Have you ever considered the role of gender in the classic film Alien? I was recently asked to consider this topic. Here is the result:
I had seen the movie years ago but never thought about how gender plays such a significant role in the film. Dissecting this movie with gender in mind certainly changed the way I watched it. For this review I am choosing to focus on Ripley’s emotional reactions during certain events and the emergence of a survivor.
Ripley is not your typical female lead, especially for 1979. She doesn’t have the traditional ideals of Hollywood beauty. She is tall and lanky, with small breasts and a very chiseled face, which makes her look a bit manly. When we are first introduced to Ripley she is very quiet, almost calculating in a way. She is a very capable woman who respects the chain of command. Her broad understanding of the ship’s operations ultimately saves her life.
As a woman, Ripley is not shown the respect from the male crewmembers that she deserves. She is constantly getting shut down. It’s only after Dallas dies and Lambert begins to unravel that her leadership capabilities shine through. She finally begins to speak her mind when she gets angry at Ash for putting the crew in such a dismal dilemma. When we discover Ash is actually a robot, Ripley is the one who reboots him, showing us another side to her skillset.
With more and more crewmembers being eliminated, we start to see Ripley by herself a lot, which continues to highlight her strong, independent nature. When she is cautiously looking through the hull for Jones, we see Ripley physically shaken for the first time. Up to this point she has kept her composure and remained cool under pressure but in this scene she is alone and on the verge of tears when the cat scares her. The key point to this observation is that she is alone. She would never let her guard down in front of others but at this moment she is so overcome with emotions that she allows herself to feel vulnerable because she really doesn’t know what will happen.
Another instance where Ripley shows her emotion is when she is blowing up the ship and once again, all alone. She begins to get teary eyed again. Why is she crying? Is it because she is scared, sad or happy this is going to end? Once again, a complex range of emotions is overtaking her and she allows it to happen because no one is there to witness and pass judgment.
The last instance in the movie where Ripley is clearly scared (but honestly, who wouldn’t be?) is when she is stuck on the escape ship and realizes the alien has stowed away with her. With her back turned to it, she methodically engages the escape hatch to eject the creature while uneasily reciting a lullaby to keep composed. With a final boost from the rockets to eliminate the alien, Ripley saves her life and Jones’. (Speaking of the cat, I did find it a little humorous that the lone survivors were Ripley and Jones, immortalizing the notion that strong women will inevitably end up single with cats.)
On first viewing, one might assume Alien is just a sci-fi action flick about extraterrestrials. But watching it again has certainly impressed the idea that Ripley is an action hero for the 21st century. She was ahead of her time. If we can learn anything from this movie it is that a strong woman will use her intuition and skills to save the day, or at least her own day. This has truly changed my opinion of the film and now I must go and watch the rest of the quadrilogy to see how Ripley’s character develops.