Enemy Mine

Enemy Mine opens with pretty solid outer space fight between a human ship and an alien ship. Before the movie can burn through too much of it's special effects budget both ships are damaged and both crash land on a nearby planet. At first Willis, the human pilot, is thankful to be alive, but it doesn't take long for him to realize that his foe has also survived, and that little tidbit royally cheeses him off. Thus Willis' first order of business on this unexplored world is not to explore it, or to try to radio for back up - it's to finish the job he started in outer space, but this time by hand. Willis stalks his prey across miles and miles of foreign terrain with a weapon in his meaty paw and vengeance in his heart, but a sudden meteor shower makes him realize that he won't be able to survive for long in this hostile environment all by himself. Eventually our human hero makes friends with "Jerry", an alien from the planet Drac, who turns out to be  humanoid in shape but with reptilian facial features. Soon enough the two of them have teamed up to beat the elements by splitting the space-beast meat that they manage to kill and building shelters out of leftover turtle shells together.

In other words, this movie starts out as an adventure story before it baits-and-switches you and becomes a political allegory about how all of humanity would be better off if we stopped fighting wars over our petty differences and instead started using all of our energy to pull each other out of quicksand pits. (This movie was made in 1985, back when every pulpy adventure movie was pretty much mandated by law to have at least one quicksand scene; Enemy Mine definitely goes above and beyond it's call of duty because it has at least two.)

All of the film's metaphorical implications are a bit on the nose, but for the most part they are tolerable. Sure, all of the scenes where Willis has to learn to speak Drac and Jerry has to learn to speak English kind of slow the movie's Swiss Family Robinson stranded-people-trying-to-survive-in-a-hostile-environment vibe, but I get why they are there. And yes, the scenes where Jerry teaches Willis all about the Drac's main religion and in exchange Willis teaches Jerry all about Mickey Mouse were definitely heavy handed, but I can understand why they are thematically important. And of course the scene where the two of them get into a petty disagreement in the little hut they share and it turns into a fistfight and for a second you think their physical confrontation might turn into a sweet, sweet lovemaking session was pretty weird. But I could accept all of those semi-absurd plot developments because I've seen my fair share of buddy comedies over the years, and thus I am intimately familiar with how this sort of story goes - people with nothing in common meet, they fight a bit, then they slowly start to realize they have more in common than they initially thought, then boom, suddenly the uptight cop is good friends with the slovenly dog or the I've-seen-it-all-cop becomes best friends with the incompetent dinosaur or in this case the close minded starship pilot becomes friends with the alien with air bladders on his face. I could accept a little bit of surface level wonkiness in this movie as long as the underlying structure was sound.

However, there is a particular point about halfway through where this movie's plot stopped making sense and where it's metaphor completely broke down. Now, I don't generally issue spoiler warnings for thirty year old movies, but in this case I feel like I should, both because you'll have a completely different experience with Enemy Mine if you don't see this particular plot development coming, and also because I want you to be prepared for the truly bizarre stuff I am about to drop on you. So strap yourself in: things are about to get weird.

There's no good way to say this, so I'm just going to say it: there's a scene in this movie where Willis comes back to their little hut and Jerry unceremoniously announces that he's pregnant. And apparently he's not pregnant with Willis' baby, even though they might have been snuggling in their little lean-to - Jerry just self-impregnated. (His only explanation of how this development is possible is to say that "humans get to choose when they reproduce" but with the Drac "when it's time, it's time.")

Now, first of all, this is an extremely weird twist for this movie to take because there was no lead up to it. Yes, it was established that all Drac aliens are hermaphroditic, but that doesn't mean that they are capable of immaculate conception. (As far as I know, hermaphroditic species can't self impregnate for the simple reason that doing so would be (in effect) cloning, and cloning leads to a stagnant gene pool.) I could see such a left turn working if the audience could look back at a trail of bread crumbs and retroactively see how the script was leading to this moment - but no, there was no hints this was coming. This was unpredictable, and thus basically unjustifiable from a structural standpoint.

Furthermore, it's a weird turn for the script to take because it's a complete break from the buddy film formula - it's a development that reinforces Jerry's alienness at the exact moment when he should be slowly becoming more and more human. These two men are at a point in their relationship where they are now overcoming problems together - so why introduce a situation that intrinsically separates them?

In fact, that separation is a huge problem, and not just for the little reason that it disrupts the buddy film formula. (That's slightly frustrating but forgiveable.) No, the big problem with that separation is that it completely torpedoes the film's central message of togetherness. It's one thing to say "we should all be able to tolerate people that are different than us" but it's quite another to say "we all have to help other people raise the kids they spontaneously generated." I don't know how you feel about tykes, but I'm fairly ambivalent about the idea of raising my own offspring, and I'm definitely out on the idea of raising someone else's. The instant Enemy Mine suggests that these it's not enough for these two individuals to see eye to eye together - when it decides that they actually should be equal parts of a family together - it completely loses it's goddamned mind. I mean, I would pull someone out of a quicksand pit to save them but that doesn't mean I'd adopt their freaking child.

And that's before you factor in how gross and upsetting a Drac baby is: it's gooey and slimy and reptilian, and the scene where Willis has to shove berries into it's screaming mouth grossed me out so much that I wanted him to take a rock and put it out of it's misery. The idea of sharing a bed with a screaming creature that creepy looking completely changed my opinion about sharing the universe with the Drac - which is not exactly a good development in a movie about how deep down we're all the same, man.

Enemy Mine starts off as a movie with real potential: it's going to be a kick-ass space adventure! Then it down grades: it's going to be a tolerable tale of survival! Then it goes down a blind alley and becomes a pretty weird story about an American who volunteers to teach a three-clawed alien child how to throw a make-shift football in a perfect spiral. But honestly, the more Enemy Mine sabotaged itself the more I kind of appreciated it, because they don't make movies like this anymore - now they've figured out the formula. (Well, they had figured it out by the time that this movie came out in the 80s, but they didn't have the same level of quality control back then and a few misfires like this occasionally snuck through the cracks.)

It's funny, Enemy Mine is a movie that pretends that it's all about the future - it's set in 2095, after all - but it is, in fact, a relic of the past. It's a film take places in real sets, and where the horizon line is clearly drawn onto a matte painting instead of being CGI, and where our alien hero is clearly a dude in a suit. Even more importantly, it's a would-be blockbuster that gets smaller and weirder as it goes along, instead of maintaining the same impersonal level of precision the whole way through. It doesn't look good when it's compared to a modern franchise extravaganza, but it does look different - which I suppose means that I should accept it. After all, if there's one thing this movie taught me it's that you should blindly accept anything that initially appears to be different from you (and also, later you should adopt that different thing's child.)

(That said: I am not adopting any of Enemy Mine's children. Fuck that.)

Winner: Me (?)

Enemy Mine on IMDB