Male Rape, Motherhood, and the Female Messiah: The Feminist Legacy of the ALIEN Saga

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Kim 1 Augustine Kim Male Rape, Motherhood, and the Female Messiah: The Feminist Legacy of the ALIEN Saga The Sci-Fi / Horror monster movie genre has long been a trope of popular cinema, and one that has always been taken with a certain amount of levity. Monster movies are just, they’re not to be taken seriously, nor do they tend to be the type of highly literate fair that generally generates significant criticism. In general, Sci-Fi has been considered primarily the domain of p
  Kim 1 Augustine Kim Male Rape Motherhood and the Female Messiah: The Feminist Legacy of the ALIEN Saga The Sci-Fi / Horror monster movie genre has long been a trope of popular cinema, and one that has always been taken with a certain amount of levity. Monster movies are just, they’re not to be taken seriously, nor do they tend to be the type of highly literate fair that generally generates significant criticism. In general, Sci-Fi has been considered primarily the domain of pimple faced, adolescent males, sometimes intelligent, but never very socially conscious, or even socially participatory; who prefer to escape into a fantasy future world that is more attractive than their own. While there may or may not be some truth to that general truism, the demographics and relative social adjustment of Sci-Fi fans is not   the topic of this writing. While there have been some notable science fiction films that have attempted to do cultural and social work, usually in the form of a dystopian narrative (examples abound, e.g. Gattaca  , Brazil  , V for Vendetta   ) and are often warnings against technology or totalitarianism (or both). Very few of these are, however, traditionally “monster movies,” the list of science fiction films where the main emphasis is on a grotesque creature (or creatures, usually bloodthirsty) is relatively short. The ALIEN films, however, are unique in this sense. At the surface, they appear little more sophisticated than any other Sci- Fi / Action / Horror film. A simple formula, ages old, pioneered by the “old dark house” horror theater genre of the nineteenth and early twentieth century is rel atively conventionally utilized: a group of people trapped in a confined area are pursued and killed off by a grotesque monstrosity until one or a small group of our “heroes” is able to finally vanquish the beast. It’s a relatively simple formula that was recognized as a cheap and easy way to build tension and suspense and entertain an audience, and even from its inception, rarely seen as any kind of major work or stroke of genius. Details may vary, but the exceedingly basic formula always remains the same. Yet it is in the details that the ALIEN Saga stands above its peers. The ALIEN Saga stands above not only its peers in the realm of Sci-Fi and Horror, but indeed, much of mainstream cinema (films of the type intended for release in large, conglomerated chain theaters). While other films might do some cultural and social work, few films have so successfully challenged and inverted traditional gender binaries and managed to invoke the psychic trauma and visceral understanding of rape trauma and presented the task of salvation as a feminine enterprise; the ALIEN Saga is in fact, a quintessentially feminist and female empowerment series of films. It is unique in and that movies with such subtexts generally tend to be small independent films; they are rarely, if ever, massive corporate franchises that span decades with millions in funding and even more millions in licensing and product tie ins. That they’re essentially Sci -Fi /  Kim 2 Horror movies simply makes this fact even more unbelievable. Perhaps the genius of the ALIEN Saga is that this has at the beginning, it was accidental –  mixed with a great deal of luck that many of the people who would contribute to the ALIEN Saga over the years have since gone on to be recognized as visionaries and luminaries in the world of cinema. Part of the success of the ALIEN Saga has been that there have been little repetition, and while each of the canonical films (which will be discussed in detail in the next section) has retained important characters and plot and visual elements that are expected by fans of the series, each film has done independent work to add to the mythos of the ALIEN Saga, while making important, though subtle additions to the feminist underpinnings of the series. Each film is an independent product of its own time, yet seen together, result not in a hodge-podge of Sci-Fi / Horror / Action movies that has an accidental message, but a coherent evolution and narrative consistent with feminist ideals and a re-imagining of traditional binaries that will be examined separately in depth, and as a whole –  from the male rape fear and Second Wave feminist empowerment of ALIEN  , to the gender- bending military action and matriarchal “clash of mothers” in ALIENS  , to milleniarian religion of ALIEN 3 , culminating in counter-messianic feminine sacrifice; and culminating in ALIEN: Resurrection’s   (quite fittingly) post-modern reassessment of messianic figures, and catastrophic male obsession with progress and the resultant destruction. As a whole, we can see the underpinnings of a feminist narrative that opens with a terrifying role reversal of sexual assault, and culminates with a meta-commentary on creation, rebirth, and reclamation. The ALIEN Saga The first task, then, lies in defining what is and is not the ALIEN Saga. As with many film franchises over the decades, with the interest in moving pictures and the advent of Digital Video Disk technology (DVDs), the ALIEN Saga has appeared in several different incarnations. The srcinal ALIEN was released by Twentieth Century Fox in 1979 and spin-offs and liscenced products continue to be released to this day, with tentative plans for an additional two sequels sometime in the future. Like Star Wars  1  , other “major” Sci -Fi franchise of today spanning multiple decades and multiple medias (and, coincidentally, also owned by 20 th  Century Fox), the sheer bulk of potential source material that exists is fairly extensive, and almost insultingly (to those trained in more traditional literary and artistic criticism), requires the critic to sort out what is “canon” and what is not. Non-canonical sources abound, things like comic books, novels, video games and action figures can be relatively 1   The ALIEN Saga is even more distinctive than the Star Wars saga, however, as few “R” rated film franchises has achieved the widespread mainstream success of the ALIEN films. While some horror films may have a cult following, the ALIEN Saga stands out for its pervasiveness throughout mainstream media.  