An ode to kick-ass women
Still one of the best on-screen examples of kick-ass female protagonists, Aliens is a cult classic beloved by both men and women. Although the focus of the movie is on the struggle between humans and aliens, it is lauded for how it challenged film and gender conventions.
I could have chosen any of the first four Aliens films to include within this blog, as they all have strong female representation as a defining feature. I chose the second film for three reasons:
- Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley develops further in the second film, cementing the traits of vigor & confidence
- It’s a study in the art of cinematography and direction
- The role of the mother is explored throughout the film and is a key sub-plot. While not new, this portrayal is vastly different to other films.
The film starts with Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley, being found 57 years after the end of Alien. She not only has to acclimatise to a new world but provide a mission report to the ICC Commission. This is no easy feat considering the amount of time that has passed and the group assembled were either infants or not born at the time of Alien took place, making it harder for them to comprehend the situation the crew was in. Despite the content of the discussion, the scene plays out like a typical boardroom situation. What stands out is how Ripley holds her stance even when she is being challenged and eventually over-ruled. She isn’t afraid to speak up or face confrontation. These are traits atypical in the corporate world where historically women have had to tread the fine line between asserting their point of view and being seen as bossy. Seeing Ripley command that room like she did is inspiring, and one of the main reasons young women today should watch this film.
There is more to Ripley than expected.
Ripley is far from one-dimensional. Although the focus of the film is on her courage in the face of adversity, there is a nurturing and gentle side to her personality which is explored in-depth in this film. Ripley demonstrated that women can be motherly, feminine, vulnerable and strong, all at the same time. She knew what she was talking about, didn’t play games and was fearless. It’s because of this she was respected and treated as an equal by her peers.
To aid in building this view of Ripley, her clothing is largely androgynous; slacks, singlets, shirts and overalls. These clothes are not typically characterised as being feminine. There is no doubt this was a deliberate choice and meant the focus was less on her as a female and more on the aspects of her personality.
The strong female characters don’t stop with Ripley.
There is great diversity in the female characters in this film. I would argue women were given more diverse roles than the men. They play the leader, healer, soldier, pilot, mother, the hero and the leading antagonist is female too, just in a different form. A stand-out is Vazquez, played effortlessly by Jenette Goldstein who went through a significant physical transformation to play this role and completely invoked Vazquez in every sense. She was fearless, dominant, driven and a true team player.
This film may be about aliens, but at its core is human interaction and relationships.
As with most post-apocalyptic films & TV shows, the evolution of human relationships & personalities underpins the bigger struggle. That’s what makes them great to watch. When the fight or flight response kicks in, it’s fun to watch who fights, who schemes and who runs. It’s a fascinating insight into human behaviour and what we are like when we strip back the façade & the bravado.
There is one relationship that stands out for me in Aliens. Ripley finds out early on in the film her daughter has passed away and you can see how it affects her. When she meets Newt, the sole survivor on LV-426, her protective mothering instinct kicks in. It’s an opportunity for her to be there like she couldn’t be for her own daughter. It this desire to protect and nurture that drives Ripley’s fight at the end of the film against the Alien mother. I loved the battle between the two alpha mums. It shows how strong mums are and that we will stop at nothing to protect our young. After all the effort to save Newt, the reward for Ripley is when Newt calls her “mummy” in the last scene, it was a touching moment in an otherwise very intense movie.
Let’s talk about the Special Effects.
It wouldn’t be a review of Aliens if I didn’t mention the special effects. Given when this film was made, they were impressive. At several moments during the film, I was amazed at how they could pull off some of the cinema trickery. If I had the time, I would love to spend it learning about how they put this film together, the tricks they used to achieve things like flying machines, walking robots and the aliens. I think if they made it now, although it would have looked a lot ‘slicker’, the magic would have been lost. James Cameron has always been known for pushing the boundaries of what is possible on screen, and he didn’t disappoint with this film.
Aliens is a highly suspenseful film that everyone should watch, even if you aren’t a sci-fi fan. Watch it to marvel at the pre-CGI special effects and the brilliant acting.
The key players:
Main cast: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen & Jenette Goldstein
Director: James Cameron
Writers: James Cameron, David Giler & Walter Hill
Producers: Gale Ann Hurd, Gordon Carrell, David Giler & Walter Hill
Full cast & crew
- Sigourney Weaver marks ‘Alien’ anniversary: ‘I thought it was a small movie’
- Alien is sci-fi horror’s most feminist movie franchise
- James Cameron’s Aliens: a classic tale brimming with Female Empowerment and social resonance
- James Cameron: ‘The downside of being attracted to independent women is that they don’t need you’