"Enemy Mine" (1985): Why Don't More People Love This Film?
Enemy Mine is a 1985 science fiction film based loosely on Barry B. Longyear's novella of the same name. The film is about two enemies, a human and a replitian alien known as a Drac, who become stranded on a planet together and have to overcome their differences in order to survive.
Like a lot of fantastic films in the 80's (thinking largely of Willow here), Enemy Mine didn't do well in the box office and never really recovered. To this day, it maintains a so-so rating of 59% on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes, and if you ask a random person about it, they will likely answer, "Enemy Who?"
Sadly, not many people cared about this film when it came out and they still don't care now. In fact, I am probably wasting my time writing an article no one is going to read, because I highly doubt anyone is Googling "Enemy Mine."
I think the indifference of the masses largely has to do with the fact that most people like science fiction movies that are more action and less story. Think of all the science fiction movies that came out in the 80's and the 90's: Terminator, Alien, Mars Attacks!, Total Recall, Men in Black, Jurassic Park, The Fly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (yes, TMNT counts). Those films are pretty popular, and what do they all have in common? They are either funny, full of cool action sequences, scary, or all three.
Though to be fair, The Fly was more gross than scary.
You might be thinking, "Well, what about E.T.?" But E.T. Extraterrestrial was a Spielberg film. People who go to see his films generally expect more story and less action, so the audience who enjoyed that film (I never really did, to be honest) was appeased.
People who went to see Enemy Mine were likely expecting a funny action film -- or something that was at least scary like Alien.
Enemy Mine is indeed funny, but it doesn't really have any cool action sequences. Even the scenes where Davidge fights the evil miners at the end aren't that memorable or remarkable because -- again -- this was not really an action film.
Enemy Mine was largely about sharing and caring -- namely, sharing resources and culture, as we see Willis "Dah-witch" Davidge and Jeriba "Jerry" Shigan learn that the universe is a big enough place for both their species to coexist in peace while sharing resources and culture.
"Appropriation" is just a nice word for "theft." Maybe if we stopped sugarcoating our language, people would grasp what was being said. But when you steal from someone's culture for your own personal gain while the people who created what you stole get none of those same personal gains and at the same time still suffer, you are appropriating.
What Davidge and Jerry do in Enemy Mine, however, is a perfect example of sharing culture. It's a trade, not a theft, for both parties benefit equally and no one is disrespected.
Through sharing culture and language in a respectful way, both characters learn to choose love instead of hate, to see the personhood in each other.
So the point I'm basically making is that people (of that ancient time period known as the 80's) preferred for science fiction movies to be mostly action and less story, with a few funny quips here and there.
Enemy Mine appeared as if from another time period to give us this Barney lesson about love, and people don't like being lectured when they go to see a science fiction film (or any film, really), so that's why it didn't do well.
It's a bit ironic given how science fiction has always been riddled with politics. I can only assume people who make these complaints aren't remotely familiar with real science fiction.
Take, for example, the large number of people who hate James Cameron's Avatar for being too preachy. Personally, I think science fiction is supposed to be a little bit preachy, as it's about examining what the world would be like if politics went this way or that -- and this is coming from someone who hates Avatar with the burning rage of a thousand suns.
During the course of the film, human soldier Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) and Drac soldier Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett Jr.) eventually learn to get along while struggling to survive on a strange planet.
What makes me a little sad is that this only happens because they are given no choice. They need each other to survive and so they grudgingly decide to get along, learning each other's languages and culture.
This is something that people who love the film hardly ever point out: the two enemies were pretty much forced by circumstance to set aside their hate, which makes it feel like less of a choice and more of a necessity. While I feel that makes the story a little disappointing, it's also very realistic.
Very few people are going to choose love. Not when we live in a world where hate is preached to us everyday through the media that dehumanizes women, through the racist stereotypes portrayed in every film, through the messages of homophobia that ring from the pulpit.
Hate is our bread and butter. Nearly all of us would have been at our enemy's throat while stranded with them on a strange planet. And at the end of the day, I suppose this realism is what makes Davidge -- and yes, even Jeriba -- so relatable.
Enemy Mine also has a beautiful ending, one where Davidge's friendship with Jeriba becomes a bridge of peace between their species.
When Jeriba dies, leaving behind a child named Zammis (Bumper Robinson), Davidge becomes the caretaker of the child and eventually returns it (the Drac are both male and female) to its home planet of Dracon.
Because he rescued the enslaved Drac from the miners, Davidge is recognized as a hero by the Drac and his name is added to the records of Jeriba's family in a beautiful scene where Davidge recites the entire ancestry of the Jeriba lineage, as he promised his friend.
The ending is a purposeful contrast to the opening scenes of violence and fire, where the human and Drac spaceships are in the middle of a battle over resources. The ending scene is the exact opposite: a human stands among the Drac as a friend in a peaceful place overlooking the still water.
The fire was symbolic of the hatred and rage between the two planets, while the still water at the end was symbolic of the peace now bridged between them.
With its humor, decent special effects, and its message of love trumping hate, Enemy Mine was a pretty great movie for what it was.
It's a shame no one else cared about it.
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