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Alien 1979 Film Analysis


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A film analysis of the 1979 gothic horror film Alien.

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Alien 1979 Film Analysis

  1. 1. Film Analysis By Selina Argyrou
  2. 2. 'Alien' was released in 1979 and directed by Ridley Scott. The film explores the deep fears and desires that are usually repressed in the subconscious. In the late 1970s and 80s there was a group of films known as ‘body horror.’ This is because they focused on anxieties surrounding the human body. The body itself became the site of horror as its physical form was altered by disease, invasion or mutilation. Decay, mutation and transformation were seen as horrific processes. 'Alien' is an early example of this trend. It goes deep into the human psyche and explores fears about the human body, birth and sexuality.
  3. 3. 'Alien' was made as a gothic horror film set in space and the design evokes a gothic atmosphere. The film is set aboard the Nostromo, a spaceship, which is the perfect location for a horror film because it is a place of absolute isolation – no one can help you and there is no escape. Also, it forms a pressurised environment, which creates an intense feeling of claustrophobia. The tagline for the film was ‘In space, no- one can hear you scream.’ This line also indicates that the film is a fusion of the science fiction and horror genres. 'Alien' explores fears associated with birth and sexuality. Barbara Creed wrote an important essay on the film called ‘Alien and the Monstrous-Feminine.’ The monstrous- feminine is a psychological idea generated by male anxieties about the female body and sexuality. Creed argues that Alien shows the maternal body as horrifying and monstrous. In particular, she says that the film repeatedly shows the scene of birth or origin.
  4. 4. There are three representations of birth in the film. The first is the scene is at the beginning of the film, when the crew are being awakened from hyper-sleep by the ships onboard computer called "Mother." The hyper-sleep vault is a womb-like space but it is thoroughly clean and sanitised. This suggests the idea of future births being managed by technology. It is controlled, clean and painless. 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 Nostromoto obtain a specimen of the alien. All other objectives are secondary, which means that the crews life are of no consequence and most of them in fact, will die.
  5. 5. The second birth scene is when the crew discover the alien. The crew find the derelict craft that was sending out a distress beacon. The crew enter through vaginal portals, implying that they are inside the womb. The interior is a huge, empty space and it is dark, dank and humid. Like a womb, it supports the creation of life because it’s full of alien 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. The alien looks like an insect, but it also has skeletal human hands. Some critics have argued that the alien looks like a placenta with an umbilical cord. 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.
  6. 6. Kane’s death scene is the third representation of birth. The alien erupts out of his chest resembling a horrific birth. Kane has been forcibly impregnated by the alien which eventually rips itself from the male 'womb' in a horrific scene of blood and gore. 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. The scene is a grotesque contrast to the clean birth of the opening sequence. It is violent, scary and disgustingly organic.
  7. 7. 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. Ripley is the only 'mother' to survive. She does not have children, but she has a cat named Jones who was born when Ripley opened the box and the cat jumped out, similar to how the alien ran away after it is born. This could explain why Ripley goes back for the cat even though she has so little time.
  8. 8. In the final scene, the metaphor of birth is shown again with this time the child dying 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. 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. This shows Ripley (or the ship) giving birth to the alien in order to kill it. This is the only time in the film we see the metaphorical child dying after birth. The harpoon cord resembles the umbilical cord which keeps the alien attached to the ship after its born but is then cut later.
  9. 9. Overall, every mother in this film including the ship, Kane or alien dies shortly after giving birth. The only mother who gives birth and survives is the only women, someone who can be a true mother. This movie shows how women can be strong action heroes that can measure up to their male counterparts but can also still have the nurturing qualities of a mother. This was a powerful message to send, especially in 1979.By Selina Argyrou