Is Ripley a 'compensatory' character that allows Scott's Alien to unleash unconscious rage against 'Mother'?
Posted Jul-28-2017 5:57 AM
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.
What makes Alien so fascinating is its blend of body-horror, erotic imagery, and themes of penetration and violation. Amid this cocktail, one of the most famous of movie heroines survives, keeps her honour, kills the monster.
But why is the computer called ‘Mother’? Why does Ripley rage ‘you bitch!’ when the computer won’t reverse the self-destruct sequence? And what is it the monster does, what is the only thing it does? It devours, penetrates, ‘rapes’, destroys.
If I were a psychoanalyst I would say that the Ripley character – whose position is fundamentally the same as Shaw and Daniels in Prometheus and A: Covenant – is the acceptable face of femininity, whose body is chaste, unviolated, and whose dignity is portrayed as almost sacred (David Fincher’s Alien3 draws on this with its final images of Crucifiction and Virgin-Child). It is the compensatory fantasy, that allows the movie to express something else, something darker.
Beneath this lurks the destructive, matricidal rage that gives the movie its disturbing, fascinating energy. This energy lurks in the shadows, it ambushes its victims while remaining hidden. It is a phantasmic, unconscious rage, that can also be said to be a wish to ‘have’ the mother, to incorporate her, to ‘eat’ her, to bring her into the body of the devourer.
All of this, I think, is what makes the scene near the end, when Ripley undresses and climbs into the Spacesuit, a shocking and erotic moment. Everywhere else in the movie, she is fully dressed, non-sexualized, demure. Suddenly, it is not only the monster who is aroused, showing his stiff inner jaw, dripping with liquid. The viewer is also drawn into a state of arousal, and this threatens to break apart the narrative logic, that ‘Ripley’ is sacred, untouchable, virgin-like and destined to defeat the horrid Id-monster. The viewer has not been allowed to desire her until this moment. But now, briefly, the audience becomes like the xenomorph: we want to ‘have’ her, devour her, destroy her. Ripley singing a lullably like a little girl only gives the scene more charge, makes it more troubling.
And suddenly, Ripley penetrates the xeno with a bolt, and triumphs. The moment is passed, the audience is lulled with peaceful music, and we forget that, for a moment there, we sat on the shoulder of the monster, wanting what it wanted, looking that way it was looking. Interestingly, from a logical point of view, the monster could not see what we were seeing inside the booth where Ripley was undressing, and yet it showed us its ‘erection’. At that moment, the xeno was expressing the point of view of the audience, not its own.
What do you think? This may be a controversial idea, and I’m sure not everyone will agree, but I would like to know what you venerable people think. . .
Posted Jul-28-2017 2:29 PM
Thanks Ati - and yes, Freudian nakedlunch, but I don't take that as a negative thing. To say 'Freudian' seems to knock my ideas into a box, as if to say 'that's over there, I've named it, it needn't trouble us anymore'. But the questions, the themes in Alien (and A:C) are still there, larger than life, and it's worth thinking about them, and how they relate to our pleasure as we watch. If they weren't there, the Alien franchise would be boring and meh. What Giger did with his creature, and what Scott did with Alien, is to weave these hidden desires, fears, horrors and taboos into the visual and movie medium, for us to dine upon, be entertained and provoked by. Giger and Alien is in the realm of the obscene, transgressive desire, that lives within all of us. We are the Aliens really. . . .
Posted Jul-28-2017 4:06 PM
'At that moment, the xeno was expressing the point of view of the audience, not its own.' -- Exciting thought, more than exciting...
'Ripley penetrates the xeno with a bolt, and triumphs. The moment is passed, the audience is lulled with peaceful music, and we forget that, for a moment there, we sat on the shoulder of the monster, wanting what it wanted, looking that way it was looking.'
murnau - Believe it or not, at the end of the movie when the xeno is falling out of the Narcissus shuttlecraft, I always feel that I am together with the monster. Not on its shoulder, but I am the monster. :) Of course, it is because of the editing and others may feel the same but the act of throwing out is so real. Yeah, don't analyse that, please. :)
I should add that I do not feel anything towards the xeno, there is no sympathy at all! And I'd like to stress that I don't like the second part of Alien at all. I LOVE the first half of it, but the second half is not for me. Perhaps these two things are connected, that's why the end of the movie seems to be uncomfortable.
Two interesting/relevant things:
Probably you know that the script of Alien was put together from two main storylines, we see two movies in one.
Ridley Scott originally wanted to kill Ripley at the end of the movie, that would have been a totally different version of the triumph you mention...
Posted Jul-28-2017 8:28 PM
I never found Sigourney Beaver, sorry Weaver, attractive until Alien 3 with a shaved head. Is that weird? Never found her attractive in Alien, Aliens, or Ghostbusters 1 and 2. Yeah those crotch shots with that thick b**h, haha. This thread is dirty and I feel violated, just kidding. Great article by the way.
