By Paul Anthony Jonze.
There’s nothing to fear. Look, no blood, no decay. Just a few stitches.
– Dr. Henry Frankenstein, Frankenstein
Futura … Parody whatever you like to call it. Also: Delusion … In short a woman.
– Inventor Rotwang, Metropolis
The image of the ‘monstrous-feminine’, or femme castratrice, has been prevalent within the science fiction and horror genres since the era of the silent film. When the scientist Rotwang created Maschinenmensch, (or ‘the Machine-Man’), otherwise known as Maria, in the German Expressionist epic Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927), the expressionless yet sexual representation of woman became the subject of both attraction and repugnance alike. This representation of the female monster would later become the subject of many B-movies, however in large part, she served mainly as a counterpart that remained in the shadow within the male dominated world of horror until the 1950s. Films such as Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935) and Brides of Dracula (Terrance Fisher, 1960) are significant examples of women serving as monstrous consorts under male subjugation. However, film theorist Barbara Creed argues that the manifestation of the monstrous feminine is not always in the guise of the horrific body as found in the B-movie:
The female monster, or monstrous-feminine, wears many faces: the amoral primeval mother (Aliens, 1986); vampire (The Hunger, 1983); witch (Carrie, 1976); woman as monstrous womb (The Brood, 1979); woman as bleeding wound (Dressed To Kill, 1980); woman as possessed body (The Exorcist, 1973); the castrating mother (Psycho, 1960), woman as beautiful but deadly killer (Basic Instinct, 1992), aged psychopath (Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, 1962), the monstrous girl-boy (A Reflection of Fear, 1973); woman as non-human animal (Cat People, 1942); woman as life-in-death (Life-force, 1985); woman as the deadly femme castratrice (I Spit On Your Grave, 1978).
(Creed, 1993: 1)
As Creed’s statement illustrates, the appearance of the monstrous-feminine as protagonist appears on film most notably at the beginning of the 1960s. One could argue that this manifestation directly correlates with what became known as the second wave of the feminist movement.
Alongside the symbolic representation of the monstrous-feminine, the maternal body is displayed as a tool to tap into male anxiety surrounding birth and reproduction. The invention of new life has been evident since the early days of cinema, when the maniacal Dr. Frankenstein uttered the famous words “It’s alive!” in James Whale’s film adaptation of Frankenstein (1931). This portrayal was man’s attempt at playing God, creating existence with his own hands, constructing a false womb, an unnatural space to grow life, and is a significant example of man’s preoccupation with birthing rites. The maternal body differs from that of the male, as it possesses the natural ability to carry, nurture and produce life through its own biological functions.
The Alien series demonstrates male anxiety surrounding the materialization of the maternal, the monstrous, and the horror of the open body within the grand narrative of each instalment. These anxieties have been represented on screen as spaces of horror and trauma directly related to the human body, and throughout the series have been presented as themes relatable to contemporary developments in real-life social politics and scientific advancements. Barbara Creed’s reading of the maternal body in the horror genre analyses the repulsion of reproduction, using Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection to exemplify her argument:
The place of the abject is ‘the place where meaning collapses’, the place where ‘I’ am not. The abject threatens life; it must be ‘radically excluded’ (Kristeva, 1982, 2) from the place of the living subject, propelled away from the body and deposited on the other side of an imaginary border which separates the self from that which threatens the self. Although subject must exclude the abject, the abject must, nevertheless, be tolerated for that which threatens to destroy life also helps to define life. Further, the activity of exclusion is necessary to guarantee that the subject take up his/her proper place in relation to the symbolic.
(Creed, 1993: 9)
Creed’s argument of the maternal body as a space of horror uses Kristeva’s theory of the abject to illustrate the anxiety surrounding reproduction. However, this thesis, while also using Creed and Kristeva’s theories of the maternal and the abject to demonstrate anxiety concerning procreation, will also establish reproductive medica-social influences and contexts that are contemporary to each film. Chapter one will focus on Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) and its themes of reproduction, abjection and the archaic mother that are established in the film, which underline the themes of its subsequent sequels. The chapter will demonstrate how real-life advancements in medicine can be applied to the film’s narrative of reproductive anxiety, and will examine the presence of the reoccurring protagonist Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) who appears in all four instalments. Chapter two will explore Ripley’s transformation from integrated science officer to significant feminist icon of the Reagan-era in Aliens (James Cameron, 1986), and her relationship with Newt and the Alien Queen, comparing the parallels between fiction and real life advancements in surrogacy. The third chapter, analysing Alien 3 (David Fincher, 1992), will examine the film’s underlying subtext concerning the early 1990s emergence of HIV and infestation, and the final chapter will examine the Alien series’ concluding instalment, Alien Resurrection (Jean Pierre Jeunet, 1997), and the themes of cloning which are a central premise of the film’s narrative.
Although Creed’s theory of reproduction and maternal manifestation form a blueprint for this thesis’ argument, this work will broaden the period and take into account additional themes of contemporaneous medical anxiety, especially focusing on reproductive technologies. It will illuminate how the films are not just an illustration of the monstrous, but also a reflection of real life unease that has moved on from and extended Creed’s view of the abject into the more tangible territory of reproductive technologies.
Chapter One: Alien
She is there in the text’s various representations of the primal scene, and in its depiction of birth and death. She is there in the film’s images of blood, darkness and death. She is also there in the chameleon figure of the alien, the monster as fetish-object of and for the archaic mother.
– Barbara Creed, The Monstrous Feminine
It is significant that the Soviets sent an untrained woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into orbit on June 16th, 1963 as a symbolic “defacing of the images of male astronauts”. The technology of orbital flight was coded as an aggressive, penetrating, phallic force, one of the ‘extensions of man’ in the truest sense.
– Daniel Pimley, Representations of the Body in Alien
Alien, directed by Ridley Scott and released in the summer of 1979, is a film that can be analysed in two differing ways in identifying anxieties relating to the human body. The first anxiety is related specifically to the biological functions of male and female intercourse, and, subsequently, natural birth. Birth and reproduction are presented in Alien as dangerous and monstrous, and the female body is represented as a space of aggression and hostility within the film’s mise-en-scène. Sexual symbolism is offered in the manifestation of the alien, from its abject birth to its razor-sharp inner jaws and phallic-shaped head. Rape, the hostile womb and the marriage of birth and death all form a part of the metanarrative. However, underlying this narrative is a second anxiety relating to the human body, that reflecting medical and scientific advancements contemporary to the late 1970s. This chapter will examine the anxieties prevalent in Alien, firstly focusing on the concerns of childbirth and the monstrous representation of the maternal body that provide a staple for the subsequent sequels, and secondly on the unease of medical developments at the time of the film’s release, as highlighted in Daniel Pimley’s paper Representations of the Body in Alien, which exemplifies attitudes towards human biology in the late 1970s.
As the opening credits draw to a close, and the organic, chilling musical score is reduced to a few single notes, the spectator is offered a wide view of deep space, and within it, the Nostromo, silently drifting through the stars on a return journey to Earth following a mining expedition on a faraway planet. On board sleep seven crewmembers, five male and two female, along with a cat named Jonesy. By the end of the film, only one crewmember will survive, the woman known as Ripley. Already determined just ten years prior to the release of Alien was the second wave of feminism, which one could argue is a key factor in the presence of Ripley as female hero and sole survivor. The presence of a female protagonist, however, was not a novel one. In the late 1970s, television shows such as Charlie’s Angels, The Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman all featured female leads, along with a handful of significant science fiction films. Film theorists and authors Ximena Gallardo-C and C. Jason Smith argue that the female protagonist was quickly becoming an established figure in the narrative of science fiction, and state that
Alien was not the first science-fiction film to feature a serious, strong female protagonist: the studio’s decision to cast Sigourney Weaver in the role of Ripley was probably based on the success of female leads such as Katherine Ross in The Stepford Wives (1975), Julie Christie in Demon Seed (1977), and Genevieve Bujold in Coma (1978). In the end, however, every single one of these women either relied on a man or was finally crushed by the evil forces plotting against her.
(Gallardo-C and Smith, 2004: 17)
Following the death of the male captain, Ripley soon takes charge and becomes an independent force on board the ship. The presence of Ripley helps to establish the dominant authority of the female body in Alien. The maternal body, the womb, and the female reproductive system all underline specific aspects of the story arc, and, as argued by Vivian Sobchack, “The narrative enterprise of space exploration and its accompanying visuals may be viewed as a symbolic representation of birth and/or intercourse” (1985: 110). As the Nostromo approaches the planet in Alien, an exterior shot shows the ship’s approach, giving implications of a sexual disposition, a sperm penetrating an egg in the vast, empty womb of outer space, much like the image of Darth Vader’s ship approaching the Death Star in Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977).
