5.04.2005

Aliens as Art?

Can a compelling story be more than “trash”? Can an action movie with little character development?

Not every interpretation is equally viable for Aliens. The film makes statements on Vietnam, but the who-is-who is confused. Neither sapient species is native to the planet, so the Vietnam metaphor breaks down unless the filmmakers believe humans are not indigenous to Earth. One thesis I thought consistent throughout was that only a True Mother could conquer the evil Über-Mother, where the true mother is one driven not by biological urges alone but also by the psychological.

Women are generally better at coping with the aliens than men. Some gender issues are dealt with since the men act impressed when Ripley uses a loader even though the future has women in many places of authority: piloting ships, doctoring, taking part in the corporate board. Maybe they’re surprised that a civilian woman has such skills. But motherhood is more important since, even if the other women are mothers, they do not behave psychologically motherly toward others and are incompetent in the face of the destructive force of the alien or the biological mother.

Newt, the colony’s only survivor, has her own child, the doll’s head. Timmy, her brother says, “You go in places we can’t fit.” And Newt replies, “That’s why I’m the best.” Newt’s mother voiced the better wisdom of calling in the discovery of the alien ship, but the father went heedlessly on in (he’s also the one implanted by an alien hugger). Men and father figures are mostly incompetent, panicking [Hudson] or freezing up [Goreman] when needed, or downright destructive [corporate baddie].

Hudson: Have you ever been mistaken for a man?
Vasquez: No. Have you?

Some men do aid the women, i.e. Hicks, who may be the best father figure or male authority though he's still flawed: mistakes Newt for alien, and won’t get engaged--but maybe that locator band is engagement. After all, it is also the link that binds Ripley to Newt, making the three an adopted family of sorts.

Lt. Gore-man, the most senior-ranking father figure, can’t even tell his own men apart. Curiously, once he loses authority through a concussion and a red badge of courage, he never regains authority although he is redeemed by sacrificing himself in the utterly vain attempt to save Vasquez.

In the end, all the real men are dead or out of commission, so only an artificial man can help rescue them off the planet. One of my film classmates pointed out his milky-white ejaculation upon attack by the alien or biological mother. But if this is a sexual climax, it is also his destruction. But what is an artificial male? Is he an ideological impossibility? This is never really clear and maybe does not need to be since the film is an examination of mothers. An undaunted speculation, anyway: Perhaps artificiality is a perfection of maleness but not within gender relations as the film references Ripley’s earlier, poor encounter with an artificial man [Alien, the first of the film trilogy].

Ripley is the nearly ideal mother--biologically and psychologically. Her biological daughter, Amy or Amanda, died while Ripley was in deep freeze. Ripley could conceivably just make more biological babies, but instead she latches on to children who need mothers. She gives Newt, for instance, hot chocolate, a cleaning, and compliments. Ripley pets and sleeps with the child. When men are caught by aliens, she says it’s too late (not terribly motherly), but when Newt, her surrogate child, is caught by aliens with only 26 minutes before the planet blew up, she must risk everything. But she does act motherly to save the lives of survivors trapped in the alien den and to snap Hudson out of his panic attack with more than just discipline--she reminds him of how much they all need him sane. Hudson doesn’t get respect from any other character, and this act of tough kindness brings him back.

Aliens are egg-laying mothers, compared to bees and ants. If they had had mammary glands, maybe they would be harder to conscionably kill. But they are called bugs, have exoskeletons, and are ugly; so they must be exterminated. (Corporate baddies and artificial persons foolishly want to study the bugs in the name of science or war instead of killing them.) Nothing about the aliens even suggests maleness. The creature of the pod lays an embryo in the human. The pod creature’s implanting mouth resembles a vagina, and its pod opens like a flower (the female organ is often referred to as a flower as far back as the Bible). In fact, even the mouth within the mouth might reference urban myths of exotic prostitutes who line sexual organs with razor-blades. A man initially confuses Newt with an alien, thereby conflating Newt’s femaleness with the aliens’ (Hicks says, “I got it,” meaning Newt, conflating her with something alien even after it’s clear Newt is human. Does this mean that even good men struggle differentiate between different kinds of women?). Entering the aliens’ den, which penetrates deep into the bowels of the colony’s power center, the architectural design resembles a throat, fallopian tubes, or the mysterious labyrinthine female. In fact it is through the mouth of the ship that the alien is vanquished, not by phallic weapons lovingly dubbed “ball-breaker,” which would be useless if your enemy doesn’t have balls.

The main reason the bugs must be eliminated is that they have no ecological understanding of what destruction they wreck upon planets--no doubt why they must planet-hop. Eliminating all of a host species foolishly eliminates their ability to reproduce. When Ripley stumbles upon the alien mother, she’s producing far more pods than is necessary to wipe out the remaining humans and their own existence.

Ripley knows these aliens. As Burke approaches a specimen jar, she warns him to be careful and the alien pod creature tries to attack through the glass container. And most importantly, Ripley knows the value of a child. She communicates this to the alien as no one else has been able to, by throwing flames over the tops of the pods. The alien queen mother understands and calls off her dogs. If you pay close attention, it isn’t Ripley that breaks the truce, but an alien child/pod that opens. Note Ripley's expression when the pod opens. Like the Western code, this allows Ripley to open fire.

In the last confrontation, Ripley says to the queen mother in protection of Ripley‘s surrogate daughter: “Get away from her, you bitch!” And Newt rewards Ripley by calling Ripley, “Mommy”: the final triumph of the psychological mother over the biological.