kill her, and then tries to strangle her before she is able to fight him away. Strangulation is strongly linked to domestic violence related homicide.

One in four women will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime, and of those, up to 68 percent will suffer near-fatal strangulation at the hands of their partner. Of the victims, 97 percent are strangled by hands; 38 percent reported losing consciousness; 35 percent are strangled during sexual assault/abuse; 9 percent are also pregnant, and 70 percent of strangled women believed they were going to die (Source: Steve Albrecht, The Truth About Domestic Violence Murders).

After Slim successfully flees from Mitch, and is chased down by Robbie, she realizes that she cannot ever go to police even if she wanted to. She visits an attorney to try and figure out her practical options, and unfortunately he is only the bearer of bad news. He tells her how Mitch will paint her as a drug addict in family court and attempt to take Gracie, and because Slim kept Gracie away from him, he might succeed.

“I’d say your attacker has a very good chance of gaining sole custody… The custody hearing is probably a trick. It’s not about itself, it’s a way to find you. A way to get you in a particular place at a particular time so his men can follow you and he can come to wherever you are and kill you.” — Attorney

Abuser’s will very often use the court systems as an extension of their abuse, in just the ways Slim’s attorney explained. This is called “vexatious” or “abusive” litigation, otherwise known as “stalking by way of the courts.”

Perpetrators file frivolous lawsuits — sometimes even from prison — to keep their victims coming back to court to face them. After a breakup, the courts are often the only tool left for abusers seeking to maintain a hold over their victims’ lives. The process costs money and time, and can further traumatize victims of intimate-partner violence, even after they have managed to leave the relationship (Source: Jessica Klein, How Domestic Abusers Weaponize the Courts).

At this point Slim has no other option but to meet Mitch’s violence with violence, and win. She has her daughter stay with Ginny and then goes to set her trap. She takes fighting lessons and trains to “fight a man much stronger than her” (Wikipedia says that the technique she learns is “Krav Maga”).

I will not publicly condone violence here, but I will say that there is a rich history of women taking the law into their own hands against their abusive partners. Slim simply decides to follow in that tradition. Her plan is to break into Mitch’s home and plant the following letter:

“Thanks for letting me come talk about Gracie. And I’m glad you’re willing to admit your temper, and, let’s not mince words, the physical abuse you subjected me to. Perhaps with your new attitude, we can really work something out. Per your last letter, I’ll see you the evening of…”

Then she will fight him until he is dead.

After Slim makes her final arrangements, she calls Ginny for a pep talk, and this is where Ginny speaks the glorious line at the beginning of this article.

“You have a divine animal right to protect your own life and the life of your offspring.”

Encouraged by Ginny’s words, Slim waits until Mitch comes home, kills the lights, and then pounces. The two fight.

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Enraged, Mitch spits out at her that because she won’t actually kill him, she’ll only succeed at pissing him off.

“Self-defense is not murder… As arranged in our letters, I’m here to talk about Gracie… You attacked me, I fought back. If something should happen?” — Slim

Slim eventually wins their fight by throwing him over the balcony onto a glass table. The implication is that Mitch is now dead, although we never actually see him die. She then clears the house, dumps her gear, and waits for the police. An officer walks up to her and says, “Looks like you were one of the lucky ones.” Slim is not one of the lucky ones, but she is finally free.

The reality of domestic violence.

Although I am impressed by Enough’s depiction of domestic violence, it is still a work of fiction and as such it deviates from the truth in some areas.

First of all, most abusive relationships are not this physically abusive, usually because an abuser can gain control of a victim much easier by using psychological abuse that does not leave a physical mark for others to see. “Coercive control” is the more common scenario.

Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. This controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive control creates invisible chains and a sense of fear that pervades all elements of a victim’s life. It works to limit their human rights by depriving them of their liberty and reducing their ability for action. Experts like Evan Stark liken coercive control to being taken hostage. As he says: “the victim becomes captive in an unreal world created by the abuser, entrapped in a world of confusion, contradiction and fear.”

Physical violence can, and does occur, especially when an abuser is triggered into thinking he is losing control over his victim, however, most abusive relationships rely on the threat of physical violence alone, or on reminding the victim of past instances of physical violence.

And finally, just because a domestic violence victim who kills her abuser claims self-defense, it does not mean that she won’t be charged with murder and made to stand trial. There is no guarantee that her excuse of self-defense will be believed by the court or the judge when she gets to trial. Victims are likely to serve prison time.

Nicole Addimando faced horrific physical and sexual abuse by her husband for years, and in 2017 shot and killed him on their couch after she says he threatened her with the gun. She was convicted of second-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a handgun... [A] judge ruled in February 2020 that she didn’t meet the requirements for a reduced sentence, saying she had opportunities to leave her abuser. She was given 19 years to life in prison (Source: Alexandra Botti, Two Women Shoot and Kill Their Abusers Claiming Self-Defense. They Face Decades in Prison).

Given the modern-day misconceptions surrounding domestic violence, I am actually astounded at how much they got right. Even with its flaws, Enough is an incredibly accurate depiction of domestic violence and the desperate measures victims can be forced to take to find safety. It should be watched by anyone who wants to understand what victims are up against, or by anyone who thinks they might be in a similar situation.

an advocate for victims of violence | ~on a mental health break, publishing only They Matter articles for the time being~

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