Just to make a point and prove that this blog is not dead I will post an awesome picture that ties in with the unofficial theme of this blog – the alien franchise, mind you – and sweeten all of our days.
Enjoy the gloriousness of Ellen Ripley and baby Alien byzantine icon style:
This gem can be purchased over HERE. The illustration was made by artist Jska Priebe, whose website you can visit by clicking THIS LINK.
I cheat a little, I admit. I’m just gonna pretend today is the 29th of February, so I can get away with posting my last Alien entry today. If you click HERE you get to the Alien master index, linking to all Alien posts of my “February is Alien month series.” Since the issue of feminism has popped up several times throughout my discussions of the various Alien movies I decided to close this series with talking about Ellen Ripley and her status as a feminist icon. Is it justified, and if so, why?
Looking at the various Alien movies one thing becomes very obvious: the miniscule presence of female characters, crowned by the major Bechdel-test fail in Alien³ where the only female character is Miss Ellen Ripley herself. However, I’ve said it before, I consider it to be an advantage for the overall plot structure and forgive it on the premise that it was a deliberate decision to create a specific dynamic. And that it does in my opinion, so, okay. In Alien we only have one other woman aboard the Nostromo and she gets killed, and I’d argue that part of the reason why she is on there anyways is to provide a sort of anti-thesis to Ripley. She is afraid, indecisive, and ultimately unable to defeat the Alien, while Ripley is all of this sort of not (yay, grammar!).
In Aliens we have two other female characters and they provide some interesting insights too. There is tough Rambo-woman Vasquez who not only saves GI asses several times but also blows herself up heroically in the end, and who serves as a backdrop to what Ripley once was while she becomes something else: a mother. Cause the other female in the movie is a girl and she primarily serves to awake the nurturing instincts in tough cookie Ripley. She still kicks ass, but she does so, cause she has a quasi-daughter now. Which is about to change radically with the beginning of Alien³.
Alien Resurrection is the first film to present a wider cast of female characters. Among them are scientists (who are stupid and afraid of what they’re actually doing), androids who wonder what it is about being human, and captain’s girlfriend who enjoys foot-massages and breaks down badly once her sweetheart is gone. (I will grace the AvP films only with a bracketed comment: those female characters –tough or not – existed only cause they felt they had to provide Ripley substitutes, and we all know it)
So what about Ellen Ripley herself?
She is the sole survivor, multiple times, and she is because she does not bow down to alpha-male-ish nonsense. She is pretty spot on about what is right and what should be done and about what defo should not be done, like e.g. getting quarantined crew members on board, rescuing the cat, blow a colony up, and kill herself. Ripley, just as the Alien, is a metaphor besides being character, and as such she passes through several stages of female experiences. There is the factor of proving one’s own position and qualifications in a sexist hierarchy, there is the issue of becoming a mother, struggling with the feelings this entails, and also the rejection of motherhood (if we consider her to be pregnant with an alien and deciding to, well, abort the “child”). Questions of female solidarity are touched upon, as is the dealing with sexist remarks and objectification by men. And of course Ripley is more than her gender: the issues she deals with are the acceptance of one’s life story, one’s destiny so to speak, embrace it or reject it, and she remains a self-confident and independent spirit til her very end: she ends her own life, cause it is the only solution she deems acceptable concerning to overall situation and developments. Even as a new and “improved” Alien-hybrid clone Ripley stays true to these traits: she remains in charge of her sexuality (even if it means we have to suffer through abysmal one-liners), she is level-headed in situations of massive crisis, she feels empathy with people even if she does not know them and has no immediate profit in caring about them, and she learns what being human means. The hard way. I guess killing your clone-sister isn’t the easiest thing to do. And well, accepting that the being you fought against the last years of your life is now an inextricable part of you, in the literal sense, even. She once more becomes a mother figure, albeit to an alien this time, and once more she rejects the role, with yeah, terribly racist undertones.
I feel I have to point it out once more: I am not against motherhood, no effin way, mothers rule. But I am against the depiction of female journeys as being complete and meaningful only when they are topped off with becoming a mom. Cause ultimately it means that society tells you that you as an individual are pretty worthless, you only gain worth when having kids. And if we follow the thought through it basically means only being a man really counts, cause a as a daughter the same destiny of having to become a mother awaits you. That is why the glorification of motherhood (meaning that all other conceptions of femininity are rejected or deemed of less value) is often ultimately anti-feminist, or let’s just say it: downright sexist. For all the flaws of the Alien Saga in not only the gender department I truly applaud the series for getting the basic conception of a female and truly feminist heroine right. So: Yay! Feel free to disagree with me tough, but then I challenge you to comment! Muahaha.