Dominated by a grand narrative encompassing themes of reproduction, the representation of birth and the maternal body, both human and alien, is presented within the mise-en-scène with overt visceral quality, which associates the monstrous and the abject to anxieties of childbirth. James Kavanagh argues that there are three scenes of birth within the narrative during the first act of the film, each one progressively more monstrous and violent, leading up to the horrific birth of the alien. The first is presented in the opening scene, in which the astronauts are woken from hyper-sleep. As the camera explores the innards of the Nostromo, a series of tracking shots travel down the empty, lifeless corridors of the ship. Kavanagh argues that the shots implicate “the viewer as I/eye” (1980: 75), suggesting that the spectator is actually witness to a subjective view of the ship’s life-support system, known to the crew as ‘Mother’. Kavanagh continues his argument by stating that, “this ends with a long tracking shot down the smooth, clean electronic corridor into the inner chamber, where six curiously unsexed bodies slowly come to life” (1980: 75). One could argue that the scene alludes to female reproductive organs. The long, red and silver walled corridors present the image of the fallopian tubes, while the brightly lit chamber in which the crew find themselves awakening arguably represents the womb, a sterile place of birth from which the crew are effectively ‘re-born’. As they slowly stir and become conscious, they are presented as un-gendered, their uniform of white underwear giving little suggestion as to who is male and who is female. Instead, the ship itself, which here represents the maternal body, dominates gender and sexuality.
The second birthing scenario takes place aboard the derelict alien craft. Upon settling down on the planetoid (as per company orders) they discover they are within walking distance of the source of origin of what appears to be a distress signal from an, as of yet, unidentified organism. Captain Dallas (Tom Skerrit) and crewmembers Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) and Kane (John Hurt) don spacesuits and venture out onto the planet’s surface to track down the source of the transmission. The planet’s surface is dark, hostile and rocky, howling winds envelope the apprehensive crewmembers as they embark on their short journey, a representation of the hostile womb. En route, however, Ripley discovers that the signal is actually a warning, albeit too late. The three astronauts discover an abandoned alien craft, horseshoe shaped in design, something not of human origin, but one with overt sexual symbolism.
The second birth scene – more a conception – involves two men and a woman collectively imaged as three clumsy sperm-like figures entering the vaginal opening between the upstretched ‘legs’ of an alien spaceship. Entering a corridor that exudes the ooze of biology, they establish an effective visual trope: the confusion of organic and mechanical textures, which gives the alien his camouflage.
(Kavanagh, 1980: 75)
Once inside, the crew travel down empty corridors towards what is suggested to be the ship’s cockpit, containing the dead remains of an alien life form, described by Kavanagh as “death gigantic” (1980: 75). A wide shot reveals the entirety of the room, the three astronauts dwarfed by the gigantic alien and its chair. A close-up of the alien’s chest reveals something has ruptured from within it, its bones protrude outward, the breached body representing the abject, unifying death and birth. Below the cockpit, Kane discovers a hole in the floor leading to another room. As Dallas and Lambert lower him down into the wide space, he describes the room as being “like the god damn tropics” (Alien), suggesting a humid environment, a potentially suitable space in which to breed life. It is here he finds hundreds of eggs, and upon investigating them, the spectator is provided with a subjective shot, a close-up showing that the eggs have an opening on the top that resembles female genitals, similar to the entrance to the ship through which the “sperm-like” astronauts entered, only this time tightly closed. Another close-up shows the vagina-shaped lips open in a strange, mechanical movement, revealing soft, fleshy tissue. From inside, a creature ejects from the egg in one violent, swift movement and attaches itself onto Kane’s face. It is a scene of monstrous birth and violent abjection, a precursor to the one that follows.
The third scene in the first act involves the crew eating around the dining table, their last meal before returning to the hyper-sleep chambers and embarking on their return flight to Earth. Now free of the alien rapist, Kane seemingly begins to choke on his food, and in a chaotic scene, the alien erupts from his chest, blood surging over the crewmembers, which Kavanagh describes as follows:
Finally, the particularly horrifying confusion of the sexual-gynaecological with the gastrointestinal is patched onto life-death, male-female confusions as Kane dies in agony enduring the forced ‘birth’ of the razor-toothed phallic monster that gnaws its way through the stomach into the light – a kind of science fiction phallus dentatus.
(Kavanagh, 1980: 75)
The sequence of scenes allude to the anxiety of male rape and childbirth, as the creature that attached itself to Kane’s face has planted an egg inside him, emphasizing unease surrounding forced penetration.
The representation of abject birth, however, is not confined to that of the human body. What one could arguably describe as a penultimate scene of abjection occurs when Ripley escapes the mother ship in the escape shuttle, which resides on the underbelly of the Nostromo. Additionally, following Kane’s death, the crew watch as the Nostromo jettisons his body into space, a funeral that depicts the corrupt body of the dead crewman as banished from the ship in an endeavour the cleanse the body of the infected.
While the visual elements of reproduction are evident in the depiction of grotesque birth, the metaphor of the archaic mother is also predominant in relation to the alien lifecycle. Creed argues that, “Although the archaic mother as a visible figure does not appear in Alien, her presence forms a vast backdrop for the enactment of all the events” (1993, 20). She continues by arguing that
She is there in the images of birth, the representations of the primal scene, the womb-like imagery, the long winding tunnels leading to inner chambers, the rows of hatching eggs, the body of the mother-ship, the voice of the life-support system, the birth of the alien. She is the generative mother, the pre-phallic mother, the being who exists prior to knowledge of the phallus.
(Creed, 1993: 20)
The metaphor of the archaic mother is bought to fruition in the lifecycle of the alien. Film theorist Daniel Dervin argues that the reproductive mode of the alien could be modelled on the insect world, where a spider would use a wasp’s body as a host to lay its eggs. He uses this analogy to argue that, “The appalling emergence of ‘the little bastard’ alien from the spaceman’s ruptured chest-cavity may well push male birth fantasies to their ultimate absurdity” (Dervin, 1980: 101). This argument further supports man’s anxiety surrounding the pain of childbirth, as well as that of castration. As Judith Newton argues,
The alien, which is fond of womb-like and vaginal-like spaces, is distinctly phallic, and it attacks Ripley, like a fantasy rapist, while she is undressing. But the alien is also equipped with a rather impressive set of vaginal teeth. It is born of eggs, and it continually gives birth to itself, once in a gory evocation of childbirth at the dining room table. In this respect, the alien is a potent expression of male terror at female sexuality and at castrating females in general.
(Newton, 1980: 85)
While the phallic and grotesque imagery of Alien sets up the horror that is emphasized throughout the series, what is unique to each film is the anxiety of biological placement and contemporary issues that relate to the narrative of each instalment. Emerging medical technologies including advancements in surgery could arguably have influenced the Alien’s narrative. Surrogacy made a significant step forward in 1978 when the first IVF baby was born (Information on Surrogacy), a theme that would significantly feature in the film’s sequel, Aliens. Theorist Daniel Pimley argues:
Surgical advances such as hip replacements, organ transplants, pacemakers, heart surgery and the first heart transplant (1967) showed that the ‘components’ of the body could be repaired, replaced or augmented, the application of human in vitro fertilization (1978) was demystifying and mechanizing the reproductive process, while the science of genetic engineering promised that one day it would be capable of building better humans.
(Pimley, 2003: 10)
Pimley’s argument suggests that Alien acts as a response towards concern relating to emerging technological advancements surrounding the opening of the body as well as developments in robotics and prosthetics. Science officer Ash, who is revealed in the third act of the film to be an android, could arguably be seen as the embodiment of this anxiety. A man-made construct of synthetic life, Ash is revealed to have been sent by the Company (Weyland-Yutani) and is working in coalition with the ship’s computer Mother, with the sole purpose of bringing back the alien specimen, if necessary, at the expense of the crew, who are deemed “expendable” (Alien).
