Get Away Fom Ripley You Bitches

Posted by julian On 1:57 PM
JA from MNPP here. If you consider Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece Alien a horror film (and you really should consider Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece Alien a horror film) (and even more specifically it should be considered it a slasher film, just a slasher set in outer space) then it becomes immediately clear that Ellen Ripley, the character immortalized by Sigourney Weaver in this and its subsequent three sequels, started out as a fairly straightforward Final Girl. She fits in right beside Jamie Lee Curtis in John Carpenter's Halloween and Heather Langencamp in A Nightmare in Elm Street - the smart girl who sees the encroaching horror and manages to outwit outplay and outlast the danger.


Ripley's not really the Action Hero we think of until Jim Cameron's sequel - make that Action heroine, THE Action Heroine; she made and broke and burned the mold up with a flamethrower. And even there Cameron does all sorts of interesting things with the idea of an Action Heroine that so many films today don't bother to even contemplate - Ripley, even when she's kicking ass, is a character that is always painted with as much femininity as possible, on top of her butchness.

When I say "femininity" I don't mean objectifying her as a sexualized, desirable woman (although those moments where Sigourney strips down to those tiny underpants are important, I'd argue, in that they stick that obvious physical facet of her womanhood front and center). Adding in the character of the uber-tough Vasquez in Aliens is a clear attempt to slide Ripley's character to the center of the femme-to-butch scale - she seems so demure and ladylike standing next to Jenette Goldstein in her red bandanna! - but great pains are made over and over again to code Ripley as a mother figure. Her protection of Newt and the introduction of the Alien Queen with her pulsing egg sac as the big villain - it's all a way of designating a space for a specifically feminine sort of rage within a heretofore male dominated film space.




Ripley's character only gets more and more complicated as the sequels progress and I think, even with the hit-and-miss nature of the last two films, it's clear that's what kept Sigourney coming back over and over again. Ripley becomes a broken martyr and then she becomes an infected experiment, half-human and half-something else - and as sloppy as Resurrection is I dare you not to get chills in the scene where she confronts the deformed other versions of herself. That scene's actually an interesting statement upon the fractured nature of Ripley at that point - the way the movies split her apart and built her up again in a different director's vision time after time after time.

Anyway that's a little history of who Ellen Ripley is, and what she became. We came for the monsters but we stayed for the lady. And now Ridley Scott wants to take us back there, only more back, as he's working on a prequel to his 1979 film. Names have been popping up like aliens out of rib-cages over the past few weeks. Everybody from Natalie Portman to Gemma Arterton to Noomi Rapace and now Anne Hathaway have been rumored for the lead role of "a female Colonial Marine general" in the time thirty-five years before the events of Alien.

I know a couple versions of the scripts have been around because some people seem to know more about the character then that, but I plan on keeping myself as spoiler-free as possible... and yet I still feel the need to contemplate! Shocking, that. I've been going back and forth over it in my head and I can quite decide what's the smartest route to go - should they even try to have this character be anything like Ripley? Or should they go in a completely different direction and have them be nothing like each other? Will it feel like an Alien movie without some vestige, even shadowed, of her there? Or does that shadow just swallow up all the light? I mean is it even possible to make a character that won't be seen through the prism of Ellen Ripley anyway?


It's really an impossible question and hopefully the team making the movie are just working on crafting a good story with not only an interesting character for the female lead but interesting roles for the entire cast, and not obsessing over this one facet like I seem to be. Yet I don't have a movie to make, and all the time in the world until the movie's sitting in front of me, so obsess I shall. What do y'all think?
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