Admittedly the headline is somewhat misleading, cause this post is more about the overall feminist message of the Alien Saga than just the character of Ellen Ripley. And one super-important yet thus far undiscussed issue is of course the alien.
The depiction of the aliens is highly interesting from a gender-issues-perspective. For once, the alien society is strictly matriarchal. No matter how many the host to a queen might take down, she is still host to a queen, killing her is not an option for the regular alien, since it of course endangers the survival of its species. The whole imagery of having an alien queen, together with her laying eggs (and the complicated mode of reproduction), serves to remind us of some mutant insect rather than an intelligent being or even something resembling human. But this premise is subverted, because in the course of Aliens we witness the alien queen becoming protective of her descendants and finally furious with those who killed them (and yeah, wouldn’t you be?). Alien Resurrection picks up on this, the alien queen literally becomes a mother when she gives birth to an alien hybrid (that is fucked-up-edly white *headdesk*) and experiences what it means to be rejected by your offspring.
While the AvP movies retreat to picturing the aliens as mere killing machines, the overall Alien Saga hints at there being more. They are social beings, and while their whole existence differs considerably from the human experience they are not entirely dissimilar. I’ve talked about the inherent racist implications HERE, but it is less obvious what the message concerning feminism is. In contrast to what the overall series does with the character of Ripley, the alien as a female queen is only valuable because of her function as a mother. However, we never really know about the gender of the other aliens or facehuggers. Do they even have one? Aren’t the facehuggers some sort of omni-gender in that no matter what gender the host, they still always succeed to implant little baby-aliens? Interesting, methinks.
Okay, I’ll wrap it up! The short version of this post could have been: Yup, Ellen Ripley is a feminist heroine for a variety of reasons. I just went out of my way to come to a point about the series as a whole, kinda.
And yeah folks, that’s it for Alien month. I guess we got it covered, huh? Maybe, with future films…. and the comics….. ah, never say never.
Who is this James Cameron guy again? Yeah, you might have heard of Titanic, the movie ‘bout the boat? No? Maybe you came across Avatar, the Pocahontasy smurf adventure on another planet? No? True Lies maybe? Terminator (either one or two)? No? You might have never heard of James Cameron, which is very unlikely, but now you should start remembering his name, because he gave the world Aliens. And I thank him for that.
What is this fuckery, asketh-you, Aliens? Did not Mistress Ellen Ripley erase the one Alien that killed all her crew on that beautiful spacecraft Nostromo except for the awesome cat? Yes, my friends, so she did, but.
We are talking Science Fiction here, dear reader, so naturally Ellen Ripley, badassest woman of all galaxy, went into hibernation and hoped for being rescued at some point. That is where the sequel takes off. She does indeed get “rescued” or rather found, only to get hit in the face by reality real hard, cause our favorite flamethrowing heroine was in hibernation for 57, yes, fifty-seven fucking years.
That is where Alien 2 that is really named Aliens starts from. It was released in 1986 and saw Sigourney Weaver reprising her role as Ellen Ripley. And that is wonderful, of course.
So Ms. Ripley was in hypersleep for 57 years. That’s pretty long and the Alien was pretty dead, so who do we have to blame for another Alien battle? You guessed it: Weyland-Yutani, our favorite evil corporation. Cause that is once again and actually some more the theme in this movie: There are huge corporations dominating our lives, and what they want is money, they don’t care about your life. Therefore we have to revisit the homely planet of LV-426 again, where the Nostromo-crew landed in the first movie and encountered all those eggs. Surprise y’all, those eggs have hatched, and they have found some unwilling hosts.
Who are those unwilling hosts exactly? Another major theme just about to hit your head: Colonialism. Bam. Just like that.
Because although Aliens does not make it explicit, the history of colonialism on our planet had a lot to do with people wanting to make a profit and detaching themselves from the inhumane aspects of it by creating companies to approach the subject matter in a more practical manner. Market oriented. And Weyland-Yutani cetainly is that, cause they wanna make sure that their colony-equipment (atmosphere-converters? Hello future, you look grim and gritty) and colonists aka their investments are safe, and even if not, that they can at least still get their hands on the alien to profit from its extraordinary physique. Which is most likely the reason they sent those colonists there in the first place. This whole thing with the colonies is an interesting issue, really. Like, what is the movie even trying to get across as a message (on an unintentional level, methinks)? Colonialism is bad because ultimately the planet/species conquered will strike back an kill us all? That is kind of the terror of the whole Alien universe: We leave the Earth and get out there just to encounter something that is going to wipe us out. Though curiously, this really is usually what the colonist does. Human history lesson one: Colonialism, we all know, is not terrible because wah-wah, poor colonists, but because colonists destroyed millions of lives and wiped out entire cultures. And may I add: this happens here as well. Ellen Ripley, though I root for her, wipes out the little home the aliens have built for themselves. Given, those aliens killed all the humans first. Honestly, I can’t even really make up my mind about that point. But interesting to keep the colonialism-thing in mind (specially if you encounter the wonderful phrase about us living in postcolonial times….).