Robots have been a staple feature in science fiction film as far back as Metropolis and the films of the silent era. Alongside these reoccurring characters, attitudes relating to contemporary concern have also been prevalent in science fiction cinema. As Pimley argues,
As is so often true in science fiction, Alien is not just about a time and a place in the future, but about the world we live in today. In looking to the future, science fiction amplifies contemporary attitudes and anxieties, often trapping in amber the social conscious and the technological zeitgeist in the process. Just as the atomic monsters of 1950s creature features reflected and fed off atomic-age anxiety, so Alien acts simultaneously as cautionary science fiction and exploitative horror, expressing the feelings of people not in the distant future, but in 1979.
(Pimley, 2003: 4)
Collectively, Ash, Mother and the alien represent the personification of birth in the absence of sexual intercourse. While intercourse is represented within the mise-en-scène as metaphor, and is expressed in the rape of crewmember Kane, the implication of it being a physical sexual act is redundant. Instead, sexual imagery is specific to the manifestation of the alien in its physical appearance. From the vagina-like opening of the craft and the egg, to the phallus dentata of the alien’s inner mouth and phallic shaped head, the alien represents all things perversely sexed, a tool to help emphasize the concern of sexual contact with the Other, and heighten the horror of birth related pain and death. As Pimley argues, “This Alien invader did not want to enslave you or eat you or invade your home world, it wanted to rape you, it wanted to invade your body with its own, always killing by an act of violent penetration in an amplified and nightmarish fusion of sex and death” (2003: 14). The archetypal monster movie would present creatures killing for the sake of survival and nourishment, however Alien presents its monster as representative of death, birth, the corrupt and open body, and the contemporary issues surrounding medical progression that would delineate the narrative of its subsequent sequels.
Chapter Two: Aliens
The ‘devil-mummy’ is the monstrous feminine personified: the Medusa made flesh, lurking inside every mother, and haunting her with the threat of eruption should she fail to live up to the myth of beatific maternity.
– J. Ussher, Managing the Monstrous Feminine
Get away from her you bitch.
– Ellen Ripley, Aliens
Helmed by James Cameron, Aliens is the successor of the original 1979 film and follows on from the occurrences on board the Nostromo. The story picks up 57 years after the events of the original film, and again puts Ripley at the centre of the alien narrative. While Alien thematically focused on the abject manifestation of reproduction and interspecies rape, Aliens alters this narrative with themes of the female maternal body, motherhood and adult/parent bonding, not only in the human characters, but also in the alien. Part of the story reveals Ripley, the last human survivor of the Nostromo, has now outlived the daughter she has not seen since she was a little girl. This emotional loss is restored when Ripley and the accompanying colonial marines discover a survivor of the alien onslaught, a girl nicknamed Newt (Carrie Henn). A question left unanswered in Alien is that of the origin of the deadly alien eggs encountered by Kane in the derelict craft. While the archaic mother who bore the eggs is only present in theme and metaphor in Alien, her ovarian manifestation is presented in the physical form of the Alien Queen, who presides over her warrior breed of aliens in the belly of the human colony.
This chapter will focus on specific scenes in Aliens that represent themes of reproduction within the mise-en-scène, and using textual analyses of these scenes, will explore the allusions to motherhood that are prevalent within the film, together with the physical and thematic abject symbolism that is present in both human and alien. In addition, the chapter will explore the social influences that are apparent within these themes, including advancements in 1980s’ surrogacy, and Ripley as the Reagan-era feminist hero fighting an external threat.
The film opens with Ripley floating adrift in the reaches of deep space. The shuttle Narcissus that was once aborted from the underbelly of the mother ship Nostromo in Alien’s penultimate scene of abjection has now been Ripley’s life support for the last 57 years, a speck of technology amid the deep gulf of outer space. The audience is re-introduced to Ripley as she is frozen in time in the hypersleep chamber with the cat Jonesy sleeping at her side, a reminder of the maternal instinct displayed by Ripley in Alien’s final scenes. The ship acts as a womb (mirroring the re-awakening scene in the original film) in which Ripley is discovered by a salvage team. Immediately, the mise-en-scène introduces male domination in which “the smaller female space is penetrated by force […] A robotic arm enters [through the ships door] like a gigantic amnio-needle – or worse, abortion forceps – searching the interior for signs of life” (Gallardo-C and Smith, 2004: 74). Ripley is rescued by the three-man team of salvagers, is handed over to The Company, and placed in an Earth orbiting infirmary. It is at this point that the narrative introduces the horror and anxiety of birth and biological motherhood, as first established in Alien.
As Ripley is in the hospital, surrounded by hospital staff and instruments, her birthing scene is visually more closely tied to normal human labour than Kane’s, which happens over a meal. Prefiguring the monstrous Alien Queen, this image of monstrous birth equates the anatomy of the human female with that of the Alien female. The scene also draws on the symbolism of the vagina dentata, as not only do Jones’s open mouth and teeth represent the Alien’s castrating jaws, but they also visually stand in for Ripley’s vagina as he is nestled in her crotch at the beginning of the scene.
(Gallardo-C and Smith, 2004: 75)
The scene depicts Ripley’s body as a place of danger. As the doctors attempt to restrain her, the series of slow motion shots and close-ups of Ripley’s panicked face emphasis the confused chaos of the scene. The camera is positioned at the foot of the bed as Ripley pulls up her hospital robes, exposing her pulsating stomach, the drama heightening as an alien head pushes up from within her innards and attempts to breach the skin as the body succumbs to both maternal and abject duties. Before the ‘birth’ can come to fruition, the scene cuts to Ripley bolting up in bed from the nightmare. Sweating and perturbed, the recollections of the events on board the Nostromo, and the deaths of her fellow crewmembers, clearly continue to disturb her. At this point it is unclear to the audience where reality ends and dream starts, as there are no indications in the mise-en-scène to suggest this. However, what the spectator is aware of is that the alien did not erupt from her stomach, an act which, like Kane before her, would have resulted in her death as the monster would eat its way through her organs and burst from the skin. The scene also suggests that Ripley has become the victim of post-traumatic stress disorder, a disorder often associated with the surviving soldiers of the Vietnam War, a war that overtly influences part of the film’s story arc in the manifestation of the marines.
This opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the film. What was once a story enveloped in sexual, phallic implication, emasculation and rape, becomes directed towards themes of war (both internal and physical) and motherhood, and in doing so, gives insight into Ripley’s life before the events of the Nostromo. Eager to discover the whereabouts of her daughter, Amy, she is saddened to discover that she met her death while Ripley was still floating in deep space. The loss is unbearable, and Ripley struggles to come to terms with the idea of outliving her daughter who died of old age on Earth. Later, however, the bereavement is compensated when Ripley discovers a survivor of the alien slaughter on the planet LV-426, in the shape of a young girl named Newt. The two form a special bond, much like a mother and child, a bond that strengthens throughout the course of the film. The relationship also reinforces Ripley’s mental and physical state, and while attempting to rescue Newt (and the marines) from the alien onslaught, Ripley becomes a warrior. If Alien sets the character of Ripley up as a feminist icon of contemporary cinema, then Aliens sets her up as a female action hero, a figure of iconography suitably established in the Reagan-era of America. By the final scenes of the film, she has transformed into a gun-carrying combatant and mother, a soldier whose primary objective is to rescue Newt, and destroy the alien species.
Film theorist Catherine Constable addresses the maternal and heroic instincts that Ripley attains while on the mission with the marines. Focusing on Ripley’s relationships with Newt and the Alien Queen, Constable applies Barbara Creed’s discussion of Alien to the analysis. In doing so, Constable deploys Kristeva’s theory of abjection in considering the representation of the maternal body and reproduction.
In Alien, Ripley is first and foremost a science officer, a fully integrated member of the crew of the Nostromo. She is fleetingly feminized when she undresses in the escape pod, a glimpse of sexual difference at odds with the impersonal egalitarian structure of the rest of the film. In Aliens, however, Ripley is an outsider, a civilian advisor on a military expedition. Her positioning outside the marine corps is clearly conveyed in the waking scene en route to the planet LB426 [sic].
(Constable, 1999: 184-185)
From the offset of the re-awakening, this scene alienates Ripley from the rest of the crew of the Sulaco, the ship taking them to the alien planet. Upon seeing Ripley, Vasquez (Jeanette Goldstein) questions who she is by asking a fellow marine, “Who’s Snow White?” As she asks, the wide tracking shot places Ripley in the centre of the frame surrounded by the soldiers, her soft, slender frame and plain grey underwear providing a contrast to their hard, taught bodies and khaki clothes. This immediately feminizes Ripley in comparison with the rest of the crew, in particular Vasquez who has a muscular physique and overt masculine characteristics. Constable argues that this reference to Snow White puts Ripley in the category of fairy-tale princesses, an image also comparable to Ripley’s awakening at the beginning of the film, which has visual comparisons to Sleeping Beauty. However, upon encountering the alien, it is Ripley who rescues Vasquez and the marines from certain death, thus indicating Ripley’s transition into hero.
