In the book New Philosophies of Film (2011), Robert Sinnerbrink, the author, defends the premise that films can be philosophical or do philosophy in various ways. Much of Sinnerbrink’s analysis however, relies heavily on art house films (generally considered a typically serious film, somewhat anti-formulaic, independent, and aimed at a particular niche audience) perhaps because he believes that they project a greater ability of philosophizing.
Whatever his reasons, the dominance of the use of art house films within his book implies a bias favoring one type of film over another. Films such as Enemy Mine (1985) a somewhat formulaic revisionist science fiction film that can be categorized more as Hollywood standard fare entertainment then something artistic…or can it?
In fact, this movie has just as much philosophic ability as any arthouse film, it is rife with philosophical engagement, particularly if analyzed through the filter of Thomas Wartenberg’s Moderate Thesis of “How a film can be Philosophical” (Sinnerbrink, p.123-124).
Within this brief essay, Wartenberg’s premise on how films are philosophical will be explained, a brief summary of the film provided, then Enemy Mine shall be analyzed through Wartenberg’s filter, showing how it takes on the philosophical critique of the moral grounds of anthropocentricism in one quarter and the deconstruction of gender in another, thus proving its merit as a rich source for philosophic discourse.
Wartenburg argues in his theory that film has multiple ways in which that it can be philosophical. Highly favoring the opinion that philosophy and film are linked through a wide variety of cases, as opposed to one avenue of how it can be philosophical (Sinnerbrink, p.124). He believes that films can serve as illustrations of critical merit, particularly that of rather complex philosophical stances, that they can communicate more articulated thought experiments, they can argue against a philosophical thesis by being a film that can present a counter-example, and finally they can also reflect on the nature of their own medium; a film can have some or all of these qualities working together in a single film as well (Sinnerbrink, p.123-124).
Now that the explanation of the methodology has been clarified, the movie shall be briefly summarized for those who have not had the benefit of watching the piece under discussion.
Enemy Mine is a 1985 film directed by Wolfgang Peterson and stared Dennis Quaid as the human space fighter pilot Willis E. Davidge and Louis Gosset Jr. as the alien Drac fighter pilot Jereba Shigan that Willis later dubs the nickname Jerry. During a battle between their two races, they crash land on a desolate planet, and must forge cooperation between them to survive. Greater detailed aspects of the narrative shall be revealed further into the paper as the film is engaged.
In philosophy, one of the most popular flavors of study is Ethics and Morality. This is a field that has engendered an exhaustive amount of discourse on how humanity as a whole, or as an individual, should conduct themselves with each other or with the world around them through certain rules of moral conduct [“Books and Authors: President Hyde on Ethics”, p.1(1)]. One of the debates in Ethics and Morality is that of Anthropocentricism, or a more basic definition, the postulation that being human is all that matters morally (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In the case of the film, it offers a coherent is critique of the in favor position.
Within the beginning of the film, the opening narration, that of Willis, explains the war by calling the Drac “non-human aliens” speaking with a tone of disdain, calling them squatters on other worlds, even though it was later revealed that the Drac had been occupying the territory under attempted colonization, and dispute with the Drac, by the humans 1000 years before the humans arrival in the area. Along with the Drac mentioned is what Willis refers to as a sub group of humans, the Scavengers, and while disdained, are tolerated because they enslave the Drac (this is mentioned, mainly because it has significance in the discussion).
Until the events on the planet between Willis and Jereba, the humans have never seemed to think of their actions in the war against the Drac as being unethical or immoral in any fashion. Indeed, much of what makes the Scavengers detestable to viewers, using slave labour being the big one, doesn’t appear to be considered as immoral by the rest of humanity as long as it is Drac lives affected, and not human; in fact, the narrative implies that there has been no effort to try to engage in any sort of discourse with the Drac, exemplified when Willis is retrieved by his fellow pilots after he was knocked unconscious by the weapon of a Scavenger and are shocked that he can speak Drac.
Here is a human society that is anthropocentric. The Drac are considered “non-human” aliens, to fundamentally different to seemingly deserve the same ethical and moral considerations as humans, and because the humans can’t see a way to engage them to their own benefit, they are therefore dealt with in a manner that because they are not human, they do not matter morally.
