Friday, 2 December 2016

Alien (1979)

Fig 1: Poster
Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) is a sci-fi and horror film. The movie tells a story about a 7 member crew of astronauts (and a cat) on the way to return to Earth with a load of minerals on board. While they are under stasis, the computer of the ship awakes the whole crew, reporting signals from another planet. They decide to inspect and discover a crashed alien spaceship and while entering it and exploring Kane, one of the members gets attacked by a 'face-hugger' while inspecting a few eggs. He is dragged back to the ship by other crew members and the face-hugger eventually dies and falls off. After Kane awakes, he seems to be perfectly fine and the crew continues their journey back to Earth. While the crew is having dinner, Kane suddenly starts screaming and an alien rips through his chest/stomach, called 'chest-burster' and while the crew stands shocked over the dead Kane the small alien makes its escape and disappears on the ship. The crew learns that the alien has acid blood and it cannot be killed easily, so they decide to track it down ad destroy it with fire. However they are not aware that the alien rapidly grew and now slightly larger than a human with huge strength; and is on its way to kill all of them. After the alien kills two more members, the crew has split opinion about what they should do, as Lambert wants to escape from the ship and Ripley still strong on the idea of killing it, as the escape idea would fail and they all would lose their lives. However, Ash who we later discover is only a robot, follows the order of his creators and is destroyed by Lambert and Parker as Ash tries to choke Ripley with a folded newspaper. Now that there is only the three of them left, they agree that escaping in a pod is now possible and they want to blow the ship up with the alien. They attempt to get to the pod on separate ways, Lambert and Parker rush to gather necessary equipment for their stasis and are killed by the alien. Ripley finds the two dead members and collects the cat, rushing to the pod as she activates self-destruction. She is relieved, as the ship blows up and she is on her way back to Earth, only to discover that the alien is also escaped inside the pod and now they are face to face in a tiny space. Ripley manages to open the door of the pod and while the alien is blown out the door, she holds on and is finally safe.
Fig 2: 'face-hugger'
Fig 3: Stills from the 'chest-burster' scene
Alien, at first glance will appear as a simple horror movie about a few people battling against a killer monster, however there is much more to this movie, than one of those typical sci-fi/horror film. 'Most critiques, academic and otherwise, ultimately conclude that Alien is a feminist film because of its representation of the workplace as a home to equality and a place where traditional gender roles have been obliterated.' (Haggstrom, 2012) As the movie was created at the time of the second big arise of feminism, this seemed to be right. Moreover, the dominant, lead role is a strong and powerful female character. Other theories suggest that the meaning of Alien is about fear of rape, reproduction, birth, sex and sexuality in general. As the movie starts the crew seem to be sleeping in a womb like machine, almost naked (and the ship's computer called 'Mother'), it is said to be a birth scene. Furthermore, the film does not give a lot of attention to gender and their expected roles, for example all characters do the similar jobs and the characters's first name. the difference between the two genders is only recognised by our ability to recognise it; 'We may be able to recognize that Ripley is female and Dallas is male, but the film does not.' (Haggstrom, 2012) There are numerous times when props/objects or creatures are similar in appearance as human reproductive organs. As, said before, where the crew wakes up from their sleep appears as a womb. The crashed ship they discover said to be represent two 'legs' and as they enter through the door in the middle, the inside of the ship seems like organic materials, and they found eggs inside. Kane is the one who find the eggs and as he touches on of them a creature attacks him and 'It is Kane who is impregnated by a scorpion-like monster that attaches itself to his face, raping him orally in an act of sexual domination.' (Haggstrom, 2012) This event also suggest that there is sexual confusion, as he is the one who is 'impregnated'. He is powerless against what is happening and as the alien is painfully 'born' he dies in a horrible way '...that introduces the theme of male’s anxiety in the face of feminism.' (Haggstrom, 2012). Another symbolic scene is when Ash tries to kill Ripley. At that scene there are multiple symbols, such as there are a few pornographic images on the wall in the background, showing the objectification of women. There is blood running down Ripley's nose, representing that she is a woman indeed with menstruation blood, while Ash has a white, milky substance running down his face. Also, as Ash tries to suffocate her with a rolled up magazine, as he pushes it in her mouth, said to be oral rape and Ash's attempt to take back the dominant role as a male.
Fig 4: Alien's extra mouth organ
Fig 5: Ash rolling up the magazine
Many of the creatures met by the crew represent both male and female reproductive organs, like the 'face-hugger', which similar a vagina when the underside is closely seen. But the Alien itself is what appears to be the bigger threat. Throughout the movie it is not known if the creature is a male or female, so it arguably could be either or both, but it is clear that it attacks both the male and female crew members and kills them the same way. The alien extends an additional organ in its mouth, while the whole mouth is dripping with a slime like substance, with said to represent a male organ, just like the whole head's shape of the creature. 'The notion that the alien is mimicking arousal when attacking its victims is in keeping with the pairing of sex and violence present throughout the movie' (Lost Narratives, 2013) This can be seen as the Alien goes to hunt down and apparently rape and murder all crew members. There is a scene when the alien is about to kill one of the female crew members, as the camera only focuses on the creature's tail slowly rising up between her legs and as the camera cuts to the rushing Ripley only her pained screams can be hers following the alien's chilling voice.
Fig 6: The Alien
The film's plot is so simple that it would be easy to forget, however the hidden meanings, characters and the design itself is enough to rise the quality of it so high, hardly any other movie (including movies from other genre) is able to achieve similar standards. The overall set design and concepts were created by HR Giger, who is incredibly famous for his unique, sexual and terrifying works. The director wanted to present something that is unique and people has never seen before, and upon meeting Giger, he knew that he would be a perfect opponent for a designer 'I’d never been so certain about anything in all my life' (Scott, s.d.) Giger's design are mixture between machine and organic material. while the crew's ship is mechanical, the alien and its ship are working with the concept of looking like organs. bones and colour/ texture wise as machine.
Fig 7: Giger's machine and bones/organs artwork
Beside the great set design by Giger, other visual aspects of the film are very interesting and intensifying the atmosphere. there is often smoke or fog appearing, giving a mysterious look wile the lighting is quite poor throughout almost the whole movie, as the only source of light would be from the artificial light of the ship. In the darkness it is difficult o tell whenever the alien is going to appear, due to the dark colours of the creature, which adds a horrifying sense to the movie and keeps the viewer at the edge of their seats.