However, before Ripley is transformed into fully-fledged action hero, she must first exorcise the demons that haunt her from her past. Already established is Ripley’s fear of her own body becoming the birthing place for the alien creature, as well as the loss of her own biological daughter. The arrival of Newt provides Ripley with sense of fulfilment, and represents her as substitute mother, which emphasises 1980s’ developments surrounding surrogacy. The theme of the surrogacy is also prevalent in the lifecycle of the alien, namely the Alien Queen, whose survival displays the need to contain life within a host at the absence of sexual intercourse, much like the advancements of surrogacy:
As doctors in the 1970s and ’80s perfected methods of sperm collection and artificial insemination, surrogacy no longer needed to involve intercourse. Then, in the late 1980s, another technological milestone changed the practice even more. Using in-vitro fertilization, doctors could combine a husband’s sperm and his wife’s egg and implant the embryo into a surrogate, who would then carry it to term. It’s a process called gestational surrogacy. Suddenly, a surrogate could give birth to a baby with whom she shared no genetic connection.
The development of surrogacy is a theme that is ostensibly relatable within the narrative to the abject, as represented by the alien. Alien featured the archaic mother in the form of the alien that impregnated Kane, followed by the alien that killed all but one of the crew. In Aliens, the metaphor of the archaic mother has shifted its manifestation into the physicality of the Alien Queen, the monarch of the alien hive, and a character, which serves to mirror Ripley’s maternal body. As Ripley and Newt race to escape the labyrinthine corridors of the colony in the belly of the station, they take one miscalculated turn and happen upon the alien nest, finding themselves in the middle of a room filled with eggs, each containing the creature capable of forced impregnation. The room is a dark, dangerous space, a hostile womb of alien birth, which when compared to the sterile infirmary of Ripley’s nightmares, serves as a direct opposite to the human elements of labour.
In Aliens, differentiation between species types takes the form of an opposition between cerebral replication and physical reproduction. This contrast is built up in the scene which Ripley and Newt find the queen. Newt is balanced on Ripley’s hip at first, and there follow cuts between medium close-ups of their two faces and shots of the queen. Their faces mirror each other, acting as a symbol of continuity, but more importantly, a continuity achieved through shared experiences of being sole survivors rather than by physical reproduction.
(Constable, 1999: 188)
This mirroring of faces is also shown in previous scenes in the film, which emphasise Ripley’s maternal role over Newt. Upon rescuing the child, Newt is shown as unresponsive towards the marines’ questions. However, when Ripley attempts to communicate with her, she slowly opens up about her family. As Ripley stands in front of Newt who is sat on a table, the camera shows the two in close-up as the edit cuts between them during the conversation. Ripley wipes dirt from Newt’s face, and smiles as she softly talks to her. It represents Ripley as a caring, maternal figure. Later, before an attack by the alien, the two are seen sleeping. Newt is positioned in the foreground while Ripley sleeps behind her, her arm wrapped around Newt, who in turn is clutching her doll, Casey. Again, the scene alludes to a mother/daughter relationship. But while both scenes depict Ripley in a maternal role over Newt, the cinematography in the first example in particular positions them as equals, their faces at equal elevation displays no indication of a height difference, instead mirroring them as survivors of horrific onslaught, as does the scene Constable describes when encountering the Queen. As the camera pans the nest in a subjective shot, the audience initially sees a medium close-up of an egg being deposited on the floor. Covered in a soft, protective mucus-like membrane, the camera subjectively tilts upwards to reveal the egg sac, enormous and pulsating, the breeding apparatus in which the eggs form and where the alien life takes shape. As the two terrified females slowly turn around, a tracking shot along the egg sac finally reveals the Alien Queen. Constable continues her analysis:
The piecemeal presentation of the queen conveys a sense of her size. The cuts between Ripley’s and Newt’s faces and the queen’s body also serve to contrast their cerebral mirroring with her mute physicality. The opposition face/body feeds into a traditional dialectal model, sustaining other oppositions such as mind/matter, individuation/undifferentiating physicality. As a representative of matter/maternality, the queen is clearly designated Other.
(Constable, 1999: 188)
As she sits upon her ovarian throne, the external womb slowly produces the eggs. Her black body and heavy breathing is reflective of the danger that was present in the physical presence of Darth Vader in Star Wars. In the alien hive, there appears to be an insect-like hierarchy, in which the queen is representative of the ‘queen bee’. Her long legs and protruding spines from her back give a spider-like quality to her physicality, as Constable argues, a physicality that “conjoins both the bee and the spider” (1999: 188). She is a grand spectacle of the grotesque, an ornate elaboration on the monstrous-feminine, as previously introduced in Alien. It is a hostile scene, a grotesque and abject encounter, which Creed argues is represented by an inside/outside distinction:
Horror films that depict monstrous births play on the inside/outside distinction in order to point to the inherently monstrous nature of the womb as well as the impossibility of ever completely banishing the abject from the human domain. […] The womb represents the utmost in abjection for it contains a new life form which will pass from inside to outside bringing with it traces of contamination – blood, afterbirth, faeces.
(Creed, 1993: 49)
However, the Queen is not merely a tool to underline allusions towards birth as monstrous and abject. Although the grand narrative of the film includes anxiety surrounding reproduction, as emphasised by Ripley’s nightmares and the alien lifecycle, the Alien Queen represents specific categories of society in 1980s’ America. In her analysis of the film’s climactic fight between Ripley and the Queen, Amy Taubin argues that
Like Alien, Aliens climaxes with a one-on-one between Ripley and the alien. In the second film however, the scene is structured as a catfight between the good mother and the bad. (As in Fatal Attraction, or the more recent The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, the good mother is forced to defend her family against a crazy woman who invades her household and tries to usurp her position.) However, thrilling is the entrance of Ripley in the power loader (she’s transformed into cyborg), the image is immediately tarnished by the obviousness of her line, “Get away from her, you bitch”, addressed to the alien who’s about to do something terrible to the cowering Newt. The misogyny of the scene has often been analysed on a psychosexual level as the refusal of the ‘monstrous-feminine’, of the archaic, devouring mother. But it also has a historically specific, political meaning. If Ripley is the prototypical, upper-middle-class WASP, the alien queen bears a suspicious resemblance to a favourite scapegoat of the Regan/Bush era – the black welfare mother, that parasite on the economy whose uncurbed reproductive drive reduced hard-working taxpayers to bankruptcy.
(Taubin, 1992: 9)
Taubin’s statement argues that while the Alien films revolve around a metanarrative that that raises concerns with reproduction, Aliens relates the Alien Queen and her brood to the unemployed immigrants of ‘80s’ America, and Ripley as the taxpaying worker. Therein, the scene in which Ripley shoots grenades into the ovarian sac in the hive could be argued as her attempt to sterilize the Queen, purifying the colony (here representing America) of the alien threat.
Ripley and her alien nemesis are juxtaposed in their maternal instinct and stature of surrogate mother. While the Queen does not appear to have sexual proclivity, at least not for the purpose of this film, she does not show signs of breasts to nurture her young, nor does it appear she needs them, which further implies a subtext of surrogacy as her breed are born out of human hosts. Her maternal instinct is based solely on survival of her species, her external womb acting as a production line for the eggs containing the alien weapon, each capable of lethal impregnation. She is the archaic mother in her most grotesque form: a deadly killing machine with the phallic vagina dentata, a prominent attribute that gets passed onto her warrior brood. But while Ripley’s and the Alien Queen’s physical appearance differ in the sense of monstrous versus human, both share the maternal instinct which places them as protector of their offspring, paralleling their similarities. In Aliens, Ripley represents the caring, yet hard-personified surrogate mother and redeemed Reganite, while the Alien Queen becomes the Welfare Queen, feeding off the state, represented here by the civilians of the colony. While the film is allegorically influenced by what was the Reagan-era of America, encapsulated within its narrative is the abject threat of the horror of childbirth, a nightmare Ripley herself has yet to encounter.
Chapter 3: Alien 3
If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague… It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.
