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  • [Dallas] Ash, can you see this?

  • [Ash] Yes I can.

  • I've never seen anything like it.

  • [Rafa] Hi, I'm Rafa, and before I say anything else, I feel the need to confess that I originally

  • intended to make this essay about Alien 3, and I tried, guys, I really did. But I ultimately

  • realized it simply isn't possible to talk properly about Alien 3 without first taking

  • the time to talk properly about the two films that came before it, and I couldn't do all

  • of that in an essay that would stay under my (admittedly arbitrary) time limit of 20

  • minutes. So, instead of one essay, you're gonna get three -- and maybe, if I can

  • summon the courage, I'll do Resurrection and Prometheus, too. Maybe.

  • So, Alien: the film that started it all. On the surface, it's a bit perplexing why this

  • movie became such an enduring phenomenon, both in terms of pop culture and academia.

  • No film history program worth its salt would leave Alien off its curriculum, but why? Movies

  • about aliens or mutated monsters that slowly kill off a group of isolated humans one by

  • one were just as commonplace then as they are now. If anything, they oversaturated the

  • science fiction genre at the height of its cinematic popularity in the 1950s.

  • So what made this film different from the hundreds of other creature features that came

  • before it? Well, there are relatively superficial factors, such as the seriousness with which

  • the production was approached... [Dallas] What do you got? [Kane] See what you make of this.

  • [Rafa] ...the attention to believability and atmosphere...

  • [Lambert] What is it?

  • [Rafa] ...the performances of the cast... [Ash] I can't lie to you about your chances, but...

  • ...you have my sympathies.

  • [Rafa] ...and the sheer mesmerizing beauty of the film, but the real key to Alien's

  • groundbreaking magnificence lies in the Alien itself, and what it represents.

  • [Kane] It seems to have life. Organic life.

  • H.R. Giger's design for the monster was unlike anything anyone had ever seen, founded

  • on principles of sexual horror intended to assault the viewer at a visceral, subconscious

  • level, while also constructing a politically radical critique of our society. Of course,

  • the xenomorph was not the first monster to function on a symbolic level. There was The

  • Thing, for instance, which channeled American fears of a communist infiltration, and of

  • course Godzilla, which I examined in an earlier essay, but none had ever tackled sexual violence

  • the way Alien did.

  • While there had been other monsters that featured sexuality as part of their horror, or at least

  • as part of their appeal, the xenomorph's sexual

  • threat is far more literal. It's an organism that is utterly dependent on violent acts

  • of oral rape in order to reproduce. The facehugger, which can seemingly lie dormant indefinitely

  • until a host arrives, forcibly inserts itself down the throat of its victims to impregnate them.

  • The smothering, the finger-like limbs that grip the face, the tail tightening around

  • the throatthis image bears an uncanny resemblance to something out of a hardcore facial abuse

  • porno, whichyou know what, I'll just let you Google that on your own.

  • Getting face-raped by an alien creature is horrific enough on its own, but it's made

  • much worse by the indiscriminate nature of the assault. The Alien doesn't distinguish

  • between the genders of its victims, a point subtly emphasized by the disturbing lack of

  • eyes at every stage of its life cycle. In other words, it has the capacity to turn anyone

  • regardless of gender into an unwilling mother for its demonic offspring. [Ash] Kane's son.

  • [Rafa] What happens to Kane -- a violent rape resulting in an unwanted pregnancy and death from childbirth --

  • is a trifecta of historically feminine fears that are perversely inflicted on a man.

  • We bear witness to the total desecration of the male

  • body and the gender binary it represents.

  • Watch how the adult Alien attacks Brett...

  • ...and Parker.

  • [Parker] Get out of the room!

  • [Rafa] These attacks are phallic. The erect,

  • toothed tongue strikes Brett and Parker in a place that has been established as a sexualized

  • area: the face, where Alien impregnation occurs. And I really shouldn't have to explain what

  • happens to poor Lambert.

