Alien: The Horror of Creation

Those familiar with the Alien series know it’s far from perfect. Between shoddy sequels to the subpar Predator crossovers, there are certainly improvements to be made. Ironically, the antagonist of the original Alien (1979) is referred to as the “Perfect organism.” Yet in another ironic twist, and like an Average Joe giving forced birth to a Chestburster, every Alien installment does something to nullify the movie that came before it.

But despite the flaws, fan’s love of the series remains. And why? Possibly due to the concurrent theme that appears to run through virtually every film in the franchise; giving it a stable foundation on which to build any other details the filmmakers wish. If the story has no real message, the audience can tell without being able to put it into words. But the Alien series has a message. So what is it?

Survival is certainly a major theme throughout the series, as well as the limits of technology. But the less obvious subject matter is not only darker than that, it also encapsulates the previously mentioned themes: To create something new is to destroy the old.

For simplicity’s sake, the original Alien will be analyzed rather than the entire series. It began the theme that gives the sequels any meaning at all. The subsequent films will be drawn from when applicable.

Space: Now just some other frontier.

The film starts with the Nostromo- a spacecraft used as something like a tugboat for other interstellar vessels- floating through space. The crew awakens from their stasis pods after getting a signal from a nearby moon. The crew, made up of the previously mentioned Average Joes, make a detour to see what’s going on…but end up accidentally bringing a volatile alien back onto the ship.

If you’re reading this article at all, you probably know that much of the terror in the original movie comes from the terror of rape. Specifically male rape. Co-screenwriter Dan O’Bannon has said as much. So seeing a little Chestburster that resembles a penis or a giant spacecraft wall that looks like a vagina isn’t just some pervy thing you and your friends thought; it’s also what the filmmakers thought. Informally speaking, I’ve had people react to that as though I were trying to make some crude joke about a Horror classic. No. It’s all there.

That ties into this post, but is not exactly the point here.

At the start of the movie,, the cast is woken up by the ship’s AI known as MU/TH/UR 6000, or “Mother” who resembles a feminine HAL9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When talking to her, she is addressed as “Mother,” similar to people talking to their ever-attentive, oh-so-helpful home devices. They have to ask like children and in a sense, are like her children. Even when Mother wakes them from their sleep, it is done so inside a room that looks exactly like a maternity ward. Pristine, all white, soft and calm. They have to learn to use their bodies again. In every Alien film they use this device; effectively turning them into babies having to grow up.

In a sense, they’re born as the movie begins; ever-floating space employees that only exist in the vacuum of space and in the vacuum of that movie.

They’re even wearing diapers. How embarrassing.

And of course, the antagonist is also born during the film in all its violent, special-effects-driven glory. The Xenomorph (Referred to simply as “The Alien” or “The Creature” in the script) always kills to create, starting from birth. The Facehugger plants its egg inside it’s victim- then dies. The next phase is for the egg to hatch and the newborn “Chestburster” does exactly as implied. Naturally, this kills its host. Now it grows rapidly, destroying anything in its way until it evolves into its final form- which is a bloodlusted, animalistic murder-machine. And to what end? As future installments would answer, there is no end. They live simply to further their species. They’re not even shown to eat. Just kill and grow, kill and grow.

While it’s something of a stretch, the omnious Weyland-Yutani Corporation does much the same. In every movie, down to the awful Alien VS Predator films, they’re present in one way or another and it’s never good. Much of their MO seems to be sending employees out to the darkest reaches of space while keeping their real intentions secret. When something goes wrong, Weyland-Yutani was already aware of what could happen. Victim after victim, the evil corporation seeks to advance their position with seemingly no remorse to the cost of human life devoured in the process.

Introducing the Xenomorph adds much needed chaos to the ever-stagnant way of life that every single employee of Weyland-Yutani leads. Of course, this isn’t some indictment of each individual character; rather a look at the underlying reasons for why their lives end the way they do and how it makes sense to the story upon dissection. Part of what places all of these movies firmly within the Horror genre, aside from the gratuitous violence and terror, is the reason everyone is in their predicament in the first place- regular people just doing what they’re told at the behest of a massive and ominous corporation that doesn’t mind all of them dying horribly if it means it can further the company’s reach.

