The Dennis Quaid Sci-Fi Drama That Needs Another Shot

The 1987 sci-fi drama Enemy Mine deserves a second look for a lot of reasons, but chiefly because of something that's become much more relevant since it was released - the fluidity of gender.

By Michileen Martin | Updated

enemy mine gender
Louis Gossett Jr. and Dennis Quaid in Enemy Mine (1985)

I was disappointed to read through Salon‘s recent interview with Dennis Quaid and to find only passing mention in the preamble of my favorite Quaid-led film: 1987’s Enemy Mine. Directed by the late, Oscar-nominated Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One, Das Boot), the sci-fi flick didn’t make money and didn’t earn acclaim. There are a lot of reasons why I think it deserves a second look but, in particular, Enemy Mine deals with something that’s become much more relevant in today’s discourse: the gender spectrum.

Instead of the utopia of Star Trek, Petersen’s Enemy Mine finds humanity in the second half of the 21st century, locked in a war with the reptilian Dracs. Quaid plays Davidge, a human pilot who crashes on an unexplored planet while pursuing a rival Drac pilot. Trapped on the planet with him is Louis Gossett Jr. as Jerry (the name Davidge later gives him), the same Drac Davidge was pursuing before he crashed.

In spite of both of them being trapped on a hostile planet with no way to contact their respective forces, Davidge and Jerry both fall into the old roles of enemies. Davidge tries to kill Jerry while the Drac bathes, and in turn the Drac takes Davidge captive. Faced with little-to-no hope of rescue on a strange world with carnivorous horrors and deadly weather, the pair eventually set aside their racial grudges to work together.

The Dracs of Enemy Mine are of non-binary gender. The Dracs are also asexual, and after a couple of years with the heroes stranded, without anyone else needing to assist with the conception, Jerry is pregnant. By this time Davidge and Jerry have formed a strong friendship, with each teaching the other their languages and the Drac even teaching Quaid’s character his faith.

Enemy Mine isn’t shy about having Davidge express his confusion about Jerry’s non-binary gender. But it doesn’t stop the pair from forming a powerful bond that lasts far beyond death. There is no hint of anything beyond friendship between them, but as Jerry’s belly grows and Davidge bends over backwards to help the Drac, it’s impossible to not see them as some kind of bizarre married couple. When Jerry’s child Zammis arrives, the picture of them both as parents becomes even clearer.

Of course, in 1985 terms like “non-binary” and “gender fluid” weren’t being used a lot, but fittingly one of the themes of Enemy Mine is very much in line with how far too many of us approach the issue of gender: the fear and hatred of those we don’t understand. It’s Davidge’s hatred of the Dracs that not only nearly kills and strands both him and Jerry, but it kills his co-pilot Wooster (Lance Kerwin). And even stranded and mourning his friend, his first concern is not for rescue or survival, but to locate and kill the Drac he shot down.

I am what is now called a cisgendered man, and on the most visceral levels I simply cannot understand how it feels to be non-binary or trans. But if I face something I don’t understand by attacking it, then I court self-destruction as much as Davidge does. The good news is that I don’t need to understand how it feels to be anyone in order to give them respect and space to be who they are.

Enemy Mine is a good, underrated flick that just might have something interesting to say about our notions of gender. It’s streaming right now on Starz.