Kim 3 easily dismissed as “non -canon ,” as they are non - film sources, and often times only “inspired by” the srcinal films, and do not involve the people who contributed to the film series. So too can “crossover” films like 2004’s AVP    (Alien Versus Predator) and 2007’s AVP 2: Requiem  . Less clear is how we deal with the various “Director’s Cuts,” “Work Prints” and “Special Editions” of the four primary films th at have are out there. The 2003 release of the ALIEN Quadrilogy   nine- disk box set release of the four “canonical” ALIEN movie s, along with over 40 hours of supplementary material 2  was probably one of the most comprehensive home video market releases to date, including everything from interviews, “making of” documentary specials, and production notes, both dating from the time of the films’ production and releases, and retrospective material generated for the DVD release. The more recent Blu-Ray releases of the ALIEN Saga have largely been retreads of this 2003 material, condensed due to the superior data storage properties of the Blu-Ray format. Insofar as what is and should be considered “canonical”, both the 2003 ALIEN Quadrilogy   release and the 2010 ALIEN Anthology Blu-Ray release have included the four srcinal movies, ALIEN   (1979), ALIENS   (1986), ALIEN  3    (1993), and ALIEN: Resurrection   (1997), though a 2008 release, the ALIEN Triple Pack curiously omitted ALIEN: Resurrection  , most likely due to poor fan reception and a sense that it was “worthy” of inclusion with the classic “Trilogy.” Insofar as it is less popular than it s predecessors, its inclusion in the subsequent Blu-Ray collection release would suggest that it should still be included in the ALIEN canon. Readers are also reminded that the controversial ALIEN  3    was also quite unpopular for a while, for a variety of reasons to be explored, though it has been redeemed over the years of repeated viewings and more sophisticated interpretations that do not rely solely on relative box office success. As such, these four movies can be understood to represent the primary source material and canon of the ALIEN saga, however, all four films exist in multiple versions, requiring further refinement of which versions should be considered canonical and which, while they can be discussed are apocryphal in context of a continuous and coherent narrative. The first film and the progenitor of the “canon” of the ALIEN Saga is the srcinal 1979 ALIEN  , written by Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett, and directed by Ridley Scott. If the names sound familiar, they probably are –   both Dan O’Bannon  and Ron Shusett would go on to have successful careers as screenwriters, while Ridley Scott is now considered by many to be one of the world’s leading living filmmakers. ALIEN   was only his second studio film, having previously come from the world of commercials and music videos. His later films include Blade Runner  , Gladiator  , and Black Hawk Down, among others. ALIEN   exists in both a theatrical release version, and a “Special Edition,” released in 2003.   In his introduction to the 2003 “Special Edition,”   Ridley Scott says “this Special Edition version is not    the director’s cut,” 3  and goes on to state that even so, after 2  Sources list anywhere from 45 to 65 hours and up of additional footage, suffice to say, 40 is a conservative but accurate estimation. 3   Ridley Scott’s Introduction to the Special Edition of ALIEN, 2003    Kim 4 almost a quarter of a century he has made some adjustments to the film. Generally sp eaking, the “Special Edition” is very close to the srcinal theatrical release, with only minor variations in some shots. However, there is a major narrative addition to the film, a roughly four minute sequence dealing with the reproductive cycle of the alien creature, and explaining the disappearance of two of the characters after being attacked by the alien creature, which conflicts with (though not irreconcilably) later interpretations of the alien’s life -cycle that would be explored in later films. At the time of the film’s production, this sequence was cut as it interrupted the narrative flow of the swiftly rising action in the third act of the film, Ellen Ripley’s frantic escape from the Nostromo in an attempt to escape the alien creature prowling the vessel. Insofar as it neither contradicts later movies, nor negates any of the work of the films, it was added to the “Special Edition” version of ALIEN largely at the insistence of fans that wanted to see the legendary “missing scene” in context. Neve rtheless, as both the director and most critics agree that the srcinal decision to cut the scene was correct, as it does interfere with the pacing of the film, and thus detract from the dramatic effect of the film, the “Special Edition” shall be considered non-canonical, though the apocryphal missing scene will be discussed as a side note to the larger ideas in ALIEN   itself, as it deals with feminization and emasculation fears that fit into the larger context of the rape trauma and sexual assault metaphor in the film, and information from the “Special Edition” shall henceforth be identified with a parenthetical “SE.” The second film in the ALIEN Saga, and arguably the most popular and commercially successful is the 1986 ALIENS  , written and directed by James Cameron and co-produced by his then wife, Gale Anne Hurd. James Cameron, now considered to be one of the great examples of auteur theory, as the driving and almost singlehanded creative force behind the first two Terminator   movies, the record-smashing blockbuster, Titanic  , and 2009’s Best Picture “runner up,” Avatar, which lost to another of James Cameron’s former wives, Kathryn Bigelow. The James Cameron of 1986, however, had just begun to make his own films, having previously quit his job as a truck driver to work for “B” movie legend, Roger Corman, and was given special dispensation by producers David Giler and Walter Hill of Brandywine Productions to complete his work in progress, 1984’s The    Terminator  , before beginning production on ALIENS.  This would prove to be a wise decision, as The Terminator would go on to be regarded as a major success and put James Cameron “on the map” as a screenwriter and director and launch his career as an auteur. In 1985, when production on ALIENS   began, however, James Cameron was still a relatively unknown director who had been lucky enough to produce a techno-dystopian hit. One of the things James Cameron is now known for, along with his auteurism and his exacting standards and perfectionism is the prodigious length of his films. Many of his later films would break the three hour mark with ease. In the mid- 1980’s, however, the general commercial consensus and cinematic convention was that films exceeding two hours in run time were not commercially viable (the dozen plus screen
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