33 years ago, ALIEN brought about an incredible combination of science fiction and horror that burned through multiple decks of our psyche and ultimately hatched a franchise and phenomenon that stands out as some of the most iconic images in regard to both monsters and the heroic female. Now we stand at the threshold of return with Prometheus, to the universe director Ridley Scott drew us into and what may be an even more thoughtful exploration on fear.
One could suggest he’s done enough to address fear, right?
Seriously, the layers of fears represented in the 1979 film are far more than xenophobia and the unknown. What is most eerie about the film is that the threats are all too familiar. First, there was the horrible notion that we might not be alone in the universe, and that the other denizens might not be friendly, and that we might not be the top of the food chain or the fittest. Next, we have the faceless Corporation that controls our direction, controls our share, controls even our lives and has every right to deem them expendable. As it turns out, the face of the Corporation in the movie doesn’t just act inhuman, he IS inhuman. This trope has been imitated in countless movies since, and these first two fears are obvious in the film.
However, then it gets stranger when you realize: the ultimate protagonist/survivor is a woman, the ship’s overseeing computer is called mother, and the men in the film prove to be in various forms crude and adversarial, dismissive of problems, or – even with good intentions – finally unable to solve the situation. That’s because the film is ultimately playing at fears regarding sex, pregnancy and childbirth.
Yes, I’m serious. It doesn’t take a genius to see the alien itself is effectively a phallus. In fact, in some of H.R. Giger’s original renderings for the creature that secondary protrusion that springs out of the its’ mouth aren’t teeth at all (and no, I will not link to them; get your mind out of the Giger). Breaking down the subsequent plot points:
Ripley advises that the original organism be treated with rules of quarantine, but the men ignore using proper protection.
The process of the alien cycle includes forcible, unwanted impregnation.
There is a horrible and emotionally scarring “birth” of the creature from the body after it gestates in a character.
One by one the haunting image of the phallus-shaped invader destroys their lives.
All the “powers that be” – the faceless corporation, perhaps even “mother” don’t care about Ripley’s survival, only the organism. In other words, the one(s) who carry it are expendable.
The alien winds up inside Ripley’s escape pod, and she makes the desperate move of having it sucked out the airlock and destroyed.
There’s more symbolism, but we’ll stop there. The fears (a lurking shape related to sex, and the horrible notion of unwanted impregnation) are all over this film and it’s no coincidence the storytellers made the protagonist a woman. Now, some go further to say the film is making a very deliberate point in the late 70s, and criticize what Ripley’s victory is meant to champion, but I’m fine leaving things at the point of acknowledging these fears as timeless. For a young girl (or boy, for that matter) sex and all of it’s implications can be terrifying. Even moreso, rape and sexual abuse are tragically true realities in every time and place. Even while natural, pregnancy and childbirth are still laborious and fraught with complications, and not just scary for women! Many worried men, husbands, and fathers stress out (and even pass out) from what’s happening, concern for both woman and child, the loves and lives they hold dear.
Lastly, birth of something new doesn’t always cause our death, but reminds us of the cycle in this world… that we will eventually die and a new generation will take our place. From ideas surrounding our fellow humans, faceless systems, the unknown, sex, procreation, and death, ALIEN covered in broad stroke some of our most potent earthly fears. What more could Ridley Scott deal with in a follow up film?
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…” – Matthew 10:28
When you’ve dealt with all the other big fears, why leave the biggest one out of the story? In ALIEN, when they commit one body to the void Dallas asks if anyone wants to “say something”. No one does, and the body is sent hurtling alone into the cold reaches of space. The “feel” of the film is very materialistic, very “life under the sun“.
For those who don’t know, the title of the new film comes from the Greek character Prometheus, who in mythology stole fire from the gods. While I don’t know where this new Ridley Scott film is going (or how much or little it will tie in with the original film) it seems clear from the trailer that it deals with our origins, something that might represent our “creator” and whether or not it is friendly. My suspicion is not that it’s truly a “god” in the story but an alien of some kind, supporting one of the many variations of directed panspermia and how earth developed life.
From the look of it, this guy’s not interested in welcoming these people into his kingdom.
I love that I can be startled by the original film Alien, yet leave the theater unfettered by earthly fears. While the film might tell us that in space, no one could hear us scream, Psalm 23 comforts with a reality that “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you (God) are with me.”
Prometheus may surpass Scott’s original film in its ability to terrorize… by working with the premise that the only one who might truly cancel out fears in this life is most definitely NOT with us, or for us. I can hardly wait to see (and review). For the Prometheus review, click here!