The Evolution of Ellen Ripley, take 2

I have no idea what happened last time I tried to post this – only half my post appeared! So hopefully my memory is good enough to remember what I wrote…

I love Aliens. I love the action, the characters, and the look. We recently bought the the Alien Anthology, complete with 3D facehugger:

Gross, eh?

So, we watched Alien, and J is convinced he’s never seen it before. Side note here (with spoiler): we met a guy in the UK who had a friend working as Ridley Scott’s PA while this was being shot. Apparently, That Scene where the alien bursts out of Hurt’s chest? No one knew that was going to happen. And I mean no one: not the cameramen, not the actors, not even Hurt himself apparently. They were all told that if they stuffed it up, they’d be looking for new jobs…

Anyway. We re-watched Aliens, and then skipped to Alien Resurrection, having seen Alien3 not so long ago on TV. And it got me thinking about Ripley.

I’d forgotten that, in the first movie, she’s nothing special. That is, she’s a competent third officer, and although Parker and Brett give her crap they still do what she says. But there’s nothing about her that stands out, and watching the movie for the first time I reckon you’d be hard pressed to guess who might survive (except for Lambert. No way was she going to live).

I love Ripley in Aliens the most, perhaps because I’ve seen it so often. She’s a complete wreck at the start, and the loss of her daughter is gut-wrenching. But she hardens up out of compassion for the colonists, and a conviction that she has to destroy the alien, and goes back to the source of her nightmares. There, of course, she adopts Newt, a daughter-substitute, and discovers the alien queen, having children of her own. I don’t remember where, but I read a really interesting analysis once talking about visions of motherhood in this movie – and the fact that Ripley becomes a monstrous mother, like the queen, in defending her daughter-substitute. She becomes a technological monster – a cyborg – so it’s something of a culture/nature clash. She ends the movie having found some semblance of peace, and you’re left believing that perhaps she can have something of a life, now.

Alien3 is, therefore, a gut-wrenchingly awful movie. That they killed Newt (and Hicks! poor Hicks!), and that Ripley then had to an autopsy – so destructive to Ripley’s soul. I enjoyed it enough when I saw it, but listening to Grant’s Bad Film Diaries made me appreciate it all the more; he devoted an entire episode to the movie. It was interesting that in this movie Ripley got to have a ‘love interest’ (she came close, I think, with Hicks, since she was basically Sarah Connor and he Kyle Reese). Not that it’s exactly a loveydovey romance; it’s mutually beneficial, and mutually agreed on, as a comfort. So she’s never distracted from the main task at hand. And then she’s called on to make that ultimate sacrifice, going out in a rather Terminator-esque blaze of glory… and it makes sense; it almost feels right that this should be the culmination of Ripley’s journey.

Except, of course, that it’s not. And bizarrely, the creation that is Ripley in Alien Resurrection feels even more right, in a twisted sort of way. She becomes part of what she fears and hates most, with the memories of that fear and hate. Perhaps the most poignant and chilling moment in the whole film is when she identifies herself as the monster’s mother: after the angst of losing one and saving another, she ‘gives birth’ to a final, loathsome daughter. Ripley herself has actually become a monster, unwillingly, unlike when she took on cyborg monstrosity for just a limited time in Aliens. But ultimately she uses that monstrosity for good… well, we hope so, anyway. I don’t really know what to think about the end of this film. Staring out over the ruins of Paris with Call doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion to Ripley’s saga.

The one thing I think could have made the development of Ripley as a character more interesting would have been an ongoing relationship, that adapts and changes with Ripley’s development as a person. I guess she sort of has this with the androids: working well with Ash and then getting shafted by him; fearing Bishop and then appreciating him, before getting shafted by Bishop#2, and then finally making peace with Call. But it’s not the same as watching one relationship change over time. And I don’t count Ripley’s relationship with the aliens here, either, because that’s really always based on hate.

So. I like Ripley. I like that we get the story of a woman in four films, over 18 years. I like that she changes and develops and evolves, that she was one of the early role models of kick-ass women that seem to have proliferated recently (maybe someone should write a comparative essay on Ripley, Sarah Connor, and River Tam? Probably it’s been done). I really like that although in the popular consciousness she might be defined by the action – and especially “get away from her you bitch” – there is more depth to her than that.

She is so very awesome.

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