Ed Cooper

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"We tolerate anybody - even the untolerable. " 
According to Brian Glover in Alien 3 it is Ripley herself as intruder and subsequent threat to sexual and genderic order that is intolerable. Ellen Ripley holds the destruction of their monastic order between her legs and it is for this -and not the space lice -that her head is shaved. She is through necessity made to 'look' like a man, in order to simply add to their celibate and repressed number. The space lice represent the desires of the men to find solace beneath the bush of her hair. She is at once a contradiction of monk, man, embryo, neo- nazi and perhaps most importantly of all, prisoner of war. 

The war that Ripley has been enslaved to fight is that against patriarchy. In each film she has been surrounded by the predominant presence of the male and, faced with their incompetence at the situation, is forced to defeat the alien alone. This would indicate that it was the alien itself that represented the patriarchy and, indeed, in Alien this may well be so. It has often been noted that the alien in all it's sexual glory takes it's huge gleaming head from the penis and it's complex of lips, jaws and teeth from the labia and vagina and so becomes a caricature of androgyny. This however, is merely a misjudgement. Behind the wide-eyed seduction of the dripping lips lies not the terror of vagina dentata but a penile extension of jaws: an erection with a slitty bite similar in concept to Cronenberg's armpit killer in Rabid. Just when you thought you were in the exclusive company of a woman, it transpires that she is all man. And there lies the key to Ripley's identification with the creature for she too carries the deception of obsessed savagery within her womanly exterior that we are so requested to notice at the climax of Alien. The similarity here is in their antithesis: Ripley is all woman.

This adoption of an alien (Alien 3 even depicts Ripley as surrogate mother to a chestburster) gender for the sake of survival, makes for a far more complete theme in Aliens. Ripley, at her most militaristic, also adopts the epithet of passivity in the guise of Newt, a substitute for her own dead daughter. Ripley's remark then -"This little girl survived longer than that with no weapons and no training." - not only re-affirms Newt's status as her 'mother's' femininity but is now Newt's resurrection in Alien 3 personified as a planet with no weapons. 

Such a balance of supposed feminine and masculine traits keeps Ripley identifiable, sane and human. And this is the start of the hairline crack that divides Ripley and The Terminator and, more importantly, Terminator 2's Sarah Connor. Whereas it is Ripley's absent child that is fundamental to her cause in Aliens and even in Alien 3 where it is Newt that is worthlessly lost, Sarah's son, John, is very much alive and it is to keep him that way that motivates her every action. But here lies the crucial point: Sarah is saving her son for the sake of the future world rather than the child itself and she is therefore bereft of the maternity that Ripley exudes. Sarah is driven by her vision of the potential (inevitable?) holocaust, an external force rather than one that kicks from the inside. Sarah is cold, insane, alien, unbalanced, unidentifiable. And in this she is focussed in her aims and this is a strength that is denied Ripley who risks all her efforts for the sake of one life whether it be cat or girl. 

It is in Alien 3 that Ripley veers away from James Cameron's generically balanced version and towards the director's sequential Sarah Connor. In T2 Sarah rages at her son for his bravery in attempting to save her: "You have to be smarter than that -  you almost got yourself killed. You cannot risk yourself even for me. You're too important." It is John's importance to the existence of the future world that she speaks of, not his part in her life. This displacement of priorities almost portrays Sarah as a paragon of selflessness. Perhaps she is the 'model citizen' that she is sarcastically regarded as. It appears that the care and share package of maternity has it's price - it's balance - of self-regard for it was Ripley that returned to a planet of aliens in order to exorcise her own plague of nightmares. T2, as it transpires, had the adline that said it all: 'It 's nothing personal.'

