Enemy Mine (1985): Knowing the Other

Enemy Mine Poster

      We kick of Sci. Fi. Movie Week with “Enemy Mine.” One of the sci. fi. concepts that has always fascinated me both for how it can be tied to modern day conflicts between cultures…and how it involves creating other cultures. It is in this sci. fi. concept that we find connecting with the Other. “The Next Generation” was really good at this some of my favorite episodes covered this concept, specifically “The Enemy” where Geordi has to work with a Romulan. This story is very similar to that but goes beyond since it has much more than an hour to work with. Suffice to say I enjoyed it a lot and will get into the details of why in the assessment.

     “Enemy Mine” was directed by Wolfgang Peterson, written by Edward Khmara and produced by Peter O’Toole and Steven J. Friedman. It is based on the story of the same name by Barry B. Longyear which I’d to read after this.

     The premise is that in the last 21st Century humans have advanced into space and Earth has become nothing but a memory as they’ve come in contact with the reptilian Dracs and war begins for territory. The story follows one of human pilots Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) who follows an enemy ship for killing his friend and in an attempt to finish it off gets stuck on the planet with the pilot Jeriba “Jerry” Shigan (Louis Gossett, jr.). From here they start out as enemies but are forced to work together as the threats of the planet force them to depend on each other. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Factions and Universe – There are two main factions in this film and both get exploration. The humans represented by the Bilateral Terran Alliance (BTA) and the Dracs. Each are different and compelling in different ways as the Terrans are rugged and rough and the Dracs are poetic, curious, reptilian and reproduce asexually. They are similar enough to connect to one another through Willis and Jeriba but different enough that you get their motivations as to why they fight and why they distrust one another.

The Special Effects – A lot of puppets are used to create some great monsters, plus great ship designs as well as the design of the Drac giving them an aquatic reptilian look and having areas of their face pulse. So glad this wasn’t done with CGI and predated CGI.

Dracs – I’ll explore them more in the Drac characters who are both pros…but they have a rich society and celebrate a great philosopher, have Elders who guide them and are asexual reptilian beings who are also amphibious as they love the water. Great idea, concept and execution with the alien species.

Jeriba “Jerry” Shigan – Is our glimpse into Drac culture and biology. They are asexual and reproduce without a partner. They have a religious leader who is similar to Moses or Jesus who preaches love and tolerance and lineage is the most important thing to them. Jeriba gives us the glimpse into that as we see him protect Willis during the first comet storm and after Willis builds a house and apologizes for disrespecting his faith he shares his story eventually opening up that he is pregnant. Winter comes and he is attacked by the beast he saved Wilis from and Willis returns the favor but it is too late as the planet is deadly and Jerry is sick. Jeriba is still able to have his child Zammis. It is Zammis where we see his tenderness as he cared so much for the child he had no choice but to have. He asks Wills to care for Zammis before dying. Louis Gossett jr. did an amazing job in this role and gave humanity to a very alien other from the unique species of the Drac.

Zammis – Bumper Robinson does a good job as Zammis. Zammis is all curiosity who goes through the journey of learning who he is as he only had a human Willis as a caretaker “Uncle” as he called him. He trusts him and plays the role well as his curiosity gets him caught by the miners and he is put in a cage…but not before talking to one of the Dracs and showing them there are good humans. His growing up with Willis shows the hope for the future of not growing up prejudice as when he lead his lineage he includes Willis in it.

Willis Davidge – Dennis Quaid does a fantastic job in this! He starts out as the hot headed, hot shot pilot who puts his fellow pilots at risk as he seeks revenge against the Drac pilot who shot down his friend but grows from there. He tries killing Jerry with fire at first but after Jeriba saves his life he begins to slowly trust him after his reactions of hate are dealt with patiently and when he finds the similarities in their philosophies. This eventually leads to him being saved and saving Jeriba on multiple occasions leading to him learning Jeriba’s lineage to recite for Zammis before the Elders. He fully embraces this and after he is saved by the BTA leaves it all behind to save Zammis and stop the evil humans who have enslaved the Drac on the planet. His arc is great and you see that he becomes a whole person through his connecting with someone who at fist is alien to him. This is a bit theme in sci. fi. and this film does it really well.

Knowing the Other – This exploration of the Other is done by both Willis and Jeriba. The first connections that happen are connections of survival…avoiding the meteor storms, this grows as Willis builds a house for them and resents it until he connects over learning the language and teaching his language. The next step is finding help so they can both be saved, but after he finds nothing but the miner scavengers he returns and cares for Jeriba and learns he is pregnant. It is later when they are running after losing their home that the friendship formed is recognized and Willis must care for Zammis Jeriba’s son. This is the final thing as he has learned the Drac’s aren’t evil and Jeriba has learned in turn. Zammis is the next generation raised without hate who incorporates an outsider into his lineage. These are the many ways building  bridges with those who are different can occur among individuals, societies and cultures. It starts with the little things but becomes more than an alliance when the important aspects of family, philosophy, and love are shared.

Okay: Bilateral Terran Alliance Base – The crew don’t feel fully fleshed out. Willis’s co-pilot liked someone they made fun of but that is the extent of character development. They are serviceable though and their ship designs are cool. They have a Star Wars feel to them mixed with a Boeing Plane.

Soundtrack – Isn’t super memorable. Can’t really recommend it. It isn’t bad but it doesn’t make the scenes stronger.

Minor characters – Whether it’s the pilots, the miners or even some random Drac near the end…no one really stood out. They all kind blend together as ideas of characters rather than characters in their own right. It isn’t bad and they serve their purpose, but they aren’t a pro.

The Cons: The Miners – There are a group of smuggler miners who are just bad. There is nothing about them that makes them compelling and there motivations seem weak given that they have ships that can travel far. They enslave the Drac and seem to mostly be there to reveal that the humans are bad. I wish they’d been handled better as slavery is a clearly morally wrong. There was nothing grey about these guys and they weren’t that much of a threat.

     If you like science fiction and the different “Star Treks” you will like this film most likely. They cover similar ideas of connecting with the Other and the characters change. No one is static. Circumstances and choices change the characters and no one is the same from the experiences that are undergone. The main cast does a great job too, though most of the support characters are pretty forgettable. In the end it’s the creation of the Drac and their relationship to Willis that drives the plot and that is done beautifully. The ways to connect with those who may seem different at first are explored from so many different directions and it is done really well. I definitely recommend it.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.

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