The 1979 science-fiction / horror movie Alien tells the story of an aggressive outer space creature hunting the crew of the Nostromo spacecraft. The crew members are awaken by Mother, the computer, after getting signals from a planetoid. The group is diverse, an aspect presented deliberately, to challenge the lack of diversity in the time’s cinema. Two women, Warrant Officer Ripley and Navigator Lambert in a group of seven, Chief Engineer Parker (who is african american), Engineer Brett, Captain Dallas, Science Officer Ash and Executive Officer Kane. Oh, and Jones, the cat. Hell breaks loose after Dallas, Kane and Lambert go down on the planetoid to investigate it. Ripley observes how the signal they get might indicate a warning. Ripley comes off as the cold and severe member. Calculated and somehow patient, she sits and waits after being convinced by Ash not to intervene in the others’ mission.
The three find a strange ship whose design resembles a body. The entrances look like two giant vaginas and on the organic looking inside they find an alien skeleton alongside a massive phallic unidentified object. The use of such symbols is again intentional. Dan O’Bannon talked about his intention of facing the audience with as many sexual elements as possible: „The whole thing was supposed to be about the sexual life cycle of an alien. One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex. Everybody’s always all in a knot of sex. I said, that’s how I’m going to attack the audience. I’m going to attack them sexually.” After Kane is attacked by one of the creatures from inside the dozens of eggs they find, the scene resembling an oral rape, the crew faces the big problem, the strange creature is inside the ship. Ripley stands up once again, making it clear that letting the infected one in is against the procedures, but Ash ignores her. We’re still stuck inside the bad image of the ”party pooper” Ripley. She’s yet to make the audience trust her or like her.
After they realize the alien, later called The Facehugger, is keeping Kane alive by pumping air into his lungs through some kind of tube (hence the oral rape comparison), they proceed at finding solutions. Lambert’s character becomes the audience’s representative. She’s hysterical, afraid, and vulnerable and she even attacks Ripley as a sign of frustration coming from the audience. Ripley and Parker are both practical, they bring relevant points to the table, whereas Dallas and Ash are rather chaotic. After the creature mysteriously leaves Kane’s face, the crew plans on returning home. Enjoying another meal before going back into hibernation, Kane actually gives birth. Yes, he gives birth to a new creature. The scene is bloody, violent, the alien rips his torso on the way out and then runs away. The crew must now find the creature and destroy it.
Ripley’s status as a leader comes as a surprise as far as women’s roles in horror and sci-fi movies. Coming off as more masculine than feminine does question her presence as a feminist statement. As a matter of fact, Ripley’s role was initially written for a male lead. She does show her vulnerable side, more through a certain state of concern, especially when the team goes out to find the alien. The creature now fully grown is also a representation of phallic connotations starting from its appearance to the way of killing: penetrating the victim’s body with its tail.
mature alien creature from Alien (1979)
After Dallas comes face to face with the creature and is taken away, Ripley becomes in charge. She is now faced with important life and death decisions. She chooses to go ahead with Dallas’s initial plan. Since the characters are not romantically linked in any way, Ripley can easily be seen as taking decisions without being influenced by a lover’s passing or plan. She is still the voice of reason and keeps on being a severe presence among her colleagues. When being interrupted by Parker, she snaps violently because she wants to finish talking. She’s defending her position as leader but also takes a stand as a woman.
Ripley learns about Nostromo’s secret mission of investigating a new life form, while the audience is brought face to face with the ”crew expandable” information and is then attacked by Ash, who turns out to be a robot put there by the company. Ripley is seen as truly vulnerable for the first time, as Ash is orally raping her with a porn magazine. It might be a little harsh to call her a feminist character in a movie about rape, but that’s the direction. Parker saves her from Ash and they go ahead with the plan.
Sigourney Weaver & Ian Holm as Ellen Ripley & Ash in Alien (1979)
Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Aliens (1986)
Ripley’s final girl status, a term coined by Carol J. Clover, referring to the last woman left alive to confront the killer, has been often discussed. While some reject the idea (Alien being a sci-fi horror movie, not a slasher), Ellen Ripley does meet the characteristics. After the whole crew is taken away or killed by the alien, it’s just her and Jones (the cat, remember?). She isn’t the typical blonde, scarred girl running away from a killer after previously losing her boyfriend in a gory scene. As far as the audience comes, after not liking Ripley, they start seeing her potential after the Ash scene. Does it take a woman being on the verge of rape to gain people’s trust? Maybe Ripley’s personality, seemingly too serious or cold, didn’t make people root for her (as they might later do in the sequel, Aliens, where people expect her to fall in love with Corporal Hicks). Aliens finds Ripley just as independent as before, but she’s not alone in the end. Even so, she serves a greater purpose than saving her life and the ship, protecting and saving a little girl, Newt. She once again confronts the creature, who, just like Ripley, serves the maternal instinct. In the second movie, Ripley is obviously embracing her femininity a hundred percent, but not to the point where’s she’s not a feminist figure anymore. She’s still independent and fighting for herself, but she’s now also looking out for the others, something she would have done in the first movie, had they not died (see how she’s doing great effort in not letting Jones behind.
Sigourney Weaver & Michael Biehn as Dwayne Hicks & Ellen Ripley in Aliens (1986)
Ellen Ripley & Jones
Ripley is not heartless, but she is definitely stone cold when it comes to certain matters. She focuses on the fight, there are no distractions. In the end, when Ripley boards the shuttle craft, there’s a scene where she takes her clothes off, the first scene of the kind in the entire movie. I don’t see the scene as offensive to women, but more like an obvious act of vulnerability, because it’s then when Ripley notices the alien is in her shuttle and screams. She’s then forced to come up with a plan once again, so the audience’s attention is withdrawn from the previous one. Maybe the public also needed another proof that Ripley is, in fact, a human being who strips down her clothes before going to sleep. Long story short, Ripley kicks the rapist into outer space after meticulously calculating her moves. She can then return home to Earth by her own means.
Captain Dallas could have saved himself and Ripley and then go into deep hibernation together, or Hicks could have proposed to her giving his last breath before fainting from the wounds, but Ripley’s character was never there to please the crowd, nor was the movie (obviously), but the imminent success definitely showed a greater appreciation for this kind of characters and approach. In space no one can hear you scream, but on Earth everybody pretends they don’t.