The characters appear as normal people, with enjoyment in each others' company and show fear countless times, which makes it harder for the audience to see them murdered one by one, however the connection not strong enough to pull tears from the loss (rather the horrible ways they die and the initial fear, as it is horror indeed). The movie made the characters 'gender-less' and switched some of the usual roles. in the film we are presented with a strangely powerful female heroine and the only survivor (beside the cat). The acting is not overexerted and what makes the movie much fearful is that the characters actually appear to be terrified or display other emotions very believably.
Fig 8: 7 member crew
Overall this movie has a simple and expected plot, however the meanings and symbols are quite complex, showing male anxiety of feminism and sexual fears. Alien has set the bars high for other horror and sci-fi movies, with some of the most iconic scenes, sets, creatures, as well as monster and lead heroine. As it is a horror movie, it is expected to have jump-scares and bloody scenes, with a terrifying monster, so it might not be the best to watch if the viewer is easily scared or cannot handle blood well; however it is not a blood-bath type film, so the gruesome scenes are minimal. If the audience pays enough attention to the details, it is a highly enjoyable film, which the person might desires to watch multiple times, without getting bored or less scared wile watching it.
Fig 9: Ripley and Alien face-to-face

'In space no one can hear you scream' - Tagline from: Alien (1979)


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  1. Another excellent review Greta :) Just see my comment on '2001' regarding keeping the introduction to the film a bit more concise.
    You have 'objection of women' when I think you mean 'objectification'...

  2. Thanks for the feedback! I will correct my mistake :)