Alien is about the perversion of all things fertile, maternal, and natural. That sentence may come off like I have some sort of ultra-conservative agenda, but rest assured, I’m a pervert. Like David Fincher, the director of Alien 3, I believe that we’re all perverts. But forget about the sequels for a moment. In fact, wipe your slate clean of the Alien franchise. Humour me: pretend it’s still may 1979. Thank you… Now, back to my point: Alien is chalked full of metaphors that pervert all things fertile, maternal, and natural.
The writers, O’Bannon and Shusett, took the myth of the Cosmic Egg and subverted it into a cosmic horror—a genre popularized by Lovecraft. For those unaware, Lovecraft’s stories placed humanity on the lowest rung of the evolutionary ladder, rather than at the center of universe, as with most science fiction. I’ve spoken of the Cosmic Egg before—Across multiple cultures, from Greek Orphic to Polynesian, the world egg, or cosmic egg, is a popular emblem of all things fertile. In most myths an egg comes down from a place of eternity, and dissolves from the ethereal into the material world, bringing with it primordial life. The Greek Orphic depict the world egg wrapped and incubated by a snake, prior to it hatching.
In Alien, the science division analyzes LV-462’s atmosphere and finds it to be primordial. The eggs rest within the belly of a ship that looks like a mechanical snake grasping at its own tail. It may not be eternity, but its certainly symbolizes it. When the Nostromo crew explores the belly of the beast, Kane stumbles into a foggy incubation chamber filled with eggs and protected by a barrier of light. He fumbles beyond his material plane into an ethereal one, only when this cosmic egg hatches, it brings only death.
Alien distorts the maternal into the mechanical. Mother, their onboard computer system has none of the traits one might associate with an actual mother. It’s cold and uncaring. It issues orders and sends the hapless crew of the Nostromo off to die. More to the point, it’s willing to sacrifice the entire crew in order to bring back the Alien for its weapon division. All other priorities rescinded. Mother doesn’t give life; it only protects the eight-foot tall walking death machine they unfortunately brought aboard their ship. In essence, Mother’s a bitch.
Alien perverts the natural processes of sex and birth into something grotesque. Sex becomes rape. The droid, Ash, rolls up a porno mag and crams it down Ripley’s throat, nearly killing her until the intervention by Parker. Though Lambert’s death is nothing but an off screen scream, it’s implied that the alien violates her; it coils its tail up her leg, toying with her, before it spears her to death. All births are bloody to begin with, but Alien takes it to a whole new level. The Alien bursts out of—the aptly named—John Hurt and plasters the Nostomo crew with the remnants of his character’s evacuated chest cavity. Its birth requires another’s death.
The natural becomes unnatural. Giger’s ship design and the alien itself demonstrate that the ancient culture that created it found no delineation between the natural and the industrial. The halls of the crashed space ship look like a fossilized rip cage. The alien itself is inorganically organic. It’s blood is acid: It’s life-force degrades. It blends with machinery over plant life, indiscernible from the haphazard mess of pipes and tubes that decorate the walls of the Nostromo. The Alien seems more at home on there than any of the human inhabitants. It’s no surprise that the droid, Ash, admires its nature. It mirrors him. It’s devoid of “all delusions of morality.” In other words, it’s devoid of humanity.
Eleanor Ripley stands as the antithesis to everything I’ve discussed. She starts out as a company woman that plays by the rules. But after her reality is turned on its head—after sex turns to rape, birth to death, the maternal to the mechanical, and the organic to the industrial—she’s forced to carry the torch of humanity, which just happens to be a mother fucking flamethrower! She is the true maternal force. She rescues Jonesy, that stupid orange furball of a cat when it means almost certain death. She nurtures and protects life, and other than Jonesy, she’s the last life left standing against the sweeping force of death.
Scott and the other creators set the scene for this showdown perfectly. Sure, they were unconfident in the costume and wanted to keep it in the dark, and Scott admits the ship is black and gold at the end because they only had a few hallway sets, so they repainted them in order to make the ship look larger, but all of these budgetary and creative choices help with the progression of the film. The bright white plush ship from the beginning of the film morphs into a dark industrial haven for the Alien.
And on the same tangent, as Ellenor Ripley is reduced to her primal survival instincts, the colour scheme is also reduced to primary colours: yellow flame, red warning lights, and blue backlighting. By the end of the film, the alien and the ship, and all that it stands for, become one. The alien is just a mouth within a bigger mouth: An extension of Weyland, the industry that protects it, devouring all that’s natural. It only makes sense that Ripley goes full-on eco-terrorist, and blows Weyland’s Nostromo ship—and the twenty million tons of mineral ore on it—all to hell.
Scott admits that Ripley’s last stand was a cheap injection of sex appeal demanded of him by the production, but it coincides with pervy nature of the alien I’ve described so far. She strips down to her skivvies, which seemingly arouses the Alien from its slumber within the anatomy of the ship. Ripley thinks fast: Suits up, grabs the cat, and bucklers herself in with a weapon. All the while she sings a broken version of You are my Lucky Star. Weaver suggested the song as way to calm her character and Scott loved it.
Though the why of the thing was never discussed, it’s interesting that in her final clash with this inhuman corruption of all things natural and maternal, she finds strength in a sort-of lullaby. Something uniquely motherly. I know its a weak point to end this whole thing on because its pure speculation. But it fits. That song, is the hope at the bottom of the Pandora’s Box that Kane cracked open. Maybe Ripley’s mother sung it to her when she couldn’t sleep. Maybe Ripley sings it to her daughter as she tucks her in. Either way, it empowers her to blast the clockwork creature and all that it stands for into the ultimate void of space.