Ripley Enters the Nursery (1998)
This blog's very first entry was about Ellen Ripley -- the flamethrower tough heroine of the Alien films as portrayed by Sigourney Weaver. But, apparently, I still have Ripley in my acid blood.
From the DVD Journal's review of The Alien Quadrilogy:
As the last woman standing at the end of Ridley Scott's bloodbath, Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley earned the audience's respect for outlasting her more formidable-looking costars, while also winning the… er, hearts of men everywhere for doing it in an outrageously skimpy pair of panties that amazingly retain the power to titillate in this era of the imagination-less thong. But while Weaver went on to become a sought-after leading lady in films like The Year of Living Dangerously and Ghostbusters , her career path met a fortuitous juncture when it dovetailed with that of director James Cameron. An infamous purveyor of the tough-mama persona, Cameron was still at a make-or-break moment when he was handed the reins for his first studio film. But, as he has ably proven since, scale doesn't bother him. And while Linda Hamilton eventually transformed from a shrinking violet into a no-nonsense heroine at the end of his previous picture, The Terminator (1984), in Aliens (1986) Ripley would be his first fully-realized depiction of "I am woman, watch me kill and kill again" empowerment.
The fearlessness with which Weaver threw herself into this hardened incarnation of Ripley was so convincing that it would win her a well-deserved Academy Award Best Actress nomination, which was all the more impressive considering that science-fiction films rarely registered with the Academy outside of the technical categories. Had the film been released at the length Cameron had intended, which would have included an unwisely excised sequence in which the audience learns that Ripley had a daughter who passed while the character languished in hypersleep, she might've actually won. That pivotal moment near the beginning of the film better informs the ferocity of Ripley's maternal instincts once she encounters Newt (Carrie Henn), the lone survivor of a colony set up on the planetoid that is home to the derelict ship carrying the alien eggs. These creatures have, in essence, already robbed her of the chance to be a mother once, and it'll be over Ripley's dead body if they succeed at doing it again.
Cameron's Aliens made more sense to me once I saw the director's cut version. The death of Ripley's daughter is a critical plot point. The loss clarifies why Ripley's job as a loader lacks meaning and shows her motivation for wanting to return to the hellish planet to help find the missing colonists. Ripley's near obsessive devotion to young Newt also becomes clearer. When I first saw the film (at a drive-in), I understood Ripley's compassion for Newt as a kind of duty. The other female marines, like Vasquez, were hardly maternal. They radiated testosterone -- joking about the "bug hunt" and quickly out-quipping the male marines. But why would Ripley run back into the collapsing station to rescue Newt, already cocooned like so many others, as seconds tick down to planet nuking?
It's all about nursery images. Having lost one child, she's not about to let the aliens take another. Newt must be removed from the blanket of goo before she becomes an incubator -- a corporeal nursery. Ripley's decision to set the pods ablaze in the Alien Queen's nursery now gels. There's a moment, once she recovers from the shock of stumbling into the nursery, when Ripley realizes the alien guards fear she will torch the unborn facehuggers. Ripley first cocks her head with an eye-for-an-eye epiphany -- then unleashes hell -- firing without mercy as the digital display of rounds counts down.
Where yet was ever found a mother
Who'd give her booby for another
--John Gay, Fables, Part I
It's no surprise that some viewers have kicked the whole mother/alien thematic blender up a notch. Stella Williams, reviewing AlienWoman: The Making of Lt. Ellen Ripley by Ximena C. Gallardo and C. Jason Smith, notes that
Gallardo and Smith argue that the male-female dichotomy is broken down in the Alien films, and women as well as men are "raped" to serve as wombs for the symbolic mother-destroyer Alien. The authors claim the Alien saga was the first science fiction film to approach what it means to be human on the basis of biological sex and gender roles. As males are penetrated, impregnated, and give birth, everyone is feminized. The authors describe space as a sexual enterprise where monstrous generative mothers threaten to devour men. Gallardo and Smith credit the first film with setting up the conflict between the female protagonist and the monstrous feminine that operates throughout the Alien series.