Ripley begins Alien 3 with very little of her Aliens identity and indeed, once she has ordered the autopsy on Newt in rib-crunching Dolby Surround Sound there is nothing left. Ripley has treated Newt with the same end-justifies-the-means attitude with which Sarah treats John Connor. Yet still, even once the familiar crutch to her life is terminated (in this case, Newt) she is given another responsibility - and the one that she has always wanted - her own child. It comes of course with every mother's worst nightmare: the high probability of deformity - and not only that but that it is Not of This Earth. And here lies another reason for Ripley's shaven pate in the form of a classic address to rape through hair-cutting. 

On Fiorino 161, a planet of repressed rapists, it is narratively inevitable in Hollywood terms that an attack on the single woman, confused and on the rebound from a dead 'husband' and child, is imminent. But lost along with her family, a good script and an interesting monster is her ability to fend for herself in a dominant male environment. She is shamefully saved by a man and her consequently gratuitous boot-in to one of her attackers is negligible. Ripley may have been frigid in the first film and positively autonomous in the second but here she is thrust into a relationship of practical space-fulfilment. Once Clemens is dead, it is clubbingly obvious that Ripley is the kiss of death to any relationship, whether sexual or matriarchal. She must learn to live with herself and when one carries an alien within then that simply is not possible. There is no hope. 

Given this psychologically irreversible situation of pregnancy through rape, the question of abortion never arises. The only would-be administrator, Clemens, is dead and from her admirable experience, Ripley has never witnessed a 'carrier' that survived. She, again, must deal with it herself and the one solution, so it seems, is to die with it. The alien is as part of her as Newt's drowned innards. 

So Ripley is to die. She has no knowledge of an alternative unlike Sarah Connor who believes that "there is no fate but what we make". Ripley confronts her destiny with a passive resignation to her condition. Worse still, she finds that her monstrous opponent will now not even challenge her and thereby enforces the common equation that a pregnant woman is sexually untouchable. And this is the point where it becomes clear that we are being told that Ripley, metaphorical alien all along and particularly on Fiorino 161, has now become the monster, the bitch, 'the intolerable' herself: the alien recognises Ripley as one of it's own. 

It is for this reason that she no longer has need to fight and drifts from her masculine state to her feminine, maternal passive state. Here, in Alien 3's most disturbing scene, Ripley takes her inherent donation of subservience to an extreme by requesting from a notorious rapist that he beat the live(s) from her: "I need you to kill me. ..are you up to it? " she says and directs it to us as his point-of-view. The challenge that she throws at us is a direct reflection of her words in the preceding scene as she hunts the alien: "Where are you when I need you...just do what you do. It's easy". So Ripley is calling us the enemy not seeking the identity she has previously desired of us. If she is now the alien then we are the disposables -yet this is contradicted once more in the one other subjective shot used in Alien 3 when given the monster's view as it races through corridors. So who are we? And who is Ripley? We and she are the hunted hunters and both are as inextricable and as part of us as the family itself. As Ripley screams, tantamount to soliloquy, "You've been in my life so long I can't remember anything else". 

Sarah Connor, conversely, has no tortuous struggles from within. By detaching herself from her son she is able to continue her mission without hindrance. Her pseudo-family in T2 (herself, John, the T101) are only a few genes away from Ripley's (herself, Newt, Hicks) at the end of Aliens but her distance allows for priorities to her mission, leaving everything else to male-bonding and platonics. Ripley follows her example in Alien 3 having suffered the pain of her 'family' forced from her life. She considers her space-starved and unshown sex with Clemens as merely the satisfaction of her needs -a highly temporary affair as indicated by Clemens' subsequent demise. One may interpret this as an act of jealousy (which may serve to establish the real sex of the alien in this movie) or perhaps an abortion precaution, were the alien not portrayed as so indiscriminate, so stupid. 

The only choice that the alien makes in deciding whether or not to kill is with Ripley herself. The scene that made the trailer so memorable now, in context, becomes the scene in which Ripley escapes by the skin of her teeth from the alien jaws but only for the sake of the creature's mercy. Again, like the would-be rape, we are told that she no longer is in control. Thus her pregnant condition is the reason for her wish to die and the alien s reason for letting her live. Ripley is required, then, to become as objective as is possible, and take her own life and the alien life from herself. 