The critique of this position comes in through the discourse between Willis and Jereba when they get marooned together on the planet. At first, Willis views Jereba with the same contempt that the rest of his people do. He looks at the Drac not as capable of similar traits as humans, but so utterly different that, despite being at war with them, he hasn’t actually seen what a Drac looks like, merely going along with the position that he and the rest of his fellow pilots go with, that because the Drac are non-human aliens and happen to be in the way, it is right to war with them, because he is human and there is nothing ethically or morally questionable about fighting the already occupied Drac Colonies (the “squatting”). Then, after a contentious clash with Jereba, he is saved from electrocution in his attempt to kill the Drac, and then captured by the alien. Eventually, the captivity is short lived, neither can kill or hold the other prisoner as the planet itself is so hazardous that they are too busy at first dodging meteors and electrical storms to battle each other. Over time, the two are forced to work together or not survive. They build a shelter, catch food together, save each other continuously throughout their time on the planet. Throughout it all, they also teach each other their languages, and once the lines of communication are opened, he sees that the Drac is not as “non-human” as he believed, and even becomes Jereba’s student in the cultural ways of the Drac.
Because of this intensely explored dialogue between the human and the alien, here is where the source of the critique against Anthropocentricism comes in. As has already been previously established, the humans in the narrative consider themselves the central figures in the universe (an anthropocentric definitive), and thus they are above the Drac in having higher moral status and values over the Drac (there side in the war is the only justified, right side), there assessment of the reality of the war is exclusively through a human perspective.
The critique of this position lies in that the film presents a counter argument within the film’s narrative to the position that the humans are right to think themselves morally superior because they are human, as opposed to the Drac who are non-human aliens, represented by the anthropocentric Willis, is challenged.
The challenge is found in the Drac, Jereba, the Anti-Anthropocentric face in the film, and through the two characters discourses while marooned on the planet. Willis is confronted with the growing proof that the Drac laugh, grieve, have spiritual and cultural backgrounds, capable of families and of communication and mercy, things that Willis would see as positive qualities within his own species. Eventually, when he leaves Jereba to find the ship he hears in his sleep at nights, he does the morally right thing and goes back to make sure that Jereba is safe from the Scavengers.
He becomes so intertwined with the Drac and his teachings that he eventually raises his ward, Jereba’s child Zammis, and feels and views the Scavenger’s, the previously mentioned enslavers of the Drac’s, with the purview of one who can no longer morally and/or ethically view the Drac as lesser in moral value then human’s, and thus kills the slavers because they were doing something wrong, while saving Zammis.
The entire movie is Willis’ anthroprocentircism being deconstructed and proven weak in the face of his experiences with those he previously considered non-persons.
This movie is an excellent example of the problem of Anthropocentrism in human rights, as the obvious danger to basing one’s moral and ethical based on one’s species leads comes into conflict with both humans and the world they live in, whether humanity has a right to do the things they do, to the environment and the use of animals for their own needs as well as breeding as well as how one group of human beings are viewed as lesser humans, cultures that are stripped of their personhood, breeds excuses for slavery and the moral/ethical right of domination (Adler, p.262-264) much as the humans in Enemy Mine stripped the personhood of the Drac.
What just transpired above is an example of a film communicating a more articulated thought experiment of how society would be if anthropocentricism was the dominant view, with a relatable character that was anthropocentric and deconstructing it to reveal the problems. It definitely proves Wartenberg’s stance that illustrations of critical merit by systematically presenting then deconstructing the Anthropocentric position and presenting an easily comprehendible conclusion through the thought experiment inherit in the film of the two faces of the position, Willis (the pro Anthropocentric position) and Jereba, (the challenge to that position) within a forced setting of dialogue.
Since Wartenberg believes, as stated earlier, that film can illustrate through multiple avenues of philosophizing, it seems only right to show that the film also has multiple types of philosophy, and thus segue way into the second philosophical quality of the film under discussion: Deconstructing Gender.
Gender Roles, or Gender, “refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women,” (World Health Organization).
Within film these socially constructed roles have been either enforced and/or re-tooled to meet the specific needs and expectations of the spectators and film creators. These can often be recognized in certain generally known gendered character tropes such as how an “Action Hero” protagonist is often dominantly male in Hollywood cinema, or the “Damsel in Distress” is considered predominantly female.
These are all common recognizable gender roles that have been socially constructed to follow certain patterns of expectation when it comes to gendered society, such as the man as being gendered to be confrontational, stiff-upper lip “manly-man,” the solider, etc. as it were, while the woman is often socially constructed in a more supportive role, nurturing and ultimately in difference to her man counterpart in narratives as well, echoing their spectator society and reinforcing/reassuring them of the status quo.