  • If we take a closer look at the facehugger, we can see that its phallic appendage also

  • doubles as an umbilical cord, infantilizing Kane at the same time it feminizes his body.

  • [Dallas] What's it got down his throat? [Ash] I would suggest it's feeding him oxygen.

  • [Dallas] Paralyzes him, puts him in a coma...

  • ...then keeps him alive. Now what the hell is that?

  • [Rafa] This corruption of maternity is echoed in the figurative mothers of the derelict spacecraft

  • and the Nostromo. The derelict is an eerily feminine object, the shape of its hull suggesting

  • a pair of legs spread open, and the entrances between them are unmistakably vaginal. The

  • bio-mechanical appearance of this ship suggests the possibility that it might have once been

  • alive, at least partially, but if so, it is most certainly dead now, defiled by the eggs

  • it carried in its womb-like cargo hold. Similarly, the Nostromo, whose central computer is referred

  • to asmother,” is inevitably destroyed because of the infestation of the xenomorph.

  • These mothers have been so degraded by their masters -- by the Company's special

  • order and whoever thought it was a good idea to carry these many eggs around -- that

  • they in effect become dangerous themselves. Incapable of nurturing, their bodies become

  • traps instead of sanctuaries.

  • Viewed this way, Ripley's compulsion to save the cat is understandable: a maternal,

  • protective act in defiance of the Alien's all-consuming patriarchal power.

  • In essence, the Alien personifies the worst excesses of male lust, and here we begin to

  • see a grander social critique take shape.

  • [Lambert] You pound down the stuff like there's no tomorrow.

  • [Parker] Listen I'd rather be eating something else, but... right now I'm thinking of food.

  • [Rafa] If hyper-masculine sexuality is the main threat

  • of this film, so much so that it destroys men as well as women, the film can be read

  • as a feminist allegory for the oppressiveness of patriarchal society. The Alien represents

  • male sexual dominance being exerted on the people, who are then pushed into performing

  • traditional gender roles that ultimately destroy them. The gung-ho machoness of Kane...

  • [Kane] We've come this far, we must go on. We have to go on.

  • [Rafa] Parker... [Parker] I'm for killing that goddamned thing right now. [Ripley] Okay.

  • [Rafa] ...and Dallas... [Lambert] Who gets to go in the vent? [Ripley] I do.

  • [Dallas] No. [Rafa] ...ends poorly for them, just as Lambert's hysterical passivity leads to her demise.

  • [Lambert] What? And end up like the others?

  • [Rafa] Even Ash, an asexual robot, feels the overwhelming need to make a male performance.

  • His admiration and envy of the Alien's physical perfection inspires him to attack Ripley by shoving a

  • porn magazine into her mouth, mimicking the Alien's sexual violence, and he does it

  • on something that almost looks like an altar of pornographic images. This, of course, also

  • leads to his destruction.

  • The one exception in all this, obviously, is Ripley. Unlike Lambert, she bears little

  • resemblance to the archetypal female and is largely defined by characteristics that were

  • traditionally masculine. As the only character who clearly defies culturally imposed gender

  • roles, perhaps it shouldn't have been all that surprising that she alone survives.

  • [Ripley] Why don't you just fuck off? [Parker] What?

  • [Rafa] But the Alien's threat is a bit more nuanced than simply being a walking penis monster.

  • Remember that the facehugger is hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female traits, and

  • can also impose female traits on male victims. And as an adult, the xenomorph appears to

  • have an insatiable bisexual hunger.

  • It seems that at least part of the Alien's horrific otherness

  • stems from its opposition to heterosexual and cisgendered norms; perhaps that is why

  • the asexual Ash is also threatening.

  • If packaging male aggression and non-normative sexuality in the same monster seems out of

  • line with contemporary feminism, you have to remember that the film was made during

  • the era of second-wave feminism, which viewed transgender identities as threatening to femininity.

