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Final (Alienating?!) Discussion

Anne Dalke's picture

In Dalton 1, from 5-7 p.m. tonight, we'll be viewing Ridley Scott's classic 1979 film Alien.

After the showing (and before class tomorrow morning) please post here some of your reactions to the film, as guideposts for the directions we'll want to explore together further. In line with our discussion of The Crying of Lot 49: what metaphors does Scott use to structure the action of this movie? And what could the genre of science fiction horror films have to do with Revisioning and Revising the Relation between Gender and Science!

Pemwrez2009's picture

Late as usual...but I promised a post!

I had seen Alien before, but wanted to make sure it was fresh in my mind.

I thought a lot about our discussion in class and what makes something science fiction and what makes something a horror flick, even though, I think that there is definetly something to be said about science fiction horror flicks.

Horror films have always been marked by this extremely huge emphasis on shock value as well as grossness and gore. I've heard this called gratuitous violence. It is sort of the idea of watching someone slash someone 100 times as opposed to watching a movie on World War II.

Sci Fiction tells tells some sort of story in a context twisted from our normal world. Alien was some where in the middle between a Science Fiction movie and a shocker, so to speak.

I feel like creating this gruesome disgusting creature earned that film the most money above any other reason. Tecknolust had so many hidden meanings that we were either able to pick up on or that you (Anne and Liz) told us in class. Tecknolust seemed educational. Alien was not, at least for me. Also, the gender roles seemed less complicated and less constructed. It was refreshing to see a more normalized take as a female protagonists role in what we would think would have been a male or masculinized position. For all intents and purposes, she was pretty normal seeming, or at least she didn't wine and cry like a baby, or like some producers would have directed their female protagonists to act. However, she didn't seem like a granola cruncher either...!




Anne Dalke's picture

the limits of metaphor

Flora just sent me a Boston Globe article called "Hearts and Minds" (about the role of emotion in cognition). It says, in part, that "from its inception, the cognitive revolution was guided by a metaphor: the mind is like a computer....But the computer metaphor was misleading....The new science of emotion has brought a new conception of what it means to think...a rediscovery of the unconscious."

Flora's picture

one more thing

Just read this quote and had to pass it along:


"One aim of the physical sciences has been to give an exact picture of the natural world. One achievement of physics in the twentieth century has been to prove that that aim is unattainable. "
Knowledge or Certainty, [The Ascent of Man; Jacob Bronowski 1973]



Flora's picture


I enjoyed that much, much more than I thought I was going to. My experiences of horror films as a kid were very similar to those others have mentioned. I still think of myself as pretty easily frightened, but I guess I have matured. Now, I see my sensitivity as a strength. I start to believe to strongly in movies, I get frightened and upset. And that just makes the screen that much more immediate for me. Haha. Making it personal. Of course, I still wouldn't rule out any possible nightmares... (fingers crossed)

I took a bit of a scientific approach to watching the film. Maybe because I didn't care about the characters in Alien as much as I did in Technolust, I found my mind wandering. And whenever it did, I kept asking myself: how did they do that? How did they build that alien? Since I have a strong puppetry background, I found myself imagining the materials, wiring and manipulation system for the aliens. How would you make a faux alien carcass to be dissected? This made the images on the screen not just palatable, but, once more, personally interesting to me. The problem was that I sometimes forgot about the plot. I was pretty engrossed in the slime, not its social circumstances.

As I was walking out of Dalton, I burst out laughing in surprise at how much male authority was lampooned in the movie. I couldn't believe that mainstream seventies Hollywood green-lighted that script. Too bad it couldn't have been progressive in other ways. I also was annoyed with the fact that the only person of color in the movie was a mostly angry, underpaid, hyper-macho mechanic whom is often disrespected by his superiors.


The two most powerful and intelligent characters were both women: Mother, a feminized computer, and Sigourney Weaver's character. Even the evil villain science officer is a robot-man controlled by orders from mother. The men and the other woman were mostly uninteresting stereotypes puffing up their feathers at any sign of danger, but ineffective at dealing with the situation. One could certainly read Alien as a treatise on the power of women. But, what is most interesting here is that Weaver's character, while predicting much of what happens, is not readily listened to or respected by the captain or science officer or even the rest of the crew. What a sad way to treat such a physically and mentally brilliant person.

And wow! The birth imagery! My favorite sequence was entering into the womb-like ship where the eggs lived. This was certainly a masculinized, "pure" (ie without women), birthing process. According to this movie, men need women to control them, reproduce and clean up after their mistakes. The men and machines are pawns in their game.


Sam's picture

I've heard a lot about Alien

I've heard a lot about Alien in regards to feminism, but I haven't heard much solid beyond Ripley being originally a masculine role, and how Ripley is one of the first non-feminized female protagonist (especially in a horror film where it's always a female love interest). The only critique I've heard has been about Ripley going back for cat-- fulfilling the "mother" role women are often shoved into. I expect a male protagonist would also go back for the cat, because it's a sci-fi horror film and pets are rarely left behind in sci-fi movies... but that's my personal theory. It's a cute cat, come on. Also they needed a reason to send Ripley back into the ship. The piece at the end was a little gratuitous with the cat being shushed, but it really felt like she was comforting herself.

Ripley is really interesting in comparison to Lambert, who is every inch the hysterical woman-- one can't blame her given the circumstances, but she still fulfills the stereotype and it's a bit agonizing in comparison to Ripley's cool-headed behavior.

