Alien

Ridley Scott's Sci-Fi Horror Classic


Historical and Cultural Context

Alien was released in 1979. The late 1970s were a time of great change in American culture. Culturally, the feminist movement was at its peak. Technologically, great advances were being made in many fields. Politically, the Cold War was still going on. The United States had pulled its troops out of Vietnam six years earlier in 1973, but the conflict was still fresh in minds of the nation. The problems and issues facing the nation in 1979 changed the way Alien was received by audience. Overall it made the movie resonate with people more because they could identify, at least conceptually with what the characters were facing.

            Feminism and the role of women in society were going though a turning point the 1970s. Roe vs. Wade, the supreme court case establishing a womenís right to an abortion was passed in 1973. Throughout the 70s, womenís organizations fought for an amendment to the United States Constitution known as the Equal Rights Amendment that would explicitly state that men and women were equal under the law. 1978 saw the largest march for equality in the history of the Feminist movement, the Equal Rights Amendment Extension March, which had over 100,000 people in it. Making the main character of Alien a women was a bold move by the film makers and the studio, and it ultimately proved successful. Had the film been released a few years earlier, audiences might not have accepted such a strong women as the lead character, or it would have overwhelmed the rest of the film. Had the movie come a few years later, it would not have been as groundbreaking and it is likely other movies would have had a similar character first.

            Since the beginning of the Cold War, Americans feared communism and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was presented by the U.S. Government and the American media as powerful, dangerous, and mysterious. It was this fear that lead to the now classic science fiction horror movies of the 1950s. Movies such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Blob, It Came from Outer Space, or Earth vs. the Flying Saucers all played on Americanís fear of the threatening and mysterious communists on the other side of the world, who wanted to take over our way of life. In 1979, the Cold War was still going on. Like the classic science fiction horror movies in the past Alien uses this fear of the unknown. What set Alien apart was they ways it combined this with other types of horror films. (See Genre and Subgenre.)

            Alien was released in May of 1979, a short time after the partial nuclear meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. Though the movie was already finished by the time of the accident, it most certainly had an effect on the way the movie was viewed. Technology getting out of control is a theme presented in Alien. Ash, the science officer of the Nostromo is an android. The rest of the crew, however, are not aware of this. Ash, and Mother, the ships onboard computer have been collaborating from the beginning to capture the alien creature. The lives of the crew are of minor significance to them. People could identify with their lives being put in danger by machines that they could not control.

            Both the role of women in society and fear of technology are subjects that have continued to be prominent in our society since the movie was released in 1979. Though the Cold War is over, foreign threats still linger, and this type of fear of the unknown remains. Because of this, Alien has remained a relevant and popular movie with several generations of audiences.

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