Study Guide for Alien

1. Citation

Alien. Ridley Scott, dir., screenplay. USA: Twentieth Century Fox, 1979. Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, story.

2. Brief Description

The insectoid alien is aided by a robot passing for human (Science Officer Ash) and by the special program put into Mother, the ship's computer, by anonymous agents of the Company owning the space tug Nostromo (and much else). Note the containment within a rather Gothic spaceship of humans threatened by an Ultimate Outsider alien who has gotten inside, a colleague, Ash, who should be helping them defeat the alien; and finally, by their most basic protection, the ship Nostromo herself (and significantly herself). discussed by Vivian Sobchack in Screening Space, Chapter 4 (see Index).

3. Novelization

Foster, Alan Dean. Alien. New York: Warner Books, 1979.

(CAUTION: The novel occasionally differs from the film, including in being rather more science fictional.)

4. Major Cast

Ripley: Sigourney Weaver Ash: Ian Holm
Brett (engineer [White]): Harry Dean Stanton Parker (engineer [Black]): Yaphet Kotto
Dallas (capt. of Nostromo): Tom Skerritt Jones: ship's cat
Mother: ship's computer Kane (executive officer): John Hurt
Lambert (navigator): Veronica Cartwright

5. Comments and Questions

A. The construction of Alien is very simple: Take Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians and combine it with a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode where a monster gets on board, and set it in a high-tech Gothic castle in space. I.e., in a closed environment, a group of people get killed off one by one by a monster that has gotten in and hunts them down in a dark labyrinth.

B. Alien is of interest because of:

  1. How threatening and suggestive the monster is

  2. How interesting and suggestive the various dark "labyrinths" are

  3. The unholy triune villain of Science Officer Ash (the ringer robot), Mother (the dangerous computer), and the Company and

  4. How nicely done the final hero is: Warrant Officer Ripley, who could have been a man or a woman (as the script was written) but was finally played by Sigourney Weaver. (For the gendering of the characters in Alien, see Donald Palumbo, "Loving that Machine . . ." in T. Dunn and R. Erlich, eds., The Mechanical God, esp. 121-22.)

C. Alien is an SF horror film where a rationalized monster irrupts into the human world-and it is a political film. What are its politics regarding capital, workers, bureaucracy, and science? What are its race and gender politics?