Posted Jul-28-2017 9:12 PM
Dr. Curt Connors i totally agree, perhaps it was the '80s perm. The shaved head really suited her, and her look in Resurrection was also very strong but feminine. There is real strength and determination in her eyes.
Daniels and even Shaw were too doe-eyed for me. Bring in Katee Sackhoff as the next lead!!!
Posted Jul-29-2017 12:06 AM
I also found Weaver attractive in Alien 3, I love my women tough lol I've never found her cute till I watched Alien XD and yes IRaptus! Her resurrection look was badass. I do disagree about the doey eye girls, Weaver was one in 79 and, idk, cute girls being tough gets me :P
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."
Posted Jul-29-2017 4:11 PM
Thanks for all the replies, and for the upvote! A fun conversation . . .
I’ve always found Weaver impressive, feminine but with androgynous characteristics, complex, elegant, intelligent, sexy as one part of her 3 dimensional persona. I think she was miscast in Ghostbusters, and too intelligent for B Murray’s smug clowning (watched it recently – Venkman would be done for sexual harassment these days, he doesn’t hear ‘no’ when she says ‘no’).
It interests me that the replies here are comfortable joking around with beaver/weaver but not comfortable acknowledging any of this topic’s ideas about aggressive, destructive desire, symbolized by the xeno. It’s as if the xeno is both visible and invisible, the horrid elephant in the room, so to speak. We all know it’s there, and our conspiracy of silence fills the space around it.
Fascinating that you see yourself as the monster falling, Ati. That’s probably personal imaginative stuff that places you there. Thanks for sharing. I haven’t looked at that scene in that way, though I’ve noticed that the moment of the expulsion/fall is a repeated moment, shown from different angles in succession – it is a kind of ‘frozen moment’, the part of the dream that keeps coming back to us.
I did know that Ridley wanted Ripley (Ridley/Ripley?) to die at the end in an earlier draft. I’m not sure what you mean by 2 movies spliced together, though, Ati. If she had died, we might not be talking about the movie after all these years. In my thoughts, Ripley being killed was ultimately unbearable for Scott because – in the dream logic I’ve sketched – that would mean that the destructive rage wins, and the guilt of that is too much. The strong compensatory female figure allows the rage to run riot, but must be suppressed at the end of the dream. Strangely, as Ripley goes to sleep in the escape pod, we the audience ‘wake up’, exit the movie/dream, safe in the knowledge that the monster has, for now, been put down. It sits there in the box, until the next movie, or the next time we watch. We want the monster to burn and rage, just as we want Ripley/Shaw/Daniels to put it back in the box for us.
The scenes in A3 and Covenant that show the point-of-view of the xeno are mistakes, I think. The xeno is empty, it is the absent space where our own dangerous horrors and urges take root. You could say that we are put inside the monster for a moment, seeing through its eyes, but this is too strong an identification, too conscious. The xeno is so extreme that we cannot sit inside it. It is totally ‘other’ – it is us, but can never be experienced by us in our waking life.
Posted Jul-29-2017 4:50 PM
murnau its funny you mention the conspiracy of silence around what the xenomorph represents. To me the xenomorph is the metaphoric opposite to the idiom of the elephant in the room. Whereas the elephant represents a large conspicuous problem that society does not wish to address, and is happy to sweep under the rug; such as social diseases like substance abuse, domestic violence, lust for the flesh, Sexual fetishes etc.
The Xenomorph is the lurking black spider that secretly wishes to embrace and indulge such desires. That is why you never really get a look at the beast in ALIEN, because no-one wants to see their demons in full, and in the light, and acknowledge its presence as a whole.
And perhaps that is why we skirt around the topics you mention, but joke about it lightheartedly instead?
You are totally correct about Weaver being miscast in Ghostbusters. That role did not do her justice.
Posted Jul-29-2017 7:23 PM
'though I’ve noticed that the moment of the expulsion/fall is a repeated moment, shown from different angles in succession – it is a kind of ‘frozen moment’, the part of the dream that keeps coming back to us.' - by murnau
Perfect description of the scene! If I'm not mistaken that is the only scene in the movie where we see moments in slow motion building meaning with the help of rain/water (they used water in the scene)=death, falling=death, darkness=death - echoed in Scott's Blade Runner well-known Roy Batty scene from the end of the movie where Batty is dying, it is raining, and dream-like slow motion is used.
Posted Jul-29-2017 8:51 PM
To the OP- Great posts on this question! I never thought of Ripley that way until Resurrection when she made inuendos toward the crew. She was never sexed up and so that's how I saw her- I think everyone watched that climbing into the suit scene a few times. In fact, I recall less than a year ago one or two members were posting close ups of...umm....oh....what we now might call granny panties.