– Mick Huckabee, 1992
Don’t be afraid, I’m one of the family now.
– Ellen Ripley, Alien 3
Following on from the events of Aliens, Alien 3 continues the story of Ripley’s ongoing nightmare encounters with her deadly counterpart. Unlike the decades that passed between the previous films, Alien 3 features no lengthy ellipsis between instalments, instead, the nightmare immediately continues as the nuclear family representative of Ripley, Newt, Hicks (Michael Biehn) and the android Bishop (Lance Henrickson) are violently jettisoned from the ship, the Sulaco, following a fire sparked by a stowaway alien. Upon crash landing in an escape shuttle on a nearby planet, they are found by a colony of prisoners who are confined to the penal colony/mineral ore plant Fury-161, an establishment owned by Weyland-Yutani, the company desperate to capture the alien for their bio weapons division. A hostile environment from the offset, Ripley is awoken only to discover she is the sole survivor of the crash. Not only that, but she has unknowingly not only brought with her the creature capable of creating new alien life, but is herself the host of the new Alien Queen. While all the familiar sights are there – the vast region of outer space, the terrifying abject representations of reproduction, the feminist iconography of Ripley and the phallic terror of the alien – the film taps into early ‘90s anxiety around homosexuality, and the fear of contagion, in particular, HIV. This chapter will refer to Amy Taubin’s analysis of Alien 3, as well as analyse the themes that exist within the film’s narrative, and the influence of contemporary ‘90s social reality.
Authors Kirk Hampton and Carol MacKay describe Alien 3 as having “a time, energy, and emotive vacuum so intense it makes the preceding movies of the trilogy seem like musical comedies in comparison” (2002: 39). From the cramped conditions of the emergency vehicle to the claustrophobic interiors of the prison, the planet is represented as a dangerous, unsafe space shown often in close up and using low angles to emphasis the restricting and intense conditions. Low lighting is used throughout, and while the interior of the Sulaco is shown as a white, sterile, humanistic environment, the planet is gritty, industrial and infested with lice. Film theorist Mary Pharr argues:
David Fincher’s consciously profane exercise in existential gloom and glory is set on Fury 161, a prison/mining planet so bleak that it makes one long for the creepy quiet of the first film, and the crammed sets of the second. But that’s precisely Fincher’s point: Nature howls on the outside of this storm-soaked world, and man howls within its yellowish-brown bowels. Figuratively as well as literally, everybody’s trapped on Fury, with no escape pods available this time.
(Pharr, 2002: 137)
In the previous films, audiences soon became familiar with representations of reproduction within the mise-en-scène. The interiors of the Nostromo and the bowels of the colony on LV-426 both represented the female reproductive system, as does the interior of Fury-161. The dark, slippery, labyrinthine tunnels and corridors represent the fallopian tubes of female reproductive organs, and the alien’s lair represents the womb. Taubin argues that “[t]he alien’s basement lair, with its dripping pipes and sewage tunnels, represents not only the fear of the monstrous-feminine, but the homophobia as well. It’s the uterine and the anal plumbing entwined” (2002: 10). The horrific and the monstrous, it would appear, are not only shown through the manifestation of the alien and its relationship with the abject, but also within the mise-en-scène of the film. Not only are themes of abjection are visually represented throughout, from the close up shot of the empty alien egg on the Sulaco, to Ripley’s shuttle crash landing in the waters surrounding the outskirts of the prison community, to the monstrous birth of the alien, they are shown often in close up to emphasis the disgust and fear they represent.
Alien 3 takes the external danger of the alien manifestation and turns it into an internal terror, reiterating the anxieties of childbirth and infestation. Infestation is a theme that underlines the broader narrative of the film. The planet is infested with lice, a creature constantly reproducing to ensure their survival, much like humans and the alien. Ripley is now impregnated with the alien, and not only that, the breed in question is a Queen, one capable of securing the future of the species. The audience and Ripley learn this simultaneously as she lies under a cat scan device in her salvaged evacuation vehicle. As the camera moves up and down her body, the alien is revealed on a monitor in close-up. Grotesque razor sharp teeth are displayed while it rhythmically pounds next to her heart in an uncanny foetal position. Ripley herself now is the womb in which the alien resides, reverting the external abject horror to an internal threat.
Arguably, the resonances of the third film reflect real concerns surrounding abortion rights as well as HIV. During the early 1990s, the ‘abortion wars’ was still a taboo subject, with fiercely strong opinions on the rights of mothers and their unborn babies. An article published in 1992 for the New York Times highlights public opinion on abortion, and the general consensus on the hotly debated topic:
Seventy-three percent of Americans polled in 1990 were in favor of abortion rights. Seventy-seven percent polled also regard abortion as a kind of killing. (Forty-nine percent see abortion as outright murder, 28 percent solely as the taking of human life.) These figures represent the findings of the Harris and Gallup polls, respectively, and contain certain nuances of opinion within both attitudes. But the general conclusions are widely considered valid. In other words, most Americans are both for the choice of abortion as a principle and against abortion for themselves. One has to know nothing else to realize how conflicted a problem we have before and within us.
Ripley’s abortion rights are rescinded, and with them, her freedom, as she has no choice but to birth the beast in the most horrific forced caesarean. As past encounters have proven, including that of Kane in Alien, Ripley is fully aware she will not survive the birth. While the Queen gestates inside of her body, Ripley and the prisoners strive to kill the creature that is terrorizing Fury, formulating a plan to force the alien into the furnace, which ultimately becomes the place of Ripley’s death. The very being that Ripley has spent decades trying to escape from and destroy is now coalesced with her body, becoming part of her from which there is no escape and no chance of survival. As Taubin argues, “There is evidence to suggest that Alien 3 is, in its entirety, Ripley’s nightmare […] a nightmare from which she never awakens” (1992: 10).
The first occasion the spectator is witness Ripley’s integration with the prisoners takes place in the dining room. As Ripley stands in the doorway, she is framed within the centre of the screen from a low angle, in what should give her a domineering presence. Instead, her body language suggests she is nervous and unsure of her surroundings, as emphasised by showing her nervously scratching her arm and looking around at the all-male inmates. Wearing clothing identical to that of the convicts, her head has also been shaved, as witnessed in the previous scene, to protect her from the lice, which allows the spectator to observe her transformation into asexual inmate. This image cuts to a wide shot showing the prisoners as they sit in silence, observing Ripley as she awkwardly picks up a tray of food and finds a seat, including several close up shots showing their reaction to seeing a woman for the first time in years. The scene utilizes the male gaze, however, not to sexualise Ripley, but instead to objectify her as an outsider. Taubin argues that “[t]he film charts Ripley’s emotional course from despair to beyond despair to brief moment of rebirth (in community)” (1992: 10), which this scene depicts. However, the scene could be used to mediate early 90s’ gender equality in the work place. One could also argue that it suggests that Ripley herself has become a contagion, an external danger that is threatens to disrupt the order of the prisoners, and their “promise to God” (Alien 3) to banish both sex and women from their lives.
As exemplified, infestation is a theme that is prevalent throughout the film, a theme which Taubin compares to unease surrounding AIDS and HIV. The first case of AIDS was diagnosed the United States in 1981, (Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report, 2001) just eleven years before the release of Alien 3, and at the time of the film’s release, was still a significant threat to the homosexual and heterosexual communities.
AIDS is everywhere in the film. It’s in the danger surrounding sex and drugs. It’s in the metaphor of a mysterious deadly organism attacking an all-male community. It’s in the iconography of the shaven heads. Exhorting the prisoners to defy The Company, Ripley shouts, “They think we’re scum and they don’t give a fuck about one friend of yours who’s died”, an AIDS activism line if ever there was one.
(Taubin, 1992: 10)
In a poll organised by the Gallup Organisation in 1992, 57% of the voters agreed that homosexual lifestyle was not acceptable. An article in the Huffington Post revisits Mike Huckabee’s 1992 statements on homosexuals and the AIDS crisis, and his claims that the carriers of the disease should be isolated:
Huckabee said Saturday that his comments came at a time when “the AIDS crisis was just that – a crisis. We didn’t know exactly all the details of how extensive it was going to be. There was just a real panic in this country. If I were making those same comments today, I might make them a little differently.” In 1992, Huckabee wrote, “If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of the plague.
