I take a look at a film that, surprisingly, passes the Bechdel Test.
There’s an alien. Or maybe the humans are the aliens, since they’re on another planet. But there’s more than one human, so the alien is probably the alien.
In the future, the spaceship Nostromo is on a return trip to Earth when the ship’s AI, Mother (Helen Horton), detects a distress signal on the moon LV-426. The computer awakens the seven crew members: Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt), Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm), Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), and Engineers Parker and Brett (Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton). Weyland-Yutani (here Weylan-Yutani), the company that owns the Nostromo, has a policy to investigate any distress signal. They land on the moon and discover that the signal comes from a broken-down alien ship. Dallas, Kane, and Lambert head to investigate. Ripley deciphers the message enough to determine it’s a warning, but can’t tell any of the three due to interference.
Kane discovers a chamber filled with hundreds of eggs and is attacked by a creature which hugs his face. They probably call it a visage-grabber. Dallas and Lambert take Kane back to the Nostromo, but Ripley refuses to let them back inside. Ash overrides her and tries to remove the creature from Kane’s face, discovering its blood is a powerful acid. The creature later detaches from Kane on its own and dies, leaving Kane seemingly unharmed… until a separate monster bursts out of his chest. The small monster escapes into the ship. The crew try to find it but fail, until the now human-sized creature attacks Brett and kills him. They realize that the creature must be living in the air ducts. Dallas goes in to try and drive the alien to the airlock, but is ambushed by the monster. Lambert wants to abandon ship but Ripley says that the escape shuttle can’t support all of the remaining crew members. She takes charge and sets about trying to flush the alien out of the ship.
While dealing with Mother, Ripley finds out that there’s a secret order for Ash to bring the alien back alive and that the crew is now expendable. Ash attempts to kill her and is revealed to be an android when Parker attacks him. Ash’s head is reactivated and he acknowledges that he had been assigned to protect the creature. Now that there are only three people, the remaining crew can survive on the shuttle, so they decide to self-destruct the Nostromo. As Parker and Lambert try to gather supplies, they’re both killed by the alien. Ripley tries to get to the shuttle with her cat Jones, but the alien blocks her path. She tries to abort the self-destruct, but fails, and she barely makes it onto the shuttle. As Ripley tries to go into stasis, she sees the alien is on the shuttle. She puts on a space suit and manipulates it with gas sprays until she blows it out of an airlock. The alien holds onto the engine and Ripley activates the burners to destroy it. She and Jones go into stasis while she enters her final log.
The prompt for this was suggested as “A movie that passes the Bechdel Test.” For those who haven’t heard of that before, the test was created by Alison Bechdel in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.” It was a rule proposed by a woman in the strip that the only movies that she sees must satisfy three requirements:
- The film must have two women in it.
- The women must talk to each other.
- They have to talk about something that isn’t a man.
Despite how low this bar is, studies show that fewer than one in three Hollywood films can meet it. I decided to pick a movie that people probably wouldn’t think of as passing the Bechdel Test… only for me to realize when writing this that Alien was, in fact, the example Alison Bechdel used in the comic strip. Oh, well, any excuse to rewatch this movie is a good one.
While I don’t usually do content warnings, because if you saw the movie you clearly know what kind of stuff will be discussed, I should warn you that a bit of this review will address sexual assault. You’ve been warned.
Part of what makes this film great is how it subverts the sci-fi and horror tropes of the 1960s and ‘70s. A big one is that none of the women in the movie are made into sex objects. Instead, the closest thing we have is Kane being attacked by the facehugger. Ridley Scott and writer Dan O’Bannon have never been particularly shy about saying that the film heavily tries to attack men with sexuality. Kane has a phallic rod shoved down his throat, is impregnated, and gives birth all non-consensually. In short, this is a film in which a man has to deal with the kind of sexual victimization that women usually had to deal with. Additionally, the alien was famously designed by H.R. Giger, an artist who specializes in terrifying sexual images. Its head is phallic and its tongue shoots out to attack its prey with another mouth. Freud would have a field day with this film. The “Director’s Cut” goes even further, showing that the alien, rather than killing Brett and Dallas, has instead abducted them and is turning them into eggs, apparently continuing the life cycle by more forced birth. This movie has a lot of rape undertones aimed at men, is what I’m saying. However, they’re not the sole victims, as Lambert’s death, while offscreen, is preceded by an image of the alien’s bladed tail rising between her legs, but maybe I’m reading too much into that one.
The alien is one of the most instantly iconic horror movie monsters. While fans have adopted the name “Xenomorph,” a term used in the sequel to denote any alien organism, the creature is not named in this movie. It’s best described as distinctly humanoid but never approaching human. Unlike most movie monsters at that point which usually resembled a combination of animal traits, it was intended to have a biomechanical appearance that blends into the spaceship. It is capable of being almost unnaturally still, something which allows it to be in the background of shots for long periods of time without being noticed by either the characters or the audience. It’s probably most memorable for its face. It doesn’t have any eyes, but has a large mouth which contains a second smaller mouth attached to the tip of its tongue. It tends to attack by penetrating its victims with the tongue, often through the head, similar to how cattle are killed by a captive bolt gun (featured in No Country for Old Men). Also, it bleeds acid, so attempting to hurt it, particularly on a spaceship where it can bleed through the hull, will almost certainly guarantee your death. Everything about it is designed to be deadly and unnerving. Here’s the first time it’s on screen:
Anyone who has read this blog has probably heard me defend Ellen Ripley as not only the greatest female action hero, but the best action hero period. I listed her as the most bad-ass mother in film (tied with Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise), but a lot of her more notably action-oriented accomplishments are from the second Alien film. However, in both movies, Ripley’s greatest strength is that she’s almost always right. Her greatest weakness is that, as a woman, most of the men in the films tend to ignore what she says. In this movie, she suggests that they decipher the signal before checking it out, but Dallas overrules her. When Kane is attacked, they try to bring him back on board and Ripley refuses, citing quarantine protocol. She’s permitted to override Dallas in this situation, but Ash violates it anyway. When confronted by the alien on the shuttle, she methodically figures out how to get rid of it despite the fact that it is almost unstoppable. In the sequel, when asked for advice about what to do with the colony located on LV-426, she advises they destroy it from orbit. Ripley’s cool head stands in stark contrast to the typically panicky final girl in horror films.
Overall, this movie holds up just so well. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now. If you’ve got a friend who hasn’t seen it, let them know they’re in for a treat.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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