Mother’s Day Review: “Aliens” Special Edition
Produced by: Gale Anne Hurd, Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill
Written by: James Cameron (screenplay & story), David Giler and Walter Hill (story)
Music by: James Horner
Cinematography by: Adrian Biddle
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein
Mother’s Day is coming up, and so of course I had to do something for the site. I was considering two of many other ideas floating around in my head to commemorate the occasion: The first idea was to review one of my own mom’s favorite movies in honor of her. Certainly, this would have resulted in a possibly more diverse list of films in the Reviews section of the site. However, my second idea was far more enticing to me, as it involved a film that I hadn’t seen in its entirety for quite sometime: Aliens. Of course, if the title of this review didn’t give it away, I went with the second idea. (I’ll just have to review one of my mom’s favorites on her birthday.)
“Why Aliens?” you might ask. It’s no secret that the series has heavy feminist themes going on throughout the series. Originally meant to be a male character, the series’ lead, with the last-minute casting of Sigourney Weaver in the role of Ripley, would become one of the first strong female action heroes, never having to exploit her own sexuality or appearance as a means to an end. And one of the more terrifying qualities of the series’ monsters, known as a xenomorph, is the grotesque manner in which they give birth — by foisting it upon some other unfortunate being via a perverse creature known as a “facehugger,” which penetrates the host and impregnates them with an embryo. It doesn’t discriminate between male and female. To the alien, they’re all a warm body ripe for giving birth. In a perverse sort of way, the alien is the great equalizer between the two sexes.
While 1979′s Alien dealt with these issues in a fairly subtle manner, its sequel had the good fortune of knowing that its lead would be a female. As such, these themes are carried over far more heavily and overtly in 1986′s Aliens. In a way, if Alien can be considered to be at least in part about the fear of becoming a mother, Aliens can easily be seen as facing motherhood head on.
Waking up from a cryogenic sleep 57 years after the destruction of her crew and ship thanks to the series’ titular creature, Ripley faces a world where her authority is no longer respected and where, despite not having aged a day since she first entered her sleeping chamber, her once 11-year-old daughter continued to live on to the end of her life, without a mother. With no family and no crew, Ripley’s role as caretaker is usurped from her, and, like an old spinster, she seemingly has nothing left, save for Jones, — the previous film’s cat and only other creature left alive Ripley can relate to.
Before she can become the space station’s crazy cat lady, however, Ripley is once again called into action, when a group of Marines is sent out to the original alien planet, where families of colonists are being attacked. Ripley is called in as a consultant but is still haunted by memories that are still fresh in her mind, and since she has no combat experience, she struggles to gain the respect and attention of the Marines. Nonetheless, she proves to be a valuable asset, providing them with firsthand knowledge and strategies to eliminate the alien threat. Like unruly children, the Marines gradually begin to realize, not without much pain and sacrifice, just how important it is to respect and listen to the woman in charge.
When they discover the lone survivor of the colony, a little girl named Rebecca — though everyone calls her “Newt” — Ripley is granted a second chance at regaining the life that was stolen from her, and suddenly her purpose in being there takes on a whole new meaning. Only Ripley is able to coax the child out of the depths of the colony air ducts and into the safety of her care. Though initially distant, Newt begins gravitating toward Ripley, as well. Suddenly, the alien threat becomes all the more personal.
Of course, motherhood presents its own challenges, and this fear is personified by the film’s most intriguing and important addition to the alien creature. In the course of the film, Private Hudson suggests that aliens are like a beehive, a society with many drones, but at its core lies a queen, the mother and ruler of them all. While the aliens were deliberately designed by H.R. Geiger to be sexually ambiguous, even hermaphroditic in design, Aliens does strongly suggest that a divide in sexes may exist in their society.
When Newt is taken away by an alien to be presented to a hatching facehugger, Ripley risks her life and those of the remaining crew to save her adopted daughter. Ripley successfully retrieves the girl, but this commitment and act of sacrifice brings her face-to-face with the monstrous alien matriarch herself, the queen. For Ripley, her greatest aspiration now takes on the distorted shape of her greatest fears, and her commitment is put through the ultimate test.
In Alien, the role of Ripley redefined the action hero role, boldly declaring that an it doesn’t have to be a man, but can also be a woman who shares the same intelligence, drive, and instinct to survive an impossible scenario. In a sense, the film can be taken to state that the sexes can be equal in body and mind. In Aliens, Ripley’s womanhood and all that comes with it is examined even more closely.
While women seem to have integrated well enough by the time that the film takes place, with there even being a trio of women facing combat alongside their male Marine counterparts, they seem to have done so at the sacrifice of their more womanly characteristics. Vasquez, in particular, is infamous for her brute strength and lust for violence, with another Marine even asking her, “Hey, Vasquez, has anyone ever mistaken you for a man?” “No,” she fires back, “Have you?”
While the film doesn’t look down upon them, clearly showing them to be brave, effective soldiers, in the end, it is only the well-rounded Ripley who makes it out alive. Her past experience with the creature provides the Marines with valuable information in facing off against the mysterious aliens (advice the Marines didn’t always follow), and her intelligence helps to expose the nefarious conspiracy behind their mission.
But while almost anyone in the film could have easily figured these out in time, only Ripley possesses the one quality that everyone else lacks — a quality that enables her to save the life of a helpless little girl and find the strength to defeat the alien threat to humanity and source of her greatest fears. And by doing so, she’s been given the chance to restart her life as the one thing she realizes she was always meant to be: a mother.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4.5 / 5