Both the all male community that Ripley is incorporated into and Ripley herself represent the AIDS carriers that surrounded early ‘90s anxieties with the disease. Additionally to this representation, the needle that medical officer Clements (Charles Dance) uses to sedate Ripley furthers the narrative of AIDS infestation, along with an implied sex scene between the two. In close up, the audience is twice witness to Clements injecting Ripley as the needle penetrates her skin and an unknown fluid is injected into her, which both furthers unease around shared needles, and has specific phallic connotation. At the morgue, Ripley asks to see Newt’s body, and then requests that Clements performs an autopsy to certify how the child died. Unwilling to disclose information on the existence of the alien, Ripley states that the child may be the victim of cholera, a disease Clements states has not been reported in over two hundred years. Nonetheless, he performs the autopsy in the starkly lit, sanitary morgue. As the two stand over the body, saws and knives are shown in extreme close up hacking into the young girl, blood pouring out of her body and down the drain. Eventually, Clements breaks through the rib cage and opens her body, revealing organs that appear unaffected by any disease or infestation.
In her article, Taubin argues, “the film is all about the AIDS crisis and the threat to women’s reproductive rights” (1992, 10). Ripley’s very being is threatened by the alien that now gestates inside her, an allegory of abortion rights. The body that once bore a child of its own, as well as becoming a surrogate mother to the child Newt, is now under threat through a mutation of reproductive rights.
It’s whatever images surface on your dream screen when what’s really terrifying you is AIDS, or being pregnant with a monster, or being forced to carry a foetus you don’t want to term, or never being able to have a baby though you desperately want one because this is the end of the industrial age which is also the end of the age of movies, the end of pleasure and unpleasure, the end of the world as we know it.
(Taubin, 1992, 10)
The film ends with Ripley sacrificing her own life to save that of humanity. The final scene depicts her falling backwards into the furnace, arms outstretched with religious implications, a reminder of the sacrifice made by Jesus’ crucifixion. As she falls, the Queen bursts from Ripley’s corrupt body, and as the two are shown falling towards the fire, Ripley is seen holding the creature to her breast, two mothers falling to their deaths in unison, soon to be swallowed by the engulfing flames. Any threat of infection spreading to the rest of humanity is now prevented, and the prison is left as empty, a series of shots show a barren network of corridors and tunnels are all that remain.
Chapter Four: Alien Resurrection
The idea that our growing technological mastery is filled with moral ambiguity and capable of both vast good and catastrophic evil is deeply embedded in many cultural traditions.
– National Bioethics Advisory Commission, Cloning Human Beings Report
There are those who have understood the visitation of the Greys – with the over-large heads, small bodies and huge staring eyes, currently colonising our skies if not our skies – as the displaced manifestation of the millions of foetuses aborted since the recent spate of those close encounters began in the mid-60s. Alien Resurrection firmly rejects such guilt-ridden admonition. Even a clone has the Right to Choose.
– Michael Eaton, Born Again
In February 1997, The Observer newspaper revealed the news that scientists in Scotland had successfully created a clone of a sheep. Dolly, the cloned sheep, represented the unity of what was previously science fantasy as portrayed on film, and the reality of scientific advancements. The moral and ethical issue of whether man should play God and create living, breathing life in the form of a genetic copy was heightened by the birth of Dolly, who would become the first known mammal to be successfully cloned, living for six years – a significant scientific breakthrough. Later in the same year, Alien Resurrection, displaying a narrative that featured themes of genetic cloning, was released to an international audience. Set two hundred years after the events on Fury-161 in Alien 3, and, more significantly, the suicide of Ellen Ripley, Alien Resurrection deals with the moral and ethical issues surrounding cloning human beings. Ripley, or ‘Ripley 8’ as she has now become known, is a clone of the former working-class hero of the previous films, a “meat by-product” (Alien Resurrection) created from DNA found in the prison’s furnace, created for one purpose: the rebirth of the Alien Queen that infested Ripley’s body.
In 1992’s Alien 3 she [Ripley] had discovered that, like some deviant Madonna, she had become a host. It was unclear quite how this presence came to be growing inside her – but this only served to give her condition as alien incubator more mystique. To intensify and separate her fate from those incidental characters whose role (as inaugurated by John Hurt as Kane back in 1979) was to shock the audience when a creature bursts forth from their disposable chests. For Ripley was harbouring no ordinary alien. Her spawn was a queen, which could reproduce ad infinitum.
(Eaton, 1997: 8)
Kept alive for no specific reason other than to learn from her, or as she herself puts it, because she is “the latest thing” (Alien Resurrection), Ripley is now the embodiment of both human and alien, a transmuted shadow of her former self, with genetically enhanced physical characteristics of the alien creature. In turn, the Alien Queen that now nests in the bowels of the ship, has been given the gift of Ripley’s reproductive organs, a womb from which to breed new life. Commenting on the relationship between Ripley and the Alien Queen, Constable argues, “Alien Resurrection abandons an oppositional construction of identity. The presentation of Ripley as the monster’s mother does not simply conflate her with the queen, but presents the characters in relation to each other” (1997: 190). Despite the successful cloning of a mammal not occurring until towards the close of the 20th Century, with a diverging scale of accuracy, human cloning had been a recurring theme of the science fiction genre since the late 1970s, and was “often fairly fantastical in terms of what cloning may possibly achieve” (Cormick, 2006: 2).Alien Resurrection, a darkly artistic film, and somewhat of a pastiche of the previous instalments, displays motifs within the narrative that indicate palpable parallels with contemporary ‘90s advancements in cloning, accentuating the moral questions raised by such scientific progress. This chapter will examine Alien Resurrection’s correlation with scientific and medical advances, specifically cloning and genetic breeding, while at the same maintaining iconography within the mise-en-scène consistent with the series’ persistent references to the uncanny, monstrous reproduction and the abject.
Alien Resurrection’s opening scene, like all three previous films, features images of regeneration and awakening. For this, the final instalment, resurgence is displayed in the guise of abstract shapes filling the screen, morphing from one intangible shape to the next. As the scene progresses, the fleshy toned contours that dominate the shot begin to slowly give way to distinct mammalian features – an extreme close-up of a set of razor sharp teeth, a closed eye, more teeth (this time bearing more distinct shape and resemblance to the dark metallic teeth of the alien), followed by an open eye, an ear, and finally, a set of human teeth and hair. As Michael Eaton argues, “Each of the Alien films has begun with an image of rebirth, as Ripley is reanimated from hyper-sleep or cryogenic suspension. This time the renaissance is literal” (Eaton, 1997: 9). As the scene draws to a close, revealed is an image more typical of the Alien franchise: an exterior shot of the starry gulf of outer space, and within it, a star ship approaching a nearby planet, a wide shot exposing a distinct phallic force threatening to penetrate the colossal womb. This is the USM Auriga, a space laboratory, the new place of birth for Ripley clone and the Alien Queen.
The following scene reveals the interior of the Auriga’s laboratories, and with it, the spectator’s first glimpse of Ripley. As the camera tracks forward, delving deeper into the interior of the heavily guarded labs, a huge glass tube is revealed at the end of the corridors, and inside it, a naked sleeping child. As the camera pulls in further still into a close-up of the child’s face, a voice over is heard repeating the lines as once said by Newt in Aliens: “My mommie always said there are no real monsters. No real ones. But there are” (Aliens). The face morphs into Ripley’s, and as the camera pulls back as the voice says “But there are”, scientists are shown moving around the laboratory. Like previous films, the laboratory is pristine, sterile and starkly lit, Ripley’s voice-over insinuating that the doctors are the monsters she describes. Eaton argues that
the image of Newt the girlchild from Aliens is deliberately invoked by a voiceover that echoes a child’s anxiety that, though her mother told her monsters only exist in stories, her mother was wrong. After saving Jones the cat in Alien, Ripley had been given the role of surrogate mother when she cradled Newt in Aliens; at the end of Alien 3 she was giving succour to the baby alien within her (“to prevent its escape but also to nurture it,” in Taubin’s words). In Alien Resurrection, this surrogacy will be actualised.
(Eaton, 1997: 9)
Constable furthers the analysis of the opening scene, and of Ripley as clone, by arguing that it goes against Kristeva’s theories of the abject that feature so heavily in the previous films. She argues that Ripley’s manifestation in the tube compromises her identity, thus establishing “an intersection point”, arguing that Ripley
is altered by giving birth to the queen just as the queen will later display the nature of Ripley’s bequest to her. Within a traditional psychoanalytic model, these points of intersection would constitute a breakdown of the oppositional structures of identity […] This conception of a subjectivity formed through permeable boundaries clearly contrasts with Kristeva’s conception of a subject permanently fighting to maintain its borders. Moreover, the valorisation of patterns of flow sets up a very different conception of the body. For Kristeva, the concept of the body as a container relies upon the abjection of the viscous physicality of both inside and outside.
