This movie is simply described as ‘pure cinema’ since it embodies all the basic principles of what motion picture entertainment and escapism are all about, and even now, after many, many viewings and the attraction of three sequels it still delivers the package. The film raises focuses such as Ideology and Contextual influences that make it valuable and remarkable which attracted so many audiences and 3 sequels. The scene which attracted initial attention in Alien was where Ripley stripped to her underwear just before the final alien attack.
This was described as an example of the film’s ‘gratuitous sexism’ that contributed to a film which, true to two hundred year old tradition of gothic horror relies for its most gut wrenching effects on the spectacle of a helpless beautiful women threatened with violence by an unspeakable, inhuman, but quintessentially masculine horror. The main colours used in the film are black which portrays evil, vastness of space showing loneliness and white, which we mainly see in the medical room, is represented as having goodness.
In Alien the creature is deemed to be male, simply through the reading of its voyeuristic intentions as it watches Ripley undressing. We barely see the alien in full detail, most of the time it is set in shadows, moving with deadly intent. The Nostromo’s various passageways manifest the unseen labyrinths of the mind where thoughts are like footpaths in a forest, leading us on to unknown destinations. The directors’ carefully crafted shots of the alien are always partial, ambiguous; we cannot assign the alien body parts. Therefore, we can’t comprehend it because it remains equivocal, incomplete.
More evidence is provided about the alien begin male, when we witness in one of the scenes a close up of the alien trapping Lambert a female crew member and slowly rub up her leg, moving with slow seductive movements before moving with terrifying speed to kill another crew member sneaking up behind it. The slow movements betray the alien’s pure cruelty. Ripley, second officer of the freighter Nostromo, is presented to the viewer as the strong female character in Alien, a tough, logic type, especially when compared to the other female character.
Lambert, the navigator for the Nostromo, is high-strung, panicky and hysterical she embodies the typical movie-female response to fear. Ripley, on the other hand doesn’t buckle or freeze under pressure as Lambert does when faced with the alien, instead her fight or flight instinct is highly honed, and she reacts as calmly as possible under the circumstances. The alien is implanted within Kane, and symbolically bursts out of him in a grotesque parody of birth, which declaims the human origins of horror.
The ‘rape’ of Kane forces the male audience to feel vulnerable. A central scene of film features treachery by an android. Part of its terror lies in the fact that the android is indistinguishable from his human colleagues until he is unintentionally dismembered during a fight. In this moment, his lack of concern for his colleagues earlier in the film suddenly comes into sharp relief, the result not of a scientist’s stereotypical coldness, but of the lack of emotion stereotypical of machines.
The quarters of the spaceship are confining and restrictive, which indicates how the technocrats behind the ship’s design have subordinated the comfort of the crew to the needs of the technological components, a subordination which illustrates in turn how human life generally has been confined and limited. Alien present technology as literally cramping and restricting human beings and negatively affecting the quality of certain life experiences that are assumed to be of fundamental significance to humankind.
In Alien, the functioning of technology, as it is completely independent of human beings, is essentially beyond human intervention. The crew of the Nostromo exists within a milieu totally dominated by a technology utterly indifferent to human welfare, but one whose supremacy no one questions this is shown when “Mother” picks up the distress signal and awakens the crew with poetic music in the background, they emerge from a hypersleep like babies, unsuspecting. This technology is best exemplified in the Nostromo’s on-board computer, ironically named “Mother,” since this mother is quite prepared to sacrifice its offspring.
Told when to wake and when to sleep, continuously cramped by the technological devices that surround them as they perform their duties, their discontent kept in check by promises of “shares” in the proceeds, the crew serves the mysterious “Company” by tending to the demands of the machines that represent it. Ordered by “Mother” to risk their lives for purposes that remain forever obscure and unexplained, they carry out the operation. Whatever the Company’s motives, retrieval of the alien life form exceeds all other priorities.
When Ripley finally gains access to the computer following the death of Captain Dallas, she learns that the crew has been deemed “expendable,” a discovery that should really come as no surprise to her (although it does), it is seen that they are begin sacrificed for financial gain. Indeed, so basically accepting are the crew members of their essentially enslaved states that no one, at any point prior to Ripley’s final discovery, questions the Company’s right to determine their actions to this extent, even in such a situation as this, where there is obviously great risk to their well-being.
When Parker, who alone opposes the original order (and here only because no extra remuneration accompanies the directive to perform this duty), is informed that he may forfeit his share of the profits were he to refuse, he acquiesces immediately. No one questions the morality of the directive, let alone the Company’s right to make such demands of its employees. The only time “Mother” has a voice is when the self-destruct mechanism has been activated towards the end of the film. Then, like the HAL 9000 computer in 2001, A Space Odyssey, it is cool, detached voice, devoid of any emotion, even as she is about to be destroyed.
Instead of begin strictly industrial mining expedition, the Nostromo’s prime directive is to seek out and gather alien life that the Company might find useful for its weapons research. In this way, the film’s ideological vision of “motherhood” is presented as anything but warm and protecting. Ripley is seen as a mother figure when she saves and takes care of Jones the cat since it is her responsibility. “Mother,” like HAL is still only a tool which is a fine example of technology gone awry, particularly when saddled with a female persona.
In the final scenes Ripley is still surrounded by and still dependent upon the very technology that nearly destroyed her and is indifferent to her well-being. Even more unsettling is her titling of her report the final report of the commercial starship, Nostromo. Her choice of words, indicates a continuing subordination of her importance as a human being to that of the ship, just as her inclusion of the android Ash among the list of human dead suggests ongoing confusion regarding the status of human beings in the technological scheme of things.
After all, the Company would be happier to see the alien aboard the shuttle than Ripley herself, given the actual goal of the mission. The irony becomes even more poignant as we reflect on her final words, that “with any luck” she will be picked up at the border. As before, her ingenuity is not appropriate to be rewarded upon her return, considering that she destroyed the Nostromo and its cargo. Obviously, she places her faith in this technological milieu, not because she wants to, but because it is all that she can do if she is to survive.
In a way, Alien investigates the link between technology and its creators’ natures and draws attention to the dangers that accompanied technology’s autonomous characteristics. Alien also deals with these issues, but goes on to argue that it makes little difference, practically speaking, whether technology is intrinsically destructive or an offshoot of destructive human beings. It is hinted, for example, that just as a particular value-system was behind the Company’s order to retrieve the alien-life, so more humane directives might proceed from different, more enlightened managers.
Even though this technology may have been created along easily definable ideological lines, in that the ship and crew serve a vast and faceless capitalistic corporation, the film’s presentation of technology as ubiquitous suggests that it transcends any specific ideological orientation. For Alien also presents the technological world of the Nostromo as having an independent identity, apparently transcending nationality and specific political ideology as well, making demands on the crew that exist quite independently of the Company’s specific requirements.
After all, the Nostromo self-destructs despite Ripley’s changed mind, unable as she was to halt the process she initiated, and it is a self-destruction quite independent of (and antagonistic to) the Company’s interests. The film raises the “importance” of human beings evaluated exclusively in relation to their capacity to serve the technological system whose demands and needs are assumed to be of central importance.
Now “the individual’s role has become less and less important,” since it consists merely of performing functions demanded by the technological mechanism to which each individual has been assigned. Alien has often been used as an allegory for contemporary issues; it would seem as it tapped into a particularly fertile well of cultural and socio-political panic, perhaps triggered by the feminist movement of the 60s and the 70s. This film has also awakened us to the idea that maybe technology is taking over which brings it in conflict with nature.