The Alien movies are terrifying for more reasons than just one. Ever since the first film was released in 1979, audiences everywhere have been equally excited and terrified as the insidious aliens tracked, hunted and tore apart human beings down corridors and cargo bays. Yet, even though most people recognize #Alien for its influence on science fiction and horror, there are also a multiple motifs sprinkled throughout the series that means more than another scream or another hair rising on your neck. Here are five themes you can find throughout the Alien franchise:
5. Rape And Sexual Violence
The very first Alien film was a sci-fi horror classic that filled audience members with existential dread. Yet, while moviegoers saw the film as great weekend entertainment, some failed to realize that it was also intended as a metaphor for rape and sexual violence.
In constructing the scenes surrounding Alien, screenwriter Dan O'Bannon pointed out to The Guardian that a lot of the movie metaphorically plays on the male fear of penetration, going so far as to call it "payback" for those horror films where vulnerable women were sexually terrorized by male assailants (Looking at you, Straw Dogs and I Spit On Your Grave).
In addition, there are quite a few scenes that allude to this consistent theme of sexual violence, including:
- The facehugger (conception through forced oral injection)
- The chestburster scene (a clearly unwanted pregnancy and birth)
- The alien having a phallic head
- Ash wanting to preserve the newborn alien life (a comparison to the pro-life movement)
Also take into consideration that this violent process of contraception and birth happens to a man, whereas, in reality, woman are usually found in this position. In Alien, you sympathize with John Hurt’s character and wish the crewmembers could do more to help him. Why is it suddenly a moot point when this happens to a woman in real life? This brings me to my next point.
In the first movie, Ellen Ripley is a stereotype of a "final girl," a woman who is destined to survive to the end of the horror movie no matter what. In the first film she was more or less a victim of the Alien’s savagery, but she’s definitely not a victim by the time the sequel rolls around. Taking on the role of an action hero more than a survivor woman, Ripley shoots, tabs, punches, blows up and kicks more Alien ass than a starship trooper — and that's not even halfway through the movie.
For the time, it was unusual to have a female action hero as kick-ass as Ripley. Having her front-and-center as the hero behind Aliens was surprisingly progressive for its time, and to this day is still pointed to as a standout example of feminism and gender equality in movies. Since then, many other women have taken Ripley’s place as strong female-centered roles, from Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus to Daniels in Alien: Convenant, but it all started with Ellen Ripley.
Interestingly enough, this is not director James Cameron’s first time featuring a female in the lead of an action picture. His first two Terminator films both featured Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, the unexpected heroine destined to save mankind’s future.
Speaking of which...
3. Man Versus Machine
Another common theme throughout most of the series is man versus machine, or the evolution of artificial intelligence. Much like Cameron's own Terminator series, the Alien franchise poses questions concerning the evolution of technology and if it poses a serious threat to mankind's future.
In the first Alien film, we have Ash, an AI who is more concerned with the Xenomorph's survival than the human crewmembers. In the second movie we have Bishop who, unlike Ash, is more focused on helping his human companions as opposed to using them. In Prometheus, Michael Fassbender takes on the character of David, another artificial intelligence robot who uses his crew members to advance his own knowledge of the Engineers and how they are related to the evolution of mankind. Later, in Alien Covenant, Fassbender juxtaposes himself as two different androids, both contemplating their place in an ever-expanding universe and how they could potentially co-exist with humanity. If they can’t, where does that leave us?
2. Origins And Creationism
Another theme more recently explored in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant is the origin of mankind — where we came from, how we were born, and the context behind our creation. Featuring the lead protagonist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), Prometheus explores possibilities of where we came from and what that might mean for us as a species.
Similarly, Prometheus also explores the savagery of human nature and how God (or in this case, the Engineers) punish them for their crimes. God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden for eating from the Forbidden Tree. Prometheus is punished by the Gods to be chained to a rock for gifting humanity with fire. If some of these are examples of God’s punishment towards man, what punishment do the Engineers have in store for us?
Kind of an obvious one, but one that deserves thorough observation regardless. Survival has been a prominent theme of the horror franchise ever since its spine-chilling beginnings, and not just from the human characters, but also from the Xenomorphs as well.
When the Xenomorph infants are born, they protrude from the chest of a human being, much like how any other animal cracks through the shell of their egg. We, as human beings, are mortified by this because we’re witnessing one of our fellows being literally torn apart. However, the Xenomorph infant doesn’t realize this. To it, it is just another baby being hatched from its egg. And as it is born in a chaotic and stressful environment, it does what any reasonable infant would do: It runs away.
As it grows up, it matures — it grows claws and teeth; its tail sharpens; its saliva thickens into acid; its senses become more alert and its legs and arms grow stronger, giving it an inhuman amount of strength, agility and reflexes. It is no longer an indefensible infant; it is now a fully-grown Alien — and it is hungry.
Are the Xenomorphs evil? That’s hard to say. They’re the antagonists of the series, sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re “evil.” In fact, their only goals seem to be to eat, survive and climb up the food chain of their natural environments. These goals are similar to that of the human race. You don’t feel guilty if you hunt and kill a deer, and a lion feels no shame for killing a gazelle. The only reason we care about the Alien killing other humans is because, in this case, we are the gazelle, and it suddenly becomes a competition of who is truly the stronger predator.
This instilled sense of fear, predation and survival is why Alien succeeds so well as a franchise. It’s not a series about the moral struggles of right and wrong; it is a picture of man vs. nature, juxtaposing them against each other to see who is higher up in the food chain. And right now, nature has built up quite an appetite.
Are there any other themes we might have missed? What other examples come to mind within the franchise? Comment below and let us know!