Ridley Scott's Sci-Fi Horror Classic

Analysis of Tropes and Metaphors

The film Alien has in it many cycles of birth, followed by death. This can be a literal birth such as the first alien creature from the egg, or a more metaphorical birth, such as the crew being woken up from stasis. Each scene of birth, is followed by the death of the mother that gave birth, until Ripley becomes the one giving birth at the end of the movie.

The movie begins with the crew of the Nostromo being awakened from stasis by the ships onboard computer, aptly named, “Mother”. This scene both looks and feels like a birth. They are told by Mother that the reason they were awakened was to investigate a distress beacon of unknown origin on a nearby planetoid. This however, is not entirely true. Mother and Ash, the two non-human members of the crew were given special instructions by the company that owns the Nostromo to obtain a specimen of the alien. All other objectives are secondary. The crew’s life is of no consequence. Most of the crew, will in fact die. They are condemned to die through birth.

The crew beng awakened from stasis

The second occurrence of birth and death is more literal. Kane, Lambert, and Dallas investigate the derelict ship that is sending the distress beacon. As discussed in the Technical Analysis Module, the derelict ship resembles the womb. Inside of this ship/womb, are eggs. Kane’s investigation of one of the eggs causes one of them to hatch, and a creature to jump out and latch onto his face. Kane is brought back aboard the ship, and examined. The crew determines he is still alive, and is being fed oxygen from the creature. A short time later, the creatures detaches itself from Kane and dies.

The creature hatches...

  Kane makes the mistake of getting to close

The creature attached to Kane


Kane is presumed to be recovering. While dining with the crew, Kane at first looks like he is choking. He then starts shaking, and screaming. The crew gets him up on the table and hold him down. Something inside of his body begins to scream, and suddenly his chest starts bursting open. From the bloody opening, the newly born alien reveals its head. The alien then climbs out and dashes across the table and out of sight, leaving Kane dead.

The alien's "birth":

The way the alien burst out of Kane’s chest strongly resembles a mother giving birth. The fluids, the way the alien emerges, and Kane’s reactions all are similar to what happens during birth. The alien even cries out, the way a newborn does to take its first breath of air. There is also another cycle of birth and death. Kane is kept alive completely by another organism (like a child in the womb), until the creature feeding him oxygen dies. Kane is then reborn, only to die a short time later when he gives birth.

Ironically, the only character in the movie who views the alien’s chest bursting entrance as a birth is Ash, who is a robot. When talking about plan to kill the alien, Ash mutters “Kane’s son.” Being a robot, Ash presumably has a more objective viewpoint on what constitutes birth, and considers the alien Kane’s offspring even though it is not human. He does not take into account the fact that Kane is a man. To him, gender does not matter, since he is so far removed from being human.

         Later on in the movie, Ripley plans to destroy the Nostromo in order to kill the alien. She will escape on a shuttle that launches from the Nostromo. The shuttle launch is another kind of birth, and is followed by the destruction of the Nostromo.

The Shuttle Launch

The destruction of the Nostromo


The only mother who survives in this story is Ripley. She is mother to the cat, named Jones. She “gives birth” to the cat when she opens up a box and the cat jumps out and runs away. The way this happens is similar to when the alien runs away right after it is born. This could, at least thematically, explain why Ripley bothers getting the cat back before she boards the shuttle, since she has so little time. She is the only successful and surviving mother.

In the final sequence between Ripley and the alien, the metaphor of birth occurs again, except this time, it is the child who dies instead of the mother. The alien is revealed to be hiding on the shuttle as Ripley escapes. When Ripley sees the alien is on the ship, she runs into a storage locker containing a space suit. She puts it on, then moves back into the control room and opens the hatch of the shuttle, letting all of the air out. The alien is thrown towards the hatch, but grabs onto the walls. In a last desperate move, Ripley shoots the alien with a harpoon and blasts him out into space. The hatch closes, and the alien is left floating in space, still attached to the ship by the harpoon’s cord. Finally, the cord is broken, and the alien floats away.

    The alien being shot out of the shuttle

In this sequence, Ripley (or the shuttle) gives birth to the alien in order to kill it. This is the only time the child dies right after birth, rather then the mother. The way the alien resists being thrown out into space similar to the way a infant is forced to go from the womb in order to be born. The harpoon cord resembles the umbilical cord that keeps the alien attached to the ship after it is born, but is cut a short time later.

            Every mother in this story, whether it be a ship, a man or an alien creature dies shortly after it gives birth. The only mother who gives birth and does not die is the one who can be a true mother, a women. In this way, the movie is saying that only women are truly capable of being mothers. At the same time, the movie shows that women can be strong action heroes that can measure up to the toughest of their male counterparts. This is a powerful message to send, especially in 1979. A women can be a hero, but in the end, can still have the nurturing qualities of a mother.

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