The Two Ripleys
Alternate Titles for this Post:
Get Away From Me, You BITCH!!!!
She Mostly Comes Out at Night, Mostly
She is the Perfect Organism
This post is my entry into Nate's Action Heroine Blog-A-Thon over at The Film Experience. Check out the hub for all things action-y and feminist.
My first thought when I heard about the Action Heroine Blog-A-Thon was to write something about Ellen Ripley, the accidental protagonist of one movie and flat-out heroine of three more. Then I figured that everyone would be writing about her, so I tried to come up with something more original. Then I remembered that Nobody Wrote About Nosferatu (!!) And so here I am, now, back with Ellen. Well, two incarnations of Ellen. I wanted to take a look at the difference between the horror heroine and the action heroine as shown in the evolution of Ripley's character from Alien to Aliens.
WARNING!! SPOILERS AHEAD for both Alien and Aliens!!
I seem to be in the minority of thinking that Alien is better than Aliens, though the latter is still a well crafted work that has influenced the very face of cinema. Aliens was one of the first sequels to alter the original's subject by adding a military presence. Recent examples of this include The Hills Have Eyes 2 and 28 Weeks Later. But this isn't about each movie's place in film history. It's about Ripley.
Well, Aliens is about Ripley. Alien is about the alien. It isn't until Dallas bites the dust that we truly see Ripley emerge as our protagonist. But we still like her. A lot. She knows the rules and follows them to the letter. In most movies of this sort, she'd be the first to go. She'd be the most hated character in the film and the audience would cheer as it watched the alien take her apart. But not Ripley. No, not Ellen Ripley, last surviving member of the Nostromo. We love her, because she follows the rules, but more importantly, because she fully believes in self-preservation.
The one thing that truly connects Ripley and her alien tormentors is that they all have one natural instinct: survival. Even the original alien was shown not to be a merciless killer when presented with Jones the cat. The alien attacks for two main reasons. To continue its life cycle, as in the murders of Kane and Brett, but for its own protection, as in the killings of Dallas, Lambert, and Parker. Similarly, Ripley puts her own well being before anything else, only thinking of Jones once her own safety is ensured.
Ripley's instincts alone are not what endear her to us in Alien. She is intelligent and rational, but never closed-minded. She actively thinks about and tries every possibility before setting the Nostromo for self-destruction. She can tell, like we can, that there is something terribly wrong with Ash before it is revealed that he is an android. She is able to devise a thorough plan when confronted with the alien in her escape ship, saving her life, in true horror heroine fashion, with her brain. Unfortunately, she doesn't get to keep that brain too much in her later adventures.
Throughout the course of Alien, Ripley is rational with fits of fear and anger. In Aliens, Ripley is angry and afraid with fits of rationality. To be fair, she has gone intense stress, and it was completely unreasonable of the Company to ask her to go back to the alien's planet. Nevertheless, she spends more time screaming at something than she spends rationalizing her situation, unlike in Alien.
Though many will claim her character is deepened by the presence of Newt and her new position as a mother figure, I argue that this sets her character back. As with most strong women on film, Ripley is eventually saddled with motherhood, and this weakens her character, within the scheme of her development. Watch Aliens and pay specific attention to Ripley's dreams. At the beginning, she is constantly plagued by nightmares, many involving the alien bursting through her chest in a perverse sort of birth. However, once she meets Newt, the dreams stop as she focuses more on Newt.
Ripley has fears about motherhood, but only once she has a child do her problems start to disappear. Where Alien was about men's fear of birth and childhood, Aliens was about a woman's acceptance of birth and motherhood. Ripley in Alien is a strong, intelligent woman. Ripley in Aliens is a woman looking for a child. I don't know about you, but I prefer that first one. She is a true heroine.