Society has certainly gone a long way to dissolving many of the mythical notions that are ascribed when gendering, particularly during the resurgence of Hollywood cinema, starting in the 1970’s through revisionist genre that reflected the various civil rights movement of the period, including that of women (Kispel-Kovacs, p.275-278); though despite this, it can’t be argued that there is still a certain amount of preservation of gendering within Hollywood Cinema.
Despite this, some movies have sought to challenge these preconceptions, and can be said to act as a philosophical example of challenging gender roles, or gender, and the current film under discussion is one of these.
The deconstruction of gender within Enemy Mine is done by the very nature of the Drac itself. The Drac are sex fluid beings, described by Willis as a mix of both male and female, with only one parent, producing asexually. While it has been done before in film and other narratives, it is the particular way of using it in which the movie presents the issue of dismantling gender.
Firstly, the movie chooses to use a distinctively male actor for the character Jereba, the lead Drac character. The film makers could have cast a more androgynous actor, or manipulated the costume to be so. But the fact that the Drac has a clearly commonly identified masculine looking body, shows how, despite knowing that the species is not really a male, it is not really brought home until both Willis and the spectators are confronted by the fact that Jereba is pregnant; a distinctly male-type body from the human prospective of maleness, with attributes that were, until that moment, preserved as distinctly female, the pregnancy.
Overall, there is a commonly held preservation of dividing the two sexes, a dichotomy long accepted in society, but this has been challenged philosophically, particularly with the rise in transgender and gender neutrality, the stance that society should avoid the distinctions of gender and sex usages (Leff, L. Cnsnews.com).
Drac are an example of that challenge to gendering. A society that presents one way in which there is no gender in existence. They represent an allegory and/or thought exercise of the merging, or negation of the male and female distinctions of a reasoning society. This is made particularly poignant in a scene with Jereba and Willis, as they are taking shelter from a blizzard in a cave and Jereba is close to birth and is dyeing, Willis proclaims desperately that if Jereba dies he will be all alone and Jereba says:
“…you are alone. Within yourself you are alone. That is why you humans have separated your sexes, into 2 separate halves…for the joy of it, brief union” (43:00).
It presents the position that humans make themselves less by separating the sexes through the societally constructed belief that there must be gender, in no way shall the two merge. The Drac represent a challenge to this preconception, both in the plot as part of the fictional narrative, and in the physical representation of the Drac with a distinctively considered male actor, in a serious dramatic role, unhinging the spectator’s pre-established notions of gender in the moment when they find out, along with Willis how very narrow view the long held tradition of gender is.
So in conclusion By taking Wartenberg’s moderate thesis approach to how film can philosophize (Sinnerbrink, p.123-124) and applying it to Enemy Mine after watching it critically, it has been proven that a distinctly non-art house Hollywood film created under the same banner as any Hollywood blockbuster film (despite its flop in the box office), can indeed be rich in philosophical discourse.It is a film that is a thought experiment, a critique of a philosophical position, and to a lesser extent, self-reflexive on cinema’s often preserved notions of gender, and thus Enemy Mine is worthy of the same consideration of value philosophically.
*Enemy Mine trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRUdNhYoP_U
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Adler, Mortimer J. The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes. Canada: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston of Canada Limited, 1967. Print.
“Anthropocentricism.” Merriam-Webster. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anthropocentrism. Accessed April 1, 2014.
“Books and Authors.” Christian Union (1870-1893) Oct 22 1892: 744. ProQuest. Web. 1 Apr, 2014.
Enemy Mine. Dir. Peterson, Wolfgang. 20th Century Fox, 1985. Online Film.
Kispal-Kovacs, Joseph. Film, Television and American Society: Lectures on the Media and on Empire. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 2010. Print.
Leff, Lisa. “Students at All-Girl College Promote Gender-Neutral Pronouns: ‘Ze,’ ‘Sie,’ ‘E,’ ”Ou’ and ‘Ve’”. Cnsnews.com, (2013). Retrieved at http://cnsnews.com/news/article/students-all-girl-college-promote-gender-neutral-pronouns-ze-sie-e-ou-and-ve. Accessed April 1, 2014.
Mikkola, Mari, “Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-gender/#toc.
Sinnerbrink, Robert. New Philosophies of Film: Thinking Images. London: Continuum International Pub. Group, 2011. Print.
“What do we mean by “sex” and “gender” ?.” World Health Organization. (2014). Retrieved at http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/. Accessed on April 1, 2014.