As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I watched the movie Alien, directed by Ridley Scott, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.
I’ve watched this movie a couple times in the past, and I love it every time. I think one of the reasons I love it is articulated by one of the characters, Ash, who describes the xenomorph—the alien in this movie—as “[a] perfect organism. It’s structural perfection is matched only by its hostility … I admire its purity. A survivor unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” (Alien. Dir. Ridley Scott. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1979. Film.) That sums up the xenomorph in a nutshell, except I disagree that the creature is hostile.
The xenomorph is indeed a perfect monster. It’s a killer whose blood is acid. Because of the acidic blood, fighting back is difficult or impossible to do. If you lose the fight, you die. If you win the fight, you still may die burning in acid.
For me, an interesting aspect of this film is the fact that it’s unclear how the humans die. Whenever the xenomorph is about to kill, its mouth opens and that weird mini-mouth thing comes out, and then the scene changes focus to something else. We don’t see the actual death, but we hear the screams and sometimes see the dead body from a distance. As a result, there’s an air of mystery surrounding the xenomorph’s actual method of killing.
I wonder whether this movie would have been more or less scary if we could see the moments of death. The movie would certainly be more gruesome, but I tend to think that with respect to fear factor, the movie is nearly “perfect” as is. There’s something terrifying about the unknown. It’s human nature to fear the unknown, including death. In a way, by leaving the xenomorph’s killing blow in the realm of the unknown, the xenomorph becomes even scarier.
Although most people will probably disagree with me on this point, I’ve always found the xenomorph to be a sympathetic creature. The movie is called Alien, and while the xenomorph is alien to humans, it is presumably a native to the planet where the humans found it. It was minding its own business, when the humans came along.
Contrary to Ash’s statement that the xenomorph is “hostile,” I believe this monster is simply surviving. It uses human bodies to propagate its species. I’m guessing that, because this use is necessary for the xenomorphs to exist, it’s also instinctive. Thus, the monster’s primary goal is to survive as a species and not to kill other species. To this end, it doesn’t go out of its way to seek out victims in this movie.
When trapped on the humans’ ship, the xenomorph hides in the ship’s nooks and crannies. At some point, it even curls up and goes to sleep, minding its own business. In contrast, the humans hunt the xenomorph, and the monster merely fights back. For me, it’s hard to feel unsympathetic to a creature that does nothing but try to survive for the entire movie.
I love this movie, and I look forward to watching it again in the future.