"Ridley Scott’s Alien stages a nightmare of a hostile 'profound reality.' Despite being a post-Star Wars science fiction film, Alien rejects the giddy operatics of the many films which strove to mimic George Lucas’s blockbuster. Like Scott’s next film, Blade Runner (1982), Alien’s visual and narrative styles place it firmly in the cinematic camp of 70s realism alongside films like The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972), Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976), and Midnight Express (Alan Parker, 1978). In Alien, space is not an open terrain of freedom and adventure as it is in Star Wars, but a stark and lonely void of perpetual menace. This is not the kind of space that calls its inhabitants out into expansive gestures of self-transcendence, but rather the kind of endless night that turns its inhabitants in on themselves. The Nostromo crew huddling around the mess hall table for nourishment and companionship inhabits a meager and fragile bubble of light in a void that is both spatial (they are months away from earth’s solar system) and temporal (their hypersleep has been momentarily interrupted). Space is disenchanted in the Alien universe; rather than providing an escape from reality, space in Alien emphasizes the immediacy and inescapability of reality. Space is precisely what makes escape from the clanking, bloody reality of the Nostromo impossible.
Likewise, technology is similarly disenchanted. The translucent technology of conventional science fiction is replaced in Alien by whirring and clicking boxes of frequently malfunctioning moving parts. As in 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968), the ship’s computer turns against the human crew of the Nostromo in an ultimate depiction of the unreliability of technology. Whereas in Kubrick’s film, however, the computer glitch was overcome and the transcendent future made possible, in Alien, the glitch is not in the computer, but in the materialistic values of corporate capitalism. The ship’s computer, Mother, and the android, Ash, are doing exactly what they were programmed to do by the military-industrial society which built them and which is willing to sacrifice the human crew in order to obtain a valuable new bioweapons product. This 'glitch' is not de-programmable, the only solution is to blow up the entire superstructure in toto, as Ripley finally does. In the same way that the characters in Alien dress, speak, and socially interact in 'realistic' 1970s blue collar fashion, the politics of the Alien universe reflect the real social pathology of contemporary late capitalist culture. Alien is not an escapist film, but a film about the impossibility of escaping the reality of our contemporary world.
This theme of the inescapability of reality is personified most vividly in the figure of the alien itself. The crew of the Nostromo exists within a world that is entirely technological, and in which even their natural rhythms of sleep and wakefulness are controlled by a computer. Everything aboard the spaceship is geometrical, sterilized, and inorganic. It is a world that strives toward a complete elimination of the 'profound realities' of sex and death. The alien infects this world with the violent challenge posed by the return of the repressed. If the first scene in which Kane wakes up from his cryotube against a hospital-white backdrop represents a bloodless, bodiless vision of birth, the violence with which the newborn alien bursts out of Kane’s chest in the middle of the film enacts a birth that is gruesomely biological. The Euclidian spaces of the Nostromo’s interior are eroded by the acidic blood of the alien, which etches chaotic shapes into flat sheets of metal and plastic. The alien itself, in its shadowy amorphousness, presents a visual contrast to the superficial visibility of the spaceship’s metal surfaces.
Moreover, when the crew members squabble at the beginning of the movie about their contractual obligations, they assume the integrity of a social contract that defines the relationship between themselves and their employers. The presence of the alien on board the Nostromo exposes the fictive nature of this contract, disclosing the 'profound reality' of capitalist amorality. The Company – the world-monopoly that owns the ship – is more responsible for the death of the crew than the alien itself, making the alien a kind of proxy for the capitalists. The violence inherent in capitalism that had been repressed during the workers’ conversation of who gets what shares of the profits bursts forth in the figure of the alien to make apparent the true nature of capitalist ethics."
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