“The hardships and grief left behind.”
Life has no purpose. No meaning. The Alien, a black, hollow mixture of technology and organic matter, is a walking nothingness. It is relentless, indiscriminate its murder. It is death; the only certainty we face. The looming fear we desperately try to hold off. Ripley is both fascinated and repulsed by death (in the way a devout Christian is both fascinated and repulsed by sex). The Alien is her death drive, the overwhelming urge to throw yourself off a bridge onto a motorway, even though life is going well.
The convicts choose religion to survive. Their religion pretends to accommodate the truth of existence – purposelessness – but slips away from ever creating an ethical code that accepts that, and causes meaningful change to behaviour. Their religion doesn’t offer redemption. Ripley dies, arms outstretched as a saviour, but there are no individuals to bear witness to the truth. The Bishop seeks to control death, to commodify it for the masses, but the remaining prisoners (the agnostic few) see him for the opulent fraud that he is.
The Englishness of the convicts means the prison planet is a galactic Australia – a country that is so inhospitable, it’s almost sentient its single-minded purpose to kill you through small animals and insects. On the prison planet they have a problem with lice. The death drive will overrun the prison. All (bar one) inmates will die. The death drive will overwhelm all, including Ripley, who to this point has been devoted to the preservation of her life. In the movies, quite unlike real life, suicide has dignity. It is nearly always noble, sacrificial and for the benefit of others. Her outstretched arms entwine her very nature to the other great fictional noble sacrifice…that of Christ.
“No, you’re fucked.”
Quite literally. In the life we have seen across several films, across several directors, Ripley explicitly rejects sex. Hicks represented a family, but a surrogate one. One based more on practical purpose than physical attraction. Physical touch, male physical touch is an assault – typified by Ash’s determination to force a (phallic) newspaper down Ripley’s throat. The Alien is a specific male anxiety. Despite the penile inner mouth that penetrates forcefully its victim, the Alien’s most horrific attack comes through impregnation. The fear is to have something hostile growing inside you; like some abhorrent parasitical child that will grow to replace you. It is the fullest horror of the feminine experience, but a horror only imagined (and never experienced) by a man.
And thus it terrifies Ripley. It will pervert her ability to interact as a woman. Her own violation comes in her sleep. For a large chunk of the film she is unaware (repressed memory?) of her assault. But for the first time she accepts sex with a man. The result, perhaps inadvertently, is her nightmare pregnancy.
“I felt it move.”
Ripley explicitly rejects she was Newt’s mother; in turn denying the theraputic intention of Cameron’s previous film. In that version of the Alien story (a fact only underlined and emphasised in that film’s director’s cut), Ripley only overcomes her trauma aboard the Nostromo through the grace of motherhood found in her protection of and provision for Newt. But here, Ripley instinctively denies her motherhood, whilst experiencing a form of pregnancy; it’s as if her surrogate maternal experience has been replaced with a physical fertility, even though it was thrust upon her.
Ripley shaves her head. The ultimate denial (especially for the female movie star) of her aesthetic femininity. Her bald head and rusty clothes equate to a loss of identity as much as a loss of gender. She anonymises herself against the British television actors that populate the supporting cast. The light from the star is dimmed. She will not carry her child through to term. She embraces the chaos of reality – there are no cosy, cute endings for her. Death has embraced her. It has overwhelmed her. It has submerged her in its fiery nothingness.