Alien/Aliens Genre Conventions and Feminist Theory Ridley Scott’s film Alien is a horror; it contains conventions that are followed by other films of its genre, it also has elements of sci-fi in it. The sequel Aliens is also a horror and along with sci-fi has a lot of traditional action elements as well.
A key convention of horror is isolation. When the characters in a movie are isolated the audience feel like the victim. The isolation in Alien and Aliens is the fact that they’re in space; they can’t escape from the ship. When the audience watch a horror they get a feeling of claustrophobia and anxiety. In the scene where Kane is being impregnated by the facehugger, we feel the suffocation that the character must feel. We also feel the tension, knowing that something’s wrong. Science Fiction films have a main concept of birth and life. This is shown in alien (especially in this scene) by having lots of symbolisation of the human sex organs throughout the film. On the facehugger’s underside there is a cavity that resembles a vagina. This was potentially done to reverse the rolls of a male and a female so that the female is actually impregnating Kane, whilst also having phallic like tentacle’s caressing and strangulating Kane’s neck. There is a strong connection between pleasure/reproduction and pain in this film. The tentacles are choking Kane but at the same time look warm and lubricated. The lung on the side of the creature is slowly respiring beside the character; but when it feels pain (when Ash makes an incision on the leg) the blood squirts out in an ejaculatory manner.
The horror convention of isolation is portrayed in the same way in Aliens. It’s not as simple as the whole crew safely climbing into the getaway ship and leaving everything behind, there’s always something in their way however there’s a stronger convention that comes through in Aliens. It’s a common reoccurrence in horror films to have a cocky character that isn’t afraid of the unknown; in Aliens the whole team of marines is unafraid and thinks that with their superior fire power they can annihilate the opposition “Check it out, I’m the ultimate badass!” ~Pvt. Hudson. We see the marines crumble as they try to take on the Xenomorph using guns and this relates back to the battle being fought in such a small space that they didn’t have time to operate, and the fact that they were deployed there means there was no easy escape. Thankfully the strong female protagonist, Ripley independently drove the armoured vehicle when the leader of the group, Lt. Gorman has a panic attack/breakdown at the control desk and loses the ability to keep the situation together. This scene is of key importance to the film because it represents the switch in power between male and female. The vehicle is angular and would be considered as masculine, but she dominates it and takes control, whilst keeping a cool head. Ripley driving through walls is symbolisation for ‘penetrating’ the barrier between masculinity and femininity, and showing the capability/equality of women. It also breaks the tension and horrific atmosphere because we can now see a way out, which changes the feel of the scene to a more action orientated one.
Alien and Aliens have broken certain horror conventions. Usually the survivor is a female, but also a virgin. This represents purity and the audience have it on their conscience that an innocent and weak female has had her naivety crushed by the occurrence in the film. However Ripley plays a strong woman who we know isn’t a virgin. This is interesting because she still isn’t objectified in the film apart from in a couple of scenes (In the beginning where she is scantily clad). She’s portrayed as a woman with experience, to take care of the men. This actually makes the male audience feel nervous and uncomfortable because they’re used to having power.
“It could well be maintained that it is woman’s sexuality, that renders them desirable – but also threatening – to men, which constitutes the real problem that horror cinema exists to explore, and which constitutes also and ultimately that which is really monstrous.” ~ Barbara Creed
This quote is from a book entitled ‘The Monstrous Feminine’ and supports the idea that men feel threatened by sexual women. Many would argue that she isn’t acting sexual throughout the film; however the role that she plays is extremely pro-active and striving for the final solution, the climax of the movie. The anatomy of the penis means that it is designed to penetrate barriers, which is what Ripley is doing throughout the movie. So whilst she is playing a masculine role and showing minimum flesh, she’s certainly playing a subconsciously sexual role.
Furthermore one of her outer motivations becomes to rescue Newt. This is a reflection of her inner motivation to play a motherly role again, as she discovered that her daughter had passed away. This plot point enables the audience to relate to a raw trait of femininity, to raise a child.
The difference in Alien and Aliens in terms of genre conventions is varied. The way horror is portrayed in both film is similar, this isn’t a bad thing as it enables Ridley’s character to grow ever stronger in tackling the situations. The introduction of an action element in Aliens means that they can justify the teams survival when there is more than one Xenomorph to fight, and also allows for more plot points. It was a brave decision to cast the protagonist as a woman in 1979 and it paid off hugely. Ripley’s character is one of the strongest female characters in film to date, and Alien blew up because of it. It’s debatable whether it was right of the director to show Ripley’s body off at the beginning and end of the film. It degrades her as a character and brings it all back to the male gaze using a woman’s body simply for objectification, but at the same time why do we see it as any different to seeing all of the males topless? I believe the director intended it mostly as a plot point, as all of the characters have just been in hyper-sleep or in the case of Alien then she’s just about to go into hyper-sleep, so she would have taken her clothes of for that.
Horror’s, sci-fi’s or action movies, it doesn’t matter how you read these films. The main relevance was the impact that they had on equality in media.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090605/ – Aliens
The Monstrous Feminine – Barbara Creed