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Why Ellen Ripley will always be my favorite action heroine

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien

I never tire of watching Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, and its sequel “Aliens” starring Sigourney Weaver. (I can’t say the same of parts 3 and 4 as I think they simply attempted to milk what was once a gripping storyline. But I digress).

Like many blockbusters, these films enjoy repeated screenings on TV, and so I found myself watching both films for the umpteenth time last week.

As I settled into my comfy wing chair while the foreboding opening credits rolled, my husband asked incredulously: “How can you even watch this?”

I simply answered, “With glee.”

You see, he’s a bit chick…I mean, “queasy” when it comes to films dealing with paranormal or extraterrestrial activity. To be honest, I’m also chicken (there I said it!) when it comes to the paranormal. However, films or TV series on the extraterrestrial have always fascinated me.

Set roughly in the year 2122, ‘Alien’ revolves around a seven-member crew (five men, two women) aboard a commercial spaceship, Nostromo, who respond to an SOS from an unknown moon. Awakened from hypersleep, they explore the moon for intelligent life but discover instead an abandoned spaceship containing a large chamber filled with eggs. As expected in any horror flick, a curious team member approaches one of the eggs, only to be attacked by the squid-like parasite it homes. Despite Ripley’s protestations that he be quarantined, he is brought back on board, and all seems fine at first. Unbeknownst to the crew or the unsuspecting audience, he becomes a walking incubator for the creature’s spawn.

The story builds up to one of the most unforgettable – unless one has been living in a parallel universe – peeking-through-your-fingers, scenes in cinematic history: where the fully gestated ‘alien’ bursts from the man’s stomach while everyone is sitting around chatting and having a meal. It then goes on a rampage, killing the crew members one by one, leaving Ripley the last woman standing.

And thus, making her cinema’s first  action heroine.

Without any make-up, gratuitous flash of flesh, a love interest, a rape-revenge trope, a Jedi master, nifty gadgets, or superhuman powers.

In Empire Magazine’s “Greatest Movie Character of All Time” poll held in 2015, where more than 10,000 readers casted their votes, Ripley was the only female character amongst the top five, coming behind Batman.

And to think that the role was originally written for a male character!

So why do I not tire of watching this film over and over again? Because you cannot help but root for an ordinary woman who eventually makes mincemeat of her extraordinary acid-spewing adversary, while displaying her smarts and fears in equal parts.

Despite it being billed a horror film, Ripley was no “traditional” scream queen. That was provided by the only other female crew member who soon fell victim to the beast. There is no doubt that Ripley too fears the xenomorph that preys on her but she’s pretty much cottoned on to the fact that less screaming and more scheming might get her out alive.

Secondly, she faces male chauvinism in her fictional 2122 just like some of us now continue to face the same in our reality of 2017. Despite being overruled by her male captain and colleagues regarding her doubts about letting the attacked colleague on board (which eventually proves fatal to them), she stoically shows us that we should never second guess what our knowledge (and our gut) tells us.

I have to add that given my soft spot for felines, I find it endearing how Ripley goes in search of Jones her ginger cat despite knowing that the alien is somewhere on board. It just shows empathy and care even in the face of danger. Something that we can also learn in the face of threats some of us find ourselves exposed to these days – we shouldn’t let fear eat away at our innate humanity.

But very simply, it’s a film that features a very relatable woman kicking some a**. Weaver herself once said in reference to her now iconic role, “Every woman you see, in her kitchen or wherever else, has a secret action heroine in her.”

And frankly, in a time of news headlines depicting incredibly beastly crimes committed against women and systems that still choose to shift blame onto the survivor rather than the perpetrator, films such as ‘Alien’ serve to remind us that when faced with what seems like an insurmountable challenge or foe, we can harness our inner strength to come out alive – and kicking.

Author: Brenda Haas

Editor: Anne Thomas



20.06.2017 | 10:51