What is most frightening about this film in relation to bodily structures is that the alien is 'inhuman'; the monster in horror movies is so often a zombie or one of the living dead; a vampire, a botched creation, construction or reconstruction of the human. The alien has physical characteristics similar to a human, such as arms, legs, and the entire appearance of it is human-like, though obscured, all the more intense. The alien is somewhat an evolved version of humans – a stronger, more efficient version, biologically, a nightmarish evolution of a human-like creature, if not the evolution of a human itself. In fact, in the prequel to Alien, Prometheus (2012), it is learned that the alien's creator has ancient human DNA; the original alien is a hybrid of human and another alien species. Also, in the film Alien vs Predator (2004), a half-predator, half-alien creature is produced, showing the alien creature's ability to quickly adapt and hybridise itself with multiple species. It should also be noted that the alien does not show any particular personal malice towards the crew, it is unbiased in its approach, totally evil!
The alien itself has a very complex depiction. Firstly, it is depicted as a predatory-like parasite and orally gags its victims to impregnate them. Secondly, its embodiment is represented as nature itself, as almost invincible. Nature incarnate or sublimed, a nightmarish embodiment of the natural realm. This can be seen with its high level predatory skills (the way it stalks its prey), concentrated acid blood, armoured skin – an organic manifestation of nature. Furthermore, in relation to its reproduction, the alien has a tremendously fast growth rate (as seen at 1.08hrs), does not spend any time with its mother/father, and does not take long to succeed in its first kill, highlighting the speed of its evolution, its higher nature than humans. It is essentially the masculine sexual violence shown by the alien, which further implies that the cosmic life-principle as such should be understood, for all its ambivalent externality to the organic realm, as essentially masculine. The alien's reproductive techniques are by organic means, although it does not reproduce with its own kind; this is not human, but not unheard of in nature. The alien itself is a paradox; although it exhibits very masculine aggressive behaviour, it is an asexual creature, however it is violently sexual to any 'host' that is compatible. The alien has a femininity about it, in the sense that it has, what can only be assumed as already 'fertilised eggs', and also forces the humans to adhere to the role of the female; thus, it is the outward expression of predatory masculinity, while it forces its victims to assume a feminine role; it represents the masculine/feminine binary, encompassing both.
The character Ripley is also very complex; she does not submit to the alien's sexual whim, but this does not imply celibacy. Submitting to the alien will result in death, and has nothing to do with her human sexual orientation, which I have seen written in other analyses of Alien, she is only celibate in relation to the alien, which is more related to self-preservation than sexual desire (or lack thereof). Ripley shows characteristics of only the female gender, for example, she is very aggressive and ruthless towards the alien, usually associated with masculinity, however it is not uncommon for mothers to be very aggressive when their children are in danger; as Ripley is concerned with protecting her crew, and later, preventing the alien from reaching Earth, she can be seen as playing the role of the 'Earth mother' to all humanity. She also shows other signs of femininity, such as the cat character– clearly; Ripley does show signs of maternal instincts, albeit, towards a cat, however it is still a small, vulnerable creature. The sequel Aliens (1986) offers insights into further understanding the character Ripley. She does in fact have a child, revealed at 10.51min, highlighting that she is not against human reproduction. Also, her motherly instincts can again be seen in her concerned expressions when told there is a colony of sixty to seventy families living on the planet, at 15.23min, and in her protection of the young girl they find at 58min.
Ripley is the perfect enemy for the alien. However, as noted above, they have very different motivations, and their ethical standpoints are completely different. Even though they are both interested in self-preservation, the alien is driven by violent domination over humanity, while Ripley is driven by defensive protection of humanity.
Lambert meets the role of the aliens’ binary “opposite”. She is extremely feminine with virgin-like innocence; this can be seen in her death scene at 1.30hrs, when she is “hypnotised” by the alien, and cannot help but succumb to its will, taking on the young virgin-like role. However, this does not challenge the alien's masculine role at all; instead, she submits to the feminine role imposed by the alien, and ultimately meets her fate. Ripley, however, is revealed as the only crewmember able to challenge the alien and win; by not submitting to the feminine sexual role, and by refusing the dominance and repression of the alien, Ripley shows herself to be the alien's “perfect enemy”, rather than its sexual victim.
