Horror Movies for Feminists: Alien (1979)

Synopsis: In deep space, the crew of the commercial starship Nostromo is awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules halfway through their journey home to investigate a distress call from an alien vessel. The terror begins when the crew encounters a nest of eggs inside the alien ship. An organism from inside an egg leaps out and attaches itself to one of the crew, causing him to fall into a coma.

Why feminists will watch: Where to even start? This is a great movie, it kicked off a series of woman-led science fiction and action flicks, and launched both Sigourney Weaver and the Alien series. Ripley, played by Weaver in one of the most famous and iconic roles in American film, is just a girl in space with her cat, doing her workaday job when everything goes sideways. Very relatable.

The alien herself is also an extended metaphor for motherhood, and is in many, many obvious ways a stand-in for our discomfort with and disdain for the female body. The alien in Alien (spoiler alert) is a mother who simply cannot stop laying eggs all over the place, and whose spawn is wildly out of control. This unruly, terrifying mother with her unruly, terrifying babies really gums up the space mission.

It’s also part of the widely-discussed James Cameron canon, a director of summer blockbusters, who is also an insufferable action meathead, but who also likes to write and cast strong female figures in lead roles, such as Ripley in the Alien series and Sarah Conner in the Terminator series. “Alien” plays with our claustrophobia and fear of the dark, and the terror is ratcheted up with the sci-fi/goth visual stylings of H.R. Giger.

Is it gory? Hell yeah.

Is it problematic? Yes. For all of it’s 1979 space punk, sci-fi feminism and critical acclaim, some of the language and storytelling tropes haven’t aged well. But it’s also another famous example of the “final girl” trope and is widely considered one of the best films of all time.

Seriously. So you should watch it.

Lauren Bruce • September 17, 2019

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