Given the level of Hollywood’s takes on motherhood lately, I sometimes feel a strong need to crawl into the warm cave of my childhood in the 1980’s. I’m not talking about My Little Pony, The Facts of Life, or even Jem. No, my psychological security blanket is six feet tall, lives in outer space, and goes by the name Ellen Ripley. Oh, and she’s pretty good with a flamethrower, too.
Yes, like many budding feminists, I was obsessed (and still am) with the Alien movie franchise. As a kid, Signourney Weaver was my hero and these movies endlessly entertaining. Now, every time I watch them, they become more and more richly fascinating as, yes indeed, social and cultural commentary. These films are part of a category I’ll call Scary Sci-Fi Action Flicks That Are Secretly About Mothers. No, really. I’m serious. The Alien Quadrilogy forms one of the most interesting takes on motherhood I’ve ever seen in mainstream Hollywood cinema. Negligent mothers, protective Uzi-toting mothers, overbearing mothers, dangerously fertile mothers, they’re all there.
For starters, in the first film, Alien, the spaceship’s crew refer to its on-board computer as Mother. Subtle. And, oh, is Mother ever a bad mother. And, okay, if you haven’t already seen Alien, there is a tiny chance that you haven’t had its most disturbing scene spoiled for you by the thousands of reviews, comments, and pop-culture parodies, and I’m not going to be the one to burst the bubble with a tell-all. But I will say that it puts a whole new spin on the notion of “birth pangs”.
In Aliens, definitely the most “mainstream Hollywood action movie” of the series, Ripley gets her own maternal instinct stirred by Newt, an orphaned child she finds in a destroyed colony, who she has to protect from the Alien Queen (herself a pretty apt metaphor for cultural anxiety around motherhood - she just keeps popping them out, like some kind of… of… birthing machine!). Whenever I am frustrated by the trials of daily life, I close my eyes and picture Sigourney Weaver in her yellow forklift-suit, slapping the Queen’s “face” and growling “Get away from her, you BITCH!” It never fails to restore me. (Meanwhile, let’s note, the film’s remaining men are totally incapacitated, lying around like lazy comatose bums while Ripley saves the day.)
You could write books on the mom-symbolism in these movies (and people have) - I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I haven’t even talked about the second two films! If I had time, I would expound forever on the brilliant commentary on militarization, the nuclear family, masculine stereotypes, feminine stereotypes, and why you shouldn’t bring your cat with you to outer space. Sadly, I don’t have ten years to spare. But that’s where your local movie-rental establishment comes in.
If you’re not the sci-fi type, though, or you don’t have time to sit through twelve hours of cinema, check out this 30-second parody of Alien, re-enacted entirely by bunnies!