(Constable, 1997: 190-191)
While Kristeva’s theory of the abject appears less readily applicable to Alien Resurrection, along with elements of the uncanny, it continues to remain an element of the narrative. Instead, themes of the uncanny are more evident to the narrative. Freud’s theory of the uncanny refers to the double, which Ripley (and the Queen) represents. He argues that “the ‘uncanny’ is that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar” (Freud, 1909: 1-2). The Ripley figure as presented in Alien Resurrection is both a continuation of the previous character as well as a new being. While featuring identical physical attributes, characteristics and, in some cases, memories, as the previous hero, she is not the same person who sacrificed her life some two hundred years earlier. Indeed, she is a copy, a non-biologically reproduced construct of the scientist, whose DNA has been spliced with that of the Alien Queen. This integration of genes is evident in a number of specific scenes in the film. Firstly, as Ripley awakens for the first time, a wide aerial shot of her room reveals her lying on the floor in what appears to be a white amniotic sac, a shroud worn by her from which her resurrection comes to materialise. A series of fading shots show her slowly emerging from the shroud, each one closing in until finally a close-up of her face shows a wide-eyed expression alluding to that of a baby’s first glimpse of the world. Her unnatural manifestation is evident in the scene in which she receives a visit from Call (Winona Ryder). Ripley’s fluid movements allude to her animalistic attributes, a trait passed on in the alien DNA which she appears to have incorporated into her own genetic make-up. As Call produces a knife which she intends to kill Ripley with, believing the Queen to still be inside her, an over the shoulder shot shows Ripley take the knife and push it though her hand, the acid blood sizzling as it drips to the floor.
The manifestation of Ripley as uncanny is exemplified mid-way in the narrative, when Ripley discovers the room filled with the previous unsuccessful cloning experiments.
There is a scene right in the middle of Alien Resurrection, the fourth Alien movie, when the dominant narrative impetus – to flee from and destroy the rampaging otherworldly creatures – is temporarily halted. Ripley stops when she sees a room of to the one side of the escape route, marked ‘1-7’. On her arm is tattooed the figure ‘8’ – is she perhaps the latest in this as-yet-unknown series?
(Eaton, 1997: 6)
Eaton continues his analysis of the scene:
This sequence of narrative stasis seems somehow the omphallic centre of the picture, suddenly making physical the film’s themes of scientific experimentation, monstrous birth and genetic hybridization and acknowledging – as none of the previous three films had done directly – one of the increasingly widespread tensions of these pre-millennial times: the myth of alien abduction.
(Eaton, 1997: 8)
Ripley’s loneliness is underlined as she enters the room. As she is shown in medium close up apprehensively walking into the laboratory, over her shoulder her companions are shown waiting outside. What Ripley is met with is a scene of the uncanny grotesque. Displayed in large glass tubes are the seven unsuccessful clones that came before her, each in different stages of ‘birth’. With the exceptions of the tubes, each of which is lit by an overhead light in each cylinder, the room is dimly lit with intensifies the sense of venturing into the unknown. Each tube is filled with a clear liquid representative of amniotic fluid, which contains and preserves the diseased clones, ranging from embryo to near fully-grown woman. Close-ups of Ripley’s face emphasis her disgust and sorrow, while close-ups of the clones’ mutated bodies elicit a sense of repulsion surrounding advancements in human reproduction at the hands of the scientist. A series of point-of-view shots examine the contents of each cylinder – sharp teeth framed by a malformed face remind the audience of the opening scene in which the abstract shapes slowly form human features, making it apparent that this was a display of the clones’ monstrous manufacture.
The scene highlights concern surrounding selective breeding in IVF treatment, and the termination of the killing of embryos due to genetic problems such as Down Syndrome. Furthermore, it alludes towards concern surrounding stem cell research, and the morality of discarding a foetus for medicinal purposes.
Is it ethical to utilize medical technology to harvest embryonic stem cells when the embryo itself is discarded? The nature of this debate is largely centered on the question of whether an embryo is classified as a living being or not. We have determined the answer is yes, a living being can ultimately become a human, which one can associate with having conscious thoughts, feelings, and actions. The contrary suggests the answer is no, an embryo cannot be considered a living being, and therefore is insignificant enough to use for research purposes. The stem cell sources under debate, or in this case the embryo, should be classified as alive solely based on the fact that the extracted cells are totipotent, and therefore can become persons. An opposing side to our argument is that abortions are legal in the United States and therefore choices are already available to women regarding killing a human fetus. Even though this medical technology exists, it is believed the concept is unethical in practice.
(Rogers and Peterson, 2007: 2)
As Ripley further explores the room, she is met with the seventh clone, alive and laid on a table. Tubes protrude from beneath her naked skin, and mutated limbs emphasise the suffering of an abject birth. As the camera subjectively looks over her traumatized body, she stares directly at the audience, a close-up of her face exemplifies her pain as she begs Ripley to kill her. The presence of the mutated Ripley clone may stimulate audience memories of the thalidomide catastrophe of the late 1950s and 1960s, which New Science Journalism describes as “one of the worst pharmaceutical blunders in modern medical history” (Fatimathas, 2010). The drug was promoted as a sedative to combat nausea for mothers-to-be, however it was withdrawn after it tragically caused deformities in babies’ limbs (New Science Journalism). The scene, through the abject horror of mutated birth displayed in the contents of the cylinders, and the suffering of the still living clone, is a poignant reminder of the atrocities surrounding genetic breeding.
Additional to Ripley’s uncannily remarkable new attributes of the un-corporeal, her human DNA has been passed on to the Alien Queen, who has developed a human womb. In contrast to the egg sac as seen in Aliens, the external womb has the ability to reproduce an alien-human hybrid.
If the alien mother bequeaths Ripley a new physicality, the nature of Ripley’s bequest to her is made obvious in the birth scene. Gediman tells Ripley that the queen has developed a mammalian reproductive system. The long shot of the queen taken from over Ripley’s shoulder shows the dense, swollen belly she has developed. Unlike the sac in Aliens, which was light and translucent, showing the movement of the eggs as the mother laid them, this belly is a dark heaving flesh. The contrast shows the development of the queen as a species type. The insectual image of the queen bee appears to have given away to a human reproductive system. There is a cut to a close-up of the queen’s jaw as she throws her head back and screams. The sound is guttural, indicating pain. It is a sharp contrast to the sinister hissing sound directed by her predecessor at Ripley in Aliens.
(Constable, 1997: 194)
While the Queen in Aliens showed no pain while producing the eggs, the manifestation of a human womb has now bought pain to her body. A shrill screech dominates the scene showing her writhing in agony with the womb between her legs, pulsating and fleshy. It appears it is she who has suffered from the perils of cloning, while Ripley, the human, reveals no signs of sharing the physical pain she endures.
If Alien Resurrection is reflective of the developments of cloning contemporary to its release, thematically, cloning has been ubiquitous in science fiction cinema for many years. Craig Cormick (2006) argues that there are five distinct categories that feature narratives involving cloning: Contemporary Social Realism, Future Social Realism, Comedy, Gone and Forgotten (films that performed poorly at the box office) and finally Science Fiction and Fantasy, in which Alien Resurrection is included. Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973), The Boys From Brazil (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1978), The Clonus Horror (Robert S. Fiveson, 1979), Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) and Godsend (Nick Hamm, 2004) are significant examples of human (and animal) reproductive cloning forming the grand narrative of a film’s story arc prior to the advancements that lead to the successful production of a mammal. However, these films alluded towards the progression of non-biological reproduction, arguably influenced by the cloning of plants, and, in particular, of animals, which had been happening since 1952 when tadpoles were first successfully cloned (Cloning Goes To The Movies). At the time of Alien Resurrection being in production, it foreshadowed the ethical, moral and practical anxieties concerning cloning that would occur in the very year of its release. As Cormick argues,
The most common key messages from the cloning films examined is that corporations or scientists operate in their own interests and outside of regulation, and are willing to kill to cover up what they’ve done. A second key message is that cloning is interfering with nature and is likely to lead to dangerous outcomes. The third predominant message relates to the human rights of a clone, or how a clone might relate to the original human he or she was cloned from.
