SUB-GENRES: Survival / Drama
DIRECTED BY: Wolfgang Petersen
WRITTEN BY: Edward Khmara; Based on the novella by Barry B. Longyear
PEW PEW: A decent space dogfight, a suspenseful climax, and survival stakes.
CAT FOOD: This film is all about finding friendship where you have been taught to hate. Mild religious themes make the film a very fine commentary on today’s social climate.
A brief (or not at all brief, depending on how this goes) word on one of the finest tales of Stockholm Syndrome that science fiction film has to offer.
Chances are, if you’re as big a fan as I am of science fiction, you’ve many times watched enemies hurled together into hopeless circumstances and forced to work together in between bouts of trying to fucking murder each other. You’ve probably seen that episode of the Planet of the Apes television series where Burke and Urko get trapped in a subway, or maybe that Deep Space Nine bit where Odo and Quark take turns dragging each others’ cantankerous carcasses up the side of cruster mountain.
Enemy Mine does it better.
We are hurled into a future where two imperialist juggernauts battle for control of colonised space. There’s the Terran Alliance (with which we are quite familiar because they strongly resemble many of the other futuristic, over-Americanised, human imperialist factions we’ve seen in the history of sci-fi film) and the Dracs (lizard men that we know next to nothing about, except the fact that we hate their filthy, stinking guts, apparently).
Enter Terran fighter pilot Willis Davidge, who finds himself locked in a ferocious and borderline nihilistic dogfight with a tenacious Drac pilot. Both starfighters are critically damaged in the battle, resulting in a crash landing that strands the pilots on a forbidding terrain without hope of rescue.
My three favourite things about the film are its aesthetic, the transformation of its main character, and the religious themes that make this one-off film from the eighties quite relevant to today’s age of ‘us vs. them.’
The look of the picture is quite special. Using very limited settings that come across as anything but limited settings, the film perfectly captures that forbidding no man’s land that brings out the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. The Drac has more tech and is more dynamic but choosy in his perseverance, while the human is better able to adapt to his surroundings and has a strong will to live that often pushes him to irrationality. As humans, we can see how inhospitable the terrain is. We’re not sure what landscape the Dracs are used to (we sure as hell find out that it’s not a winter one), but we can somehow tell that this is probably not his cup of tea either. The few lifeforms we do see are also of note. The special effects people did a truly fantastic job of making the alien life truly alien.
On Davidge himself. When we first meet him, he’s that typical, run of the mill, all American fighter pilot that Dennis Quaid seems to be able to play quite well. On a more subtle note, if one pays attention, one can see how ugly and unreasonable this man can be before anything even goes down. In conversation with his friend Joey, it is revealed that Davidge calls Joey’s crush ‘the white balloon,’ in reference to her appearance. It’s kind of bloody sad when Joey later, with his dying words, begs Davidge not to call her that anymore because it hurts her feelings. Little things like this help to whittle Davidge down from the ugly, hate-filled space jock we meet at the beginning of the film, to the religious and stoic father figure we come to know in the end.
Finally, the film is riddled with religious themes. We learn early on that the Drac is extremely religious. Fiercely, in fact. It presents a barrier at first, as we are meant to believe that they are a warlike species, but we soon learn that the religion is inherently peaceful, just like our side’s is supposed to be. The Drac (Jerry) carries a small holy book and prays in the form of song, drawing parallels to Islam. The film shows off very well why we should resist the call of jingoism.
And wouldn’t you know, all of this seriousness is wrapped up nicely in a really fun package that often finds time for comic relief, some thrilling survival stakes, and genuinely charming, heart-warming moments.
Enemy Mine is a gem for sci-fi junkies.