So while space exploration brings humanity into a new age of technology and jobs, it would also certainly change the way things are done on earth as tends to happen with any kind of tech revolution: the old ways have to die.

And once the jobs in space have become a mainstay and even mundane (as they clearly are in this universe), the Xenomorph arrives to change things forever. Not just for the Weyland-Yutani corp, but for the people the come into contact with it. To quote a cousin franchise- “Too late to go home now.” There’s a “perfect organism” on board and the Nostromo isn’t big enough for this thing and the inferior beings.

But he wants a hug before you leave.

This theme is clear when it comes to how the newborn aliens change the host they emerge from. It makes one imagine what the sequel might have been saying about motherhood, given the clear thematic presence in the 1986 classic.

The new films, Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017) also explore this idea but from a changed perspective- David the android. Not only was he never born, but he seems especially difficult to kill, given that a scene within Prometheus shows his head being severed from his body…only to have it reattached by the next film. He shows a great admiration for humanity and their ability to procreate. But from this also comes resentment, and a desire to create his own sort of legacy by experimenting on various life forms to invent a new sort of offspring.

David’s introduction to the series brings the interesting idea of the Xenomorph’s ultimately being man’s own creation- man creates android, android creates alien, and the aliens only serve to destroy what it can of what man creates. A vicious cycle.

Whether or not fans consider this to be canon to the story of Ripley is up in the air.

By the end of the original Alien, Ripley sets the Nostromo to self-destruct and barely makes it out via escape pod- another example of the “new” emanating from the “old” and destroying the old in the process. Though the Xenomorph has made it onboard, Ripley is able to eject it from her lifeboat and, as it attempts to crawl back inside through the thrusters, Ripley ignites them and blows the creature away.

Interesting how, in keeping with this theme, the first time an emergent attempts to reenter it’s place of origin is what breaks the cycle of the new killing the old. The escape shuttle remains intact, Ripley survives (Along with her cat, Jonesy), and she reenters a stasis pod.

Again, an example of a broken cycle…but giving way for Ripley to wake up in a new nightmare all over again in Aliens (1986). She wakes up, faces her rival “Mother” in the Xenomorph Queen, and goes back to sleep, though now with a makeshift family. The series itself almost seems vindictive toward Ripley in having her live this way. The character is loved so much, it only seems right to audiences to let her rest or lead a good life rather than waking her up to torture her again.

Weren’t we all a little tortured by Alien: Resurrection?

In keeping with the horror of creation theme, it seems the stories are ultimately nihilistic in nature. The “perfect” being is like a great white shark with malicious purpose. Yet the only way for the humans to have their stories end in a relatively positive manner is not to remain awake after having defeated or escaped their enemy…but to be put back in the womb, so to speak, almost as if they were never born to begin with.

Imagine if The Matrix (1999) wrapped up with Neo defeating Agent Smith only to decide to take the blue pill and wake up in the simulated world and work his desk job. Sure, he saved everyone and the ending is relatively happy. But happy isn’t enough. It would be something of a downer ending.

Much of this theme may have largely stemmed from Ridley Scott’s religious, or irreligious, views. What happens once man reaches our limit even in outer space? What is the most likely scenario? We meet our maker(s), or even simply their other creations, and it doesn’t go well. A man is an orphan and finally meets his father only to find out his father is a terrible person. Or the man meets siblings he never knew he had and they’re just as bad. The former describes Prometheus, the latter describes Alien. Both the works of Scott. It’s all highly Lovecraftian. A larger force is at work in our universe, but there’s only horror to be found from such discoveries. There is no next step. We found the edge. Do we retreat to safety or take the plunge into the gap?

Knowing this, going back to sleep (or retreating from the edge) is a hollow victory even if we’re happy that Ripley and her cat made it. She’s a baby again. This is the best state to be in according to Alien because the alternative is terror and death.

In some ways, a Queen Chestburster breaking through Ripley’s chest in Alien 3 (1992) is the best way for her to go…If she were to finally gain peace and her character arc were allowed to end. But of course, Hollywood doesn’t care if they have to raise the dead to do it, a sequel must be made. Even if it means killing what came before it.

Signing off.

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