(Cormick, 2006: 31)
There is arguably little doubt that the scientists of Alien Resurrection, who in their uniformed appearance of sterile, minimal attire (typical plain white coats, short, grey hair), represent the unified force that is evil, the ‘real monsters’ as insinuated by Newt/Ripley. However, in acquiring both the Alien Queen and Ripley, their greed is their demise, their lives the ultimate price to pay at the hands of the very creation they have constructed. Cormick continues by questioning the principles of human cloning:
The negative depiction of cloning in films that play upon the worst stereotypes of evil and uncontrolled scientists, fail to challenge us to think seriously about cloning, or consider the types of questions that would have to be considered if human reproductive cloning ever did become a reality. These include issues such as, what would be the rights of a clone? Who should decide who would be cloned? Or how might clones fit into society?
(Cormick, 2006: 33)
Despite public concern relating to cloning, in 1997, scientific breakthrough was accomplished when The Observer newspaper (February 23, 1997) announced that a Scottish scientist named Ian Wilmut at the Roslin Institute had created a mammal clone in the shape of Dolly the sheep. A report from the National Bioethics Advisory Commission comments on the step forward:
The idea that humans might someday be cloned—created from a single somatic cell without sexual reproduction—moved further away from science fiction and closer to a genuine scientific possibility on February 23, 1997. On that date, The Observer broke the news that Ian Wilmut, a Scottish scientist, and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute were about to announce the successful cloning of a sheep by a new technique which had never before been fully successful in mammals. The technique involved transplanting the genetic material of an adult sheep, apparently obtained from a differentiated somatic cell, into an egg from which the nucleus had been removed. The resulting birth of the sheep, named Dolly, on July 5, 1996, was different from prior attempts to create identical offspring since Dolly contained the genetic material of only one parent, and was, therefore, a “delayed” genetic twin of a single adult sheep.
(Cloning Human Beings Report, 1997: 1)
The news was a significant scientific advancement, and one that could be argued as a clear influence on the final instalment in the Alien franchise, if not the actual birth of Dolly, then certainly to recent steps leading to the event.
As argued in this chapter, the presence of the abject, while a strong theme within the narrative framework of Alien Resurrection, shares position within the narratology with contemporary advancements of cloning. It is stated that there are “three types of cloning technologies […] (1) recombinant DNA technology or DNA cloning, (2) reproductive cloning, and (3) therapeutic cloning” (Human Genome Project, 2009). The manifestation of both Ripley and the Alien Queen represent recombinant DNA cloning, and arguably, human greed. After successfully creating Ripley 8, Gediman (Brad Dourif) is given permission to “keep her” (Alien Resurrection) by the military. This could be concluded to represent another caution toward the ethical concerns surrounding non-biological reproduction, an allusion of greed over moral principles. An element to the mise-en-scène that features significantly more in Alien Resurrection than in the previous instalments is the presence of the uncanny. The uncanny emerges in the embodiment of Ripley, a doppelganger of her former self. It is in the room filled with aborted grotesque Ripley clones and the presence of Call, an android (and the first female robot of the series). The uncanny is also prevalent in the character Vreiss (Dominique Pinon), a man paralyzed from the waist down, his mechanized wheelchair reflective of the part human/part machine cyborg that Ripley transgressed into during the climatic final scenes of Aliens. Above all, one can arguably deduce that Alien Resurrection is a message of social concern relatable to developments in human cloning, and the question of moral responsibility accompanying it.
Chapter 6: Conclusion
Real life scientific expansion and development are arguably significant influences on the science fiction film. In reciprocal fashion, it is habitually argued that science fiction cinema itself foretells scientific innovation and progression. Research into the debate of whether science imitates art or art imitates science has lead to conclusions that there is indeed a correlation between the influences of real life and fantasy:
There is an interesting relationship between science fiction films and the development of biomedical instrumentation […] It is interesting that the ideas presented in films actually lagged behind the real technology for a while (approximately 1930-1965). However, for most of the time (before 1930, and after 1965), the imagination of movie directors, and the audience’s interest and fascination with effects stimulated the movie industry so that the instrumentation in the movies surpassed the exponential growth of modem technology.
(Boutillette et al., 1999: 144)
As the research suggests, science fiction cinema is increasingly prophetic within the individual narrative of a film. While Boutillette’s study considers an increased imagination of filmmakers and the audience post-1965, it does not reflect on socio-contemporary attitudes and developments in biological reproduction.
As postulated in this thesis, the Alien series forms a grand narrative that is significantly influenced by societal unease surrounding the threat to human biological function. It is an unease that differs significantly over the course of the saga, with each film examining current attitudes towards the threat of maternal existence, which are contemporary to each film. While films such as Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), Jurassic Park and Blueprint (Rolf Schübel, 2003) offer individual reflections on themes of reproduction and the threat posed to the maternal body, the Alien series differs in that each instalment forms part of a metanarrative that is a contemporary commentary on medical and scientific advancement and anxiety.
Alien offers a narrative trajectory that unfolds in each subsequent film in the series. While displaying scenes of the monstrous and the abject, scenes which would also become a thematic and visual presence in the story arc of each film, Alien highlighted the anxiety surround modern advancements in the medical world. These anxieties would be exemplified in the character of Ash, who is later revealed to be a robot, an uncanny construct, displaying characteristics of human nature that made him undistinguishable to the rest of the crew. To add further concern to this manifestation of robotic evolution, Ash represents the evil of humankind, under orders from the Company to bring back the alien, even if it were at the expense of the now dispensable crew. Both Ash and the alien represent the threat to the maternal body: Ash signifies the ability of man to create without the need of the biological body, and the alien represents the capability of birth without intercourse, with horrific consequences. Furthering the element of the maternal, Aliens amplifies the alien quintessence in the guise of the Alien Queen, a creature with the purpose of procreating, again without the aid of a sexual partner. Juxtaposed in this manifestation is Ripley, who here represents the blue collar working class hero, the feminist icon who does not let the presence of the Alien Queen prevent her from her maternal duties to Newt, the surrogate daughter, a reflection of ‘80s increase in surrogacy in the United States. Alien 3 serves as a threat to this surrogacy, offering the narrative of contamination, a plague representative of HIV that projected early ‘90s issues surrounding the presence of homosexuals and the deadly sexually transmitted disease that threatened society. The final instalment, Alien Resurrection, through the reproduction of Ripley as a clone, establishes society’s awareness of the progression of recombinant DNA cloning, reproduction at the absence of the maternal body, and the possibilities of science to bypass the laws of nature.
This thesis has demonstrated that throughout the Alien series, horror and the grotesque are frequently associated with the maternal. The human body is presented as a space of monstrosity and trauma in relation to that of reproduction, and the manifestation of the alien, both hostile and phallic, represents the manifest fear of the abject body. While Barbara Creed considered the films’ abject aspects in the context of the maternal reproductive body, this thesis extends her premise. It argues that such abjection does not derive intrinsically from the maternal body, but, in line with other science fiction films, stems from the series’ reflections of threatening real world technological advancements in the sphere of reproduction and genetic manipula.
© Paul Anthony Jonze, 2011-2012
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Alien, 1979. [Film] Directed by Ridley Scott. USA: 20th Century Fox
Alien 3, 1992. [Film] Directed by David Fincher. USA: 20th Century Fox
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Aliens, 1986. [Film] Directed by David Cameron. USA: 20th Century Fox
Blade Runner, 1982. [Film] Directed by Ridley Scott. USA: Warner Bros. Pictures
Blueprint, 2003. [Film] Directed by Rolf Schübel. Germany: United International Pictures
Bride of Frankenstein, 1935. [Film] Directed by James Whale. USA: Universal Pictures
Brides of Dracula, 1960. [Film] Directed by Terence Fisher. UK: Universal Pictures
Charlie’s Angels, 1979. [TV programme] ABC, 1976-1981.
Frankenstein, 1931. [Film] Directed by James Whale. USA: Universal Pictures
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Star Wars, 1977. [Film] Directed by George Lucas. USA: 20th Century Fox
Terminator, 1984. [Film] Directed by James Cameron. USA: Orion Pictures
The Bionic Woman, 1978. [TV programme] ABC/NBC, 1976-1978.
The Boys From Brazil, 1978. [Film] Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. UK/USA: 20th Century Fox
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Wonder Woman, 1979. [TV programme] ABC/CBS, 1975-1979.