  • And of course, everyone behind the camera was a straight, cisgendered man. Bisexuality

  • has also historically been treated by both progressives and conservatives alike as being

  • dishonest, a demographic populated by straight people fooling around and homosexuals unwilling

  • to fully admit who they are. [Carol] You were a lesbian?

  • [Piper] At the time.

  • [Cal] You still a lesbian? [Piper] No, I'm not still a lesbian.

  • [Liz] Yeah there's no such thing as bisexual. That's just something they invented in the 90s

  • to sell hair products. Deal breaker!

  • [Rafa] But before we take the idea that the film is a complete leftist manifesto and run with

  • it, it's worth noting that Ash's role in the film is taken from a conservative science

  • fiction tradition, not a progressive one. In classic American science fiction cinema,

  • which reached its zenith in the 50s during the height of Cold War anxieties, the distinctions

  • between right-leaning and left-leaning films are most evident in their depictions of scientists.

  • In progressive films, concerned with nuclear proliferation, war-mongering, and McCarthy-ist

  • witch hunts, the scientists were portrayed as the voice of reason in a trigger-happy,

  • paranoid world. [Barnhardt] Would you be willing to meet with a group of scientists I'm calling together?

  • Perhaps you could explain your mission to them, and they in turn can present it to their various peoples.

  • [Klaatu] That's why I came to see you.

  • [Barnhardt] It is not enough to have men of science. We scientists are too often ignored or misunderstood.

  • We must get leaders from every field. The finest minds in the world.

  • [Rafa] In conservative science fiction, concerned with the infiltration and sabotage of the American

  • way of life by outside communist forces, scientists were often portrayed as allegorical communist

  • sympathizers, sometimes to the point of caricature.

  • [Carrington] They think you mean to harm us all. But I want to know you, to help you, believe that!

  • You're wiser than anything on Earth. Use that intelligence, look at me and know what I'm

  • trying to tell you, I'm not your enemy, I'm a scientist! I'm a scientist who's trying to --

  • [Rafa] They were so enamored of and blinded by scientific

  • progress that they looked upon these monsters as either potential benefits to society or

  • more worthy than humanity. [Carrington] On the planet from which our visitor came, vegetable life underwent an

  • evolution similar to that of our own animal life. Which would account for the superiority of its brain.

  • Its development was not handicapped by emotional or sexual factors.

  • [Rafa] Ash's ties to that tradition are pretty clear. [Ash] A perfect organism.

  • Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

  • [Lambert] You admire it.

  • [Ash] I admire its purity.

  • A survivor.

  • Unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

  • [Rafa] Conservative sci-fi also had a tendency to portray the government as out of touch, meddling,

  • or incompetent. [Jim] Let me tell you what happened, kid. You and whoever else was in on this thought you'd

  • put one over on the police. So you break in here when the Doc is not around, you mess the place up a little --

  • [Dave] Now wait a minute, Jim! The kids couldn't have done this! You saw for yourself, the window was locked

  • from the inside, and so was the door.

  • [Jim] They rigged it with a piece of string, it's part of their plan to make us look silly.

  • [Jane] I think you're doing that pretty well by yourself, Sergeant.

  • [Rafa] Forcing the heroes to ignore its authority in order to do what is right.

  • [Steve] Alright. We tried to do it the right way. Now we're gonna wake this town up ourselves.

  • [Teen] Yeah yeah, but how? [Teen] Yeah, how? [Steve] Any way we can think of. [Rafa] But Alien

  • modifies this trope in a few significant ways: for one, the role of the government

  • has been replaced with that of the Company, and secondly the Company actively betrays

  • our protagonists by rendering their lives expendable in the pursuit of material gain. This

  • theme of betrayal and abandonment by an institution of authority was quite common in the 70s,

  • as pervasive disillusionment with the Vietnam War defined the cultural zeitgeist.