Every now and then, the world is taught a profound lesson about what it means to be human; it is given a symbol, a universal tale that shines light on the path to a better tomorrow and a true brotherhood of mankind. In 1985, Dennis Quaid and an alien named Jeriba gave us such a symbol, and their story changed an entire generation. Yet every time I read about the continuing horrors of the conflict in the Middle East, I can't help but wonder if the Israelis and Palestinians are somehow still living in a pre–Enemy Mine world.
It's like they never even saw the movie at all.
A quarter century and thousands of lives later, the people of Israel and Palestine seem to have forgotten the message of this eternal Louis Gossett, Jr. sci-fi vehicle. They've forgotten the message behind this story of two races, humans and Dracs, who fight over a territory they both claim as their own. Sound familiar? In this deep, action-packed movie with cool special effects, two enemies learn that their only hope for survival is to care for one other.
It's a parable for the ages, and it's available right now on DVD.
How can we hear about Hamas militants launching rockets into an Israeli town and murdering people indiscriminately without concluding the attackers have completely forgotten the compassion Jeriba shows early in the film when he wraps his lizard-like talons around Dennis Quaid's character and drags him to safety during that awesome meteor shower where everything around them is going up in these huge flames.
Likewise, friends, when Israel bombs the Gaza Strip and kills hundreds of innocent civilians, or builds a wall that effectively turns the West Bank into a prison, you've got to ask if they've entirely erased from their memories the touching scene where Dennis Quaid, given the opportunity to kill Jeriba, realizes he'd rather just eat some of those slimy food pellets before he starves to death.
Have people in Israel deliberately chosen to ignore these simple but beautiful lessons? Or are they just too damn stubborn?
I understand there is a long history of hatred between the Israelis and the Palestinians, with deep wounds on both sides. But is the divide between them any greater than that between humans and Dracs in Enemy Mine? When Dennis Quaid's character first encounters Louis Gossett, Jr. as the alien, he is horrified: The Drac speaks in a strange gargling language, and his throbbing, reptilian head is just plain ugly. But despite their differences, they form a deep and lasting bond.
And believe me, Louis Gossett, Jr.'s head looks really, really weird.
Every lesson we could ever hope to learn is all right there! Like the tearjearking moment when Dennis Quaid's character—looking on helplessly as the hermaphrodite Jeriba dies in childbirth—rips open the scaly womb of his former foe with his bare hands, looks into the eyes of the newborn Drac, and vows to raise it as his own. And the little guy is actually kind of cute.
Now, if two battled-hardened enemy space pilots can share such a profound experience, can Jews and Muslims not learn to share the Holy Land?
A few short years after Enemy Mine was released, the Berlin Wall fell. The Soviet Union collapsed. Longtime enemies became allies. Why was the message heard in so many places around the world, but not in the Middle East? Are the hearts of the Israelis and Palestinians so cold and scarred that they can't see real beauty when it sits before them in a video store aisle? Or in a Netflix watch-instantly queue?
Enemy Mine is right there, ready to blow their minds and melt their hearts all over again.
Its time has come again. Enemy Mine cannot tell us whether Israel withdrawing to its pre-1967 boundaries would result in a stable Palestinian state, or how to negotiate with refugees from the 1948 war who demand the right of return. But if the region's leaders sit down and rewatch this movie, with the sound turned way up in a nice dark room, not only will they see director Wolfgang Petersen at the top of his game, they'll realize they have more in common than they ever realized.
Instead of allowing illegal settlements to be built in the West Bank, perhaps the Israeli government will take a cue from Dennis Quaid and the alien, who together build a shelter from the shells of those giant turtles with the big tongues, thereby saving themselves from being burned to death by those crazy flaming meteorites. And maybe the next time a Palestinian militant is thinking about blowing himself up in a crowded public place, he'll remember that scene where Dennis Quaid's character teaches the baby Drac how to play football and how much fun they have before the baby gets kidnapped. Maybe. Just maybe.
As the wise Jeriba once put it, "Yesli raz delo, raz va dzram da delo. Lubo da lubo."