The character Ash in the film presents a strange sexuality. Ash is an android, however he shows sexuality; he assimilates more to the alien's sexuality. This can be seen at 1.20hrs when he attacks Ripley – he tries to choke her by inserting a rolled-up magazine into her mouth – thus identifying himself with the alien's violation of the human body and voice. In the room where this scene occurs, there are pornographic posters on the walls, and presumably the magazine Ash uses is a pornographic magazine; coupled with the somewhat strange action of trying to force this down her throat, rather than simply squeezing her neck, this further cements the strong sexual connotations of this film, and is strong evidence that makes me believe that the dominant theme of Alien is sexuality. Moreover, Ash is considered 'inhuman'; he appears human, however, he is not – Ash is at one with the monster. This is also an example of the 'horror of embodiment' that is fluent throughout the film. The idea that someone who appears human can be completely void of emotion, empathy, or understandable human motivations – characteristics of the monster – is horrifying; in the middle of their fight against an alien enemy, the crew discover an inhuman enemy in their midst, one they did not expect (they did not previously know Ash was an android). The fact that Ash was in contact with Mother (the ship's computer), and that both were under secret orders to disregard the crew's safety, shakes the crew's faith in their technological mother, leaving them even more vulnerable.
The Nostromo itself is very elaborately designed, externally appearing very alike a human body without skin; also at 29.41min, the ship they found has the same internal intricacy. Moreover, the room where the officers communicate with Mother is a strange spherical-like octagonal room, a strange hue of pink, reminiscent of a womb, which can be seen at 9.20min. Within the Nostromo, the corridors are very akin to a maze of veins in a body, furthering the impression that the Nostromo is designed, albeit very uniquely, as a pseudo-organic body, rather than a plane designed just to fly, as the Nostromo itself does not look very aero-dynamic. Furthermore, in the first five minutes, the characters (apart from the alien) are re-born from the ship, in a white, sterile room, from glass lid coffins, each facing a central stem. The ship representing a non-organic mother; even the name of the ship's computer (Mother) bluntly states this. This rebirth is peaceful and non-traumatic, like waking from a sleep, it is clean, technological and sterile, quiet and painless – it is birth without organic pain and messiness. This sets the scene for the later violent shock of the alien's messy, organic, painful perversion of the birth process.
Alien is full of stark contrasts – between the scenery of inside (light) and outside (dark); the enclosed space of the ship and the openness of space around it; and of course, between the humans and the aliens. Even from the opening credits, this contrast is made clear – the darkness of space and of the planet they are nearing take precedence. As the film moves on to show the inside of the ship, most of the ship is lit by ambient light only – implying sleep, as of leaving a night-light on. As the humans awaken, the ship is brightly lit, increasing the impression of life inside and death outside. The ship itself has an aura of sterile technology, clearly seen in the room where the crew first awaken; this contrasts with their humanity, and their meagre efforts to humanise their living spaces, seen in small additions like the bird ornaments in the dining room at 3.05min. The very fact of its being there shows a human touch – it is ornamental, not functional. Another major contrast apparent in the film is between the small confines of the ship, and the vastness of space in which it floats – absolutely hostile, nothing can survive in this desolate environment. Set against this vast absence, the minuscule confined space of the ship is the only place that the humans can possibly live, further accenting their insignificance and vulnerability – one tiny hole in this fragile shell, and they will all die.
The whole point of these contrasts throughout the film is to create a set of binary oppositions, to amplify the significance of the difference between human and alien, and to also define them in relation to one another. This violent, predatory (masculine) alien would not be so shocking, if not in contrast to the vulnerable (feminine) position of its human prey. The humans represent light, vulnerability, innocence, dependence; the aliens represent darkness, corruption, and predation. The humans turn on lights or carry torches, and they wear light-coloured clothes throughout the film (even when they wear their dark outer jackets, they still wear a light shirt underneath). The aliens are the opposite; they hide in darkness, have black 'skin', and wear no clothes, also accentuating their innate sexuality. The humans rely on technology to overcome their enemy; the aliens use their bodies as their weapons. The violent sexuality of the aliens, expressed in their perversion of masculine dominance over the feminine, is horrifying only in contrast to the ideal of human sexuality, which implicitly requires tenderness and equality. Shall I continue?