Posted Jul-30-2017 7:30 AM
@murnau I think you make some fantastic observations on human nature. I remember as a pre teen feeling some of those EXACT feelings---although I wouldn't say "mother" had anything to do with them---but the "Alien" as a sexual metaphor and a "violator" certainly was/is a longstanding and poignant one.
Posted Aug-01-2017 8:21 AM
iRaptus: 'The Xenomorph is the lurking black spider that secretly wishes to embrace and indulge such desires. That is why you never really get a look at the beast in ALIEN, because no-one wants to see their demons in full, and in the light, and acknowledge its presence as a whole.'
Interesting ideas, iRaptus, and thanks for replying. I think the beast is operating in different ways in the movie, and in a discussion like this. It may be operating differently from the ‘elephant in the room’ in the movie, where yes it is a manifestation of violent, forbidden urges to devour and destroy, that are ‘secret’ as you say, because the creature lurks in the dark and ambushes when you are looking the other way, and is never fully seen. But in this discussion, and in other circles, I stick to the idea that is the ‘elephant’ – it is in plain sight, we have seen (over and over, as fans) what it does, and how in Alien, and now A:C, it is clearly linked to angry impulses toward Mother/the feminine – but it is not being discussed as such. Perhaps this is inevitable, and of course, this is what (good) movies are for, to express parts of the human experience that are not easily approached or admitted to.
Loving this thread btw! It just shows how intelligent us fan boys can be, when we keep the discussion polite and deep-thinking. And good words from Starlogger, thanks for your cool observations. Alien really is one of the deepest movies for me, it is so rich, and never stops giving. It is art-house and blockbuster, mood-piece and horror slasher.
Blade Runner must be my next thread – lots to say on that!
Posted Aug-01-2017 8:37 AM
@murnau (love the name, btw!) "Alien" is, to me, the best Horror and the best Science Fiction movie of all-time. I can never imagine it being topped. It is, as you say, so deep and dark and there are just so many layers in it...it stands up to time and multiple viewings very well, never appearing "hokey" or dated. Just a fantastic film in so many ways. I could watch it a bazillion times...in fact, I may have!
Posted Aug-01-2017 9:05 AM
Sorry murnau but I would not include Shaw in the same category. She is no "virgin", she has sex with Halloway, she does not run from the space "dickhead". Further more we "have" probably for years before giving birth to many "bastards" like us. Sorry I still don't understand why did she have the most horrific death in the franchise. So that woman should not trust men, that naivety story again?
Posted Aug-01-2017 9:19 AM
Thanks Starlogger – I agree!
You’re right Red0guy, Shaw is a bit different, as Prometheus is different. There is no xeno in it (Deacon aside), but the creatures in it do show erotic-genital features of both sexes. Yes, she is sexually active too, which is anomalous (Ripley in A3 aside, too, I’m only talking about Scott’s Alien movies). But her insemination is a violation by David, and so she is, like Ripley, the victim of male/’alien’ violence in Prometheus. She prevails in Prometheus, but remains under threat. Her disgusting mutilation is the most disturbing part of A:C for me, even as it restores the central horror theme of Scott’s Alien. This theme revolves around male creation, a theme common to Alien & Blade Runner. The male characters wish to supplant ‘Mother’, they want to claim her gift of creation for their own. The other element to this is a ‘rage’ against ‘Mother’, involving the wish to destroy, devour, ‘have’ her as her gifts are taken from her. That is why David experiments upon her, claims to love and mourn her, and yet keeps her mutilated body on display. His pleasure at seeing her pulled apart is what makes the scenes in the lab so disturbing.
Posted Aug-01-2017 9:58 AM
It might be said that the weaker presence of these horror/sex/creation/agression themes in Prometheus is (partly) behind the disappointment expressed by so many fans. Other reasons given, such as the sketchy characterisation, don't seem so convincing to me. The characters in Alien are sketches, although much better sketches....
Posted Aug-02-2017 4:04 AM
That's Cameron's Aliens, which I'm not discussing, and also that's a plot detail that's happened offscreen. What's important is the way in which a character functions within the narrative flow, and within the economy of ideas, events and images that happens in real-time. A movie is like a dream, made by many hands of course, but all involved belong to the same moment in history and (mostly) to the same culture, which means they will make something that either reflects or, more rarely, challenges the values of the culture within whose forces it is made. Personal issues, such as the agressivity I've been talking about, belong to the individual, yes, but are also shared by many others since we are all human minds/bodies with shared impulses and psychologies. These impulses make the culture around us too, and so cultural themes are often personal ones, and vice versa.
Good point though! In Aliens the threat is to the nuclear family. In Alien the threat is darker, wilder, more obscene and more erotic. That's what makes it horror, while Aliens is action, and satire, and adventure. Damn fine action, oh yes, but a different beast to Alien.
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