As said, this is practically the only way for humanity to survive and the objectivity that Ripley attains -this sense of detachment from the self - is almost inhuman in it's humanity. It is, after all, the same self-sacrifice that an almost human T101 made at the end of T2. Ripley's demise is to similar to the cyborg's to be ignored. Interestingly, the comparison now is with a machine, as if Ripley has stepped beyond the seeming extreme of Sarah Connor and become the measure by which Sarah was always deemed human herself. The only difference is that machines cannot self-destruct and it is Sarah who must lower The Terminator into the molten steel: man designs machine; man controls machine; (man destroys machine). Contrarily, Ripley must terminate her own life and that of the alien. She has the ultimate control that she holds in her hands and indeed, as she falls into the molten metal, Ripley clutches the emerging creature, lovingly, murderously. 

One must introduce Bishop II at this point, as does Alien 3, who is shown to be the model upon whom Bishop I, 'artificial person' and saviour to Ripley and Newt in Aliens, was created. Bishop II is the human side to the heroic synthetic -and also the dark side. His interest now lies in not saving Ripley but the creature itself in an effort to let it live and breed on earth. The human prototype tries to stop Ripley from self- termination as John Connor had pleaded with the T101 a year before. Bishop II is thinking of valuable research and John Connor of the family and despite one interest being morally corrupt and the other morally sound, both have their own selfish interests in mind. The premise then, for Ripley's sacrifice, is identical to The Terminator's. They are saving others from themselves - Ripley from the alien and the T101 from his own potential. They have the interests of others at heart. They are world-conscious but not worldly. They are martyrs to their cause. 

Alien 3 may now play it's Biblical Reference trump card after toying with allusions all along and Ripley begins her descent into the fire as a crucifix. She is embracing the prospect of death just as she embraces the chestburster. She culminates three movies of personal domination with the ultimate display of control. She lived with the passivity of Christ and the aggression of Joan of Arc.. She died in the image of both. 


Ed Cooper's review of Alien 3 raises several interesting points. First, it is significant that female characters have been given greater roles in science fiction films -a genre that is notoriously male dominated. Indeed, most sf films relegate women to bit-parts that involve lots of screaming when the obligatory monster comes into view, and the rest of the time they are there to decorate the screen to cover embarrassing flaws in the script and/or special effects. 

When women are given centre stage roles they are then made to suffer humiliating degradations and powerlessness. T2's Sarah Connor is locked-up in a psychiatric. hospital and Ripley's physical survival is constantly challenged. They are strong enough to fight against their plight but they usually need men to help them (or androids in the shape of men). Fellow women helpers are few on the ground, and even the male helpers are not as well-equipped to cope mentally and physically with the dangers "out there" as Connor and Ripley. 

But what happens to these women who are born survivors? Ripley is literally put into the melting pot after surviving two previous Alien movies, in order that the rest of humanity might survive. Connor is able to save the future for her son and humanity after only one sequel. 

Similar fates also befall women in other genres. Thelma and Louise took its two female stars on the road to oblivion, and the more recent A League Of Their Own has Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) and her fellow players pack-in their baseball careers for the sake of the men folk returning from WWII. League follows much the same formula as the excellent documentary Rosie The Riveter (1980), and the derivative Swing Shift (1984), which stars Goldie Hawn. The message of these films indicates that women can do 'masculine' work happily and successfully- if given the opportunity. 

Whereas male stars go striding off into the sunset, women end-up like Geena Davis in League nostalgically looking backwards. They sacrifice female-bonding and individual fame/fortune for the nurturing of the family unit. The past, oblivion or acceptance of the man's world seem to be the main options for even the most liberated women in Hollywood movies. N.W. 
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