Speaking of colonialism, where would we be without our dutiful soldiers in Aliens? Nowhere that is. In good old Blackwater-fashion we have a company that is by the looks of it dominating the globe and probably dictating politics, with its own little army of GI beef to see their interest protected. Yup, they all turn out to be cannon fodder, but even though they are basically that, the few brushstrokes that the film uses to make them characters are eerily efficient, cause after the first initial killing in the tank-car is over, I find myself caring about those GIs. And yep, good old Ellen Ripley needs them, but haha, turns out, they need her even more. We need them this time around specifically because civilians won’t cut it anymore. There are more aliens now, all the eggs seem to have hatched, with basically all colonists dead by chestbusting, thus leaving us and Ripley with her soldier-crew with a multitude of aliens that are not happy about the violent visit.
This is where the movie could have gone terribly wrong, cause the first Alien movie was so efficient and forceful since there was just one terrible creature taking them all down, but this time, the interesting thing is when we get to realize that they took the colony over, made it their own and have a social structure. The alien is not a mere killing machine, it is a living organism, a being that cares about its reproduction and the safety of its existence. And that is one awesome twist for it gives the aliens an aura of realness, all the while having terrible implications about how interstellar racism could turn out to look like.
So with the aliens being a species with social hierarchies all of a sudden, we hit another major theme. Let us label it: Mothers amongst themselves.
The aliens have a queen. She is huge and scary and constantly laying her eggs. She is also furiously protecting them, but that does not sit well with another mother in this movie, namely: Ellen Ripley. Wait, whud? Ellen Motherfucking Ripley is not technically a mother (although she apparently was, but her daughter died while she was in hibernation), but finding the colonist girl Newt she takes personal responsibility for her and places the protection of her life above all else. That directly leads us to the showdown of mothers, meaning Ripley protecting Newt and the alien queen protecting every alien and egg on that damn station. And the tricky part of it is: I’m not even sure who I’m rooting for. Granted, it is great to see Ripley single-handedly bringing down the deadliest beings in the universe, but then again, those beings are so central and interesting by now, that everytime the alien queen appears on screen I’m totally excited for what awesome plan is sitting in her ginormous head. Elevator rides? Sneaking into spaceships? Fighting against giant robots? Miss Queen is not above those things, in fact, she fucking rocks at all of that
But once more some intellectual exercise: We, the feminists we are, wonder of course: what is the message? Mothers fight mothers? That is the driving force of the universe? Whatever happened to female solidarity? Letting the kids play together? Here it is either you or me with a lot of dead babies on team alien and raging fire from intergalactic superwoman Ripley. Does that make her a feminist hero? Or does it make her an anti-feminist warrior?
Interestingly, and again barely I’d say, we have Aliens passing the Bechdel-test (Ripley and Newt) and featuring super-butch Jenette Vasquez. So basically the characters who kick ass in the baddest way possible in this movie are a) Ellen MF Ripley, b) muscle-GI Jenette, and c) Alien Queen Herself. Making it a testosterone driven action vehicle that is actually more of a chick flick.
We haven’t even talked about the good Droid yet. Bishop is a robot who, unlike his predecessor, is actually caring about the human beings surrounding him and protects them, even if it means going against the profit interests of the corporation that sent him on that mission. Ripley hates him/doesn’t trust him, but ultimately finds out, that artificial intelligence is also intelligence and not too bad. Cookies and milk for everyone, thanks to resident robot Bishop we even have four surviving characters this time around. Okay, one is terribly hurt and in a coma, the other one is an Android and broken in half, but hey, the two girls made it!
Wonder what’ll happen to them….
Did I already mention: Aliens is a fucking fantastic film. So if you haven’t seen it yet, or it’s just been too long, go and re-watch!
“This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”
Alien is one of my all time favorite movies. Actually, all of the first four Alien movies are among my all time favorites. So we’ll be heading towards a month full of reviews and recaps of Alien stuff of all sorts.
In addition to looking at the movies we’ll talk about some deeper social issues connected to the Alien franchise (like feminist heroes and the depiction of the Other), and heck, I might even throw in some Alien fashion, decoration and/or architecture.
This post will serve as a directory of sorts, I’ll link back all Alien related posts to this one, so you have a master index to get to all the posts in case you’re interested. Stay tuned for more!