I haven't seen the movie since I was a kid, so I didn't pick up on a lot of things. Like the computer being called Mother, but Mother's behavior (being a computer) is incredibly impersonal. When Dallas asks, "what are my chances?" Mother says, "does not compute," and later that the crew is expendable. Mother! Saying that the crew is expendable. Ripley screaming out, "MOTHER!" when the ship is about to self-destruct, and then calls her a bitch. This sexless, emotionless piece of machinery.

And most of the movie onboard the ship is full of heartbeats, either mechanical or faux mechanical (air vents? Not sure...) like the ship is Mother's womb. Or maybe I'm going too far with that, but I couldn't help but make the connection of this dark, damp space, industrial and impersonal, as a womb. It wouldn't surprise me if it was intentional, though, given Giger's style.

Ripley's behavior isn't masculinized, for all that the role was written for a man. It just lacks the extrenuous female bullshit-- Ripley panics exactly as a male protagonist would in almost all cases, except for the instance where the facehugger falls and she's behind Dallas, clinging to him.

Then again, after Dallas dies, and Ripley is (rather calmly) taking control of the situation and Parker calls her hysterical-- I wonder if they added that in because Weaver took the role? A man would never have been called hysterical in such a position, but the accusation of hysteria is often used to dismiss women, whether or not they're acting hysterically.

rmalfi's picture

Movie Language to the Max

Wow I can't quite believe this, but it looks like this really long posting I wrote earlier did not make it onto the forum. That's disappointing.

Well here is a summary of what I said:

1. Birth imagery and metaphor: There is a lot of birth imagery in this movie (and the next two). When the Nostromo lands on the planet, and the crew enters the abandoned ship, it is striking how organic the inside looks. It's rounded and the surface glistens (like its wet), which is contrast to the cold, steely, rigid structure of the Nostromo. They drop Cain through a passage into a compartment containing lots of eggs. I don't think I need to explain that one. Also, I'm sure everyone caught the gender role reversal with Cain, a man, giving birth to the Alien baby. I imagine that it is no mistake that the "father" of the parasite was named such -- the evil twin giving birth to, as Ash put it, a lifeform that has no morals. There is also a lot of moving through passages and emerging through, well, holes throughout the movie (like when Dallas moves through the air ducts). And everything is wet *all of the time*. Very... womby.

2. Mothers: In addition to the ship being a mother who/that offers instruction, Ripley is a mother character throughout the films. She is constantly uttering the phrase: "I'm right here" in order to assure her fellow crew members. She is obviously unsuccessful in protecting them, but she does save a cat, a very maternal move. In future films, she saves a child, and then the world.

3. Evoltuion & Competition: The Alien is a parasite that requires a human/similar lifeform host to advance from the larval to adult life stage. Parasites are often described as being "perfect" because they have adapted to such a narrow niche, and they are very tough to kill. It is interesting that in this movie the "perfect" creature is incapable of feeling, incapable of moral judgement. Unadultered evil. Also, the Alien's outershell, Ash mentions, is made of a protein compound and SILICA, which is also the substance used in creating robots. It is said that it is just as likely that a lifeform on our own earth could have been silica based rather than carbon based, had chemical events happend a little differently. Perhaps Ash "empathizes" or relates to the creature because he is also made of this substance?

3. Gender & Science: Ripley is constantly questioning Ash, interrogating him about his motives and his methods. He tried to deflect questioning by using explanations that contain very technical terms. When she doesn't understand, she asks him to explain himself further. She refuses to let up on him even though he is the designated scientist and "expert." She refuses to trust him just because the "company" has imbued him with that power. She fights for her own agency in this story. She also acts like a scientist in trying to follow the proper protocol for quarantine (she tries to be objective in some way... trying to look out for the whole crew), and Ash takes her agency away from her in this regard, by ignoring her command.


eli's picture

I'm A Pansy

Okay, so I couldn't even sit through the whole movie. You all know my deep dark secret that I am a big pansy. I cannot watch horror films. I'm that person who has to cover their eyes throughout the entire film. This is why I have to Mystery Science Theater movies; so that I can rationalize and not get scared throughout films.

When I was little, my two older brothers would use the film Alien (and others like it) to distinguish themselves from me. They were older, they were male, they could -handle- the science fiction horror films. "Oh my gosh, the movie was so cool! I mean, did you SEE how that alien totally ate that dude..."

Jurassic Park, Aliens, Species, and so forth; all of these films were used to terrify me. I don't get the appeal of seeing little aliens leap out of stomaches or dinosaurs gobble up people. 

I was thinking, before I chickened out and ran from the class, that it's interesting that I associate Science Fiction Movies with this horror aspect of it, or at least, action. Why does Science Fiction have to involve suspense, horror, or things blowing up? Films like E.T. aren't "science fiction" they're kids movies. Technolust wasn't a science film for me; I wasn't learning science, I wasn't thinking about the science of it when I was watching it. Why do most movies the emphasize science have to have these elements that make me want to just bury my head in the sand?

Even those that don't... let's take, oh, Star Trek. I don't watch Star Trek, which apparently makes me a horrible geek. But I associate it with the male members of my family. And our society, I would argue, associates it with the male geek, too. Why else would it be shown on Spike TV, the channel for men?

Perhaps the bigger question is then not why are science fiction films associated with 'male audiences' for me, but why women are the silent audience.


I had no reason to doubt that brains were suitable for a woman. And as I had my father's kind of mind -- which was also his mother's -- I learned that the mind is not sex-typed. -- Margaret Mead