Alien

Ridley Scott's Sci-Fi Horror Classic


Narrative Analysis

            As discussed in the Genre and Subgenre section, Alien is usually categorized as a science fiction horror movie, but it shares many qualities of the slasher subgenre. In Carol J. Clover’s essay, “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the slasher film” she attempts to analyze the various aspects of the Slasher film and how they deal with gender. In the essay, she gives broad overviews of the characteristics that usually describe the killer and what she calls “The Final Girl”. Some of these characteristics relate to the characters in Alien, while some do not.

            Clover spends a good part of her essay explaining who The Final Girl is and what characteristics define her. The Final Girl is the female character of the Slasher film that is the only survivor of the story. She is usually the main character of the story, and is identified with by both the male and female audience members. She also says that "The Final Girl is also watchful to the point of paranoia; small signs of danger that her friends ignore she takes in and turns over. Above all she is intelligent and resourceful in extreme situations" (Clover 204). In other words, when the killer is near, she is the first person (and often the only person) to know something is wrong. Another trait of The Final Girl is that she is usually “boyish”, in that she does not have an overtly feminine appearance, and she will often have traditionally male interests. She will often have a gender-neutral name. Some examples Clover gives of The Final Girl are Sally in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Stretch of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre II, Laurie of Halloween and Marti in Hell Night

            Clover states in the essay that Ripley, of Alien is a Final Girl. While Ripley is undeniably the hero of Alien, (Clover says that The Final Girl is the hero of the slasher) Ripley does not meet all of the criteria that Clover lays out. "The Final Girl is introduced at the beginning and is the only character to be developed in any psychological detail. We understand immediately from the attention paid it that hers is the main story line" (Clover 207). This is not the case with Ripley. We do not know she is the main character until of the film until we are well into it. In fact the first thing Ripley does to set her apart from the other characters is not letting Kane and the crew back in the ship, which is about 35 minutes into the movie. Ripley is also not the only character developed in psychological detail, as Clover suggests (Clover 207). 
 
            Despite this, there are many ways in which Ripley is The Final Girl. She is the most level headed and observant of the crew, who can see the danger before the other characters. In the afore mentioned scene where Ripley refuses to let Kane, Dallas and Lambert onto the ship, she is the only one who sees the potential risk in letting the first alien creature onto the ship. Ripley is definitely resourceful in extreme situations, notably in destroying the Nostromo and when she kills the alien. She is doing a job that, at least in our culture, traditionally done by men. We don’t know the usual gender of second officers of commercial towing vessels in the future, but in our culture that is a job traditionally held by men. Ripley’s first name is never used in this movie. This makes her more masculine without resorting to the use of a man’s name for the female main character. Her clothing is the same as the male members of the crew, simple and utilitarian.



Ripley's  clothing

The final 20 minutes of the movie are about Ripley fighting back against the alien, something that the other characters in the movie have not been able to do. This follows closely with Clover’s assessment that the ending of the film is always an extended chase of The Final Girl by the killer, until The Final Girl either kills the killer or is rescued. Lastly, Ripley is the lone survivor. The final dialogue of the movie emphasizes this point. “The other members of the crew, Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash and Captain Dallas, are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed.[…] This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”

 

           

            Like Ripley, the alien in this movie conforms to some but not all of the characteristics Clover defines for the killer. She says that signs of gender confusion are common. "The killer’s phallic purpose, as he trusts his drill or knife into the trembling bodies of young women is unmistakable. At the same time, however, his masculinity is severely qualified: he ranges from the virginal or sexually inert to the transvestite or transsexual, is spiritually divided or even equipped with a vulva and vagina" (Clover 209).

 
The alien

            It is arguable that the alien shows signs of gender confusion. The alien is referred to as “he” by the crew, but probably only because it looks more masculine then feminine. It is in fact, neither. As far as we know, this kind of alien has no ability to bear children. It also has no ability to impregnate. The species reproduces through another creature that impregnates a host, and then dies, leaving the alien to be born and kill the host. Biologically, there is no basis for determining the sex of the alien.

           Another way in which the alien follows the slasher film convention of a killer is the way the alien is shot. Clover writes "We catch sight of [the killers] only in glimpses- few and far between in the beginning, more frequent toward the end" (196). Most of the shots of the alien are poorly lit, and show it in motion, making it harder to discern details. In addition, the alien blends in very well with the interior of the ship, making it harder to spot even when it is clearly in view. The few stable close up shots we have of the alien are of his face and mouth. In all the scenes where the alien is about to kill its victims, we see its teeth closing in. However, it does not kill its victims with its teeth. Instead, a long tongue like tube comes out of its mouth and strikes the victim, killing them. Like the classic slasher films, the weapon of choice of the killer is phallic in shape. The alien could easily have killed its victims with its teeth or claws, but the film makers chose instead to make the alien have a phallic method of execution.

 
The alien's weapon of choice

            Clover says that use of I-camera can lead us into taking the point of view and identifying with the killer. As the film goes on, she argues, we identify more and more with The Final Girl instead of the killer due both to the use of the camera and storyline. "We are linked, in this way, with the killer in the early part of the film, usually before we have seen him directly and in any detail. Our closeness to [the killer] wanes as our closeness to The Final Girl waxes" (Clover 208). While Alien does make use of a few I-camera shots from the alien’s point of view, it does not make an attempt to have the audience identify with it. The alien is introduced to late into the movie to have the audience undergo a shift in identification to him and then back again to Ripley. The audience is not given any chance to empathize with the alien throughout the movie, even when we looking from his point of view.


One of the few shots from the alien's point of view.

            Both Ripley and the alien fit into most of what Clover describes as the convention for slasher film archetypes. However, there are minor differences, mostly due to the setting and mixing of subgenres in this film that move those to characters away from the standard. For example, it suits a science fiction horror movie better to leave the killer completely mysterious and unsympathetic because part of the threat of science fiction horror is fear of the unknown. Ripley is tougher and more commanding then most other Final Girls in slasher films, because she is the commander of a space ship, rather then a teenage girl. Alien take into account the standards of the slasher archetypes and uses them to further the story.

 

Links:

Information on Carol J. Clover

 

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