Original release: May 25th, 1979
Running time: 116 minutes
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Dan O’Bannon
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto
Violation of quarantine rules: 00:27:51 to 00:37:03
“Science fiction plucks from within us our deepest fears and hopes then shows them to us in rough disguise: the monster and the rocket.” ~ W.H. Auden
When push comes to shove, we do what we believe is right, and there’s a limit to how far we’ll go before we knowingly put lives at risk, least of all, our own.
One of the most rewarding aspects of a science fiction experience is how these stories, when well crafted, can explore the cavernous interiors that’s the labyrinth of human nature. Whether we’re born leaders or we’re forced to assume those roles, the choices we make can have long lasting effects, so we better make the right ones.
In Ridley Scott’s genre-defining epic, Alien, he combines masterful suspense with a story that becomes more unnerving the further it creeps beneath our skin. As he tells us about a ship and its doomed crew who’re investigating a deserted planet, we’re faced with a moment when one of them tries to make a choice for the greater good but their authority is undermined, placing them all in danger.
The film begins with an eerie silence as we see the Nostromo spaceship making its way from Thedus to Earth with its crew members in stasis. It’s a hulking ship, not the prettiest and it looks like it’s travelled quite some miles already. The silence is broken when Nostromo receives a transmission and promptly wakes the crew to investigate a transmission.
The lights turn on in a darkened room, filling it with a harsh fluorescent glow and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), Parker (Yaphet Kotto), Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Kane (John Hurt), and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) wake from their deep sleep, along with Ash (Ian Holm) who’s an android.
After mapping where the transmission’s coming from, some of the crew aren’t too keen to extend their journey, instead they’re eager to get back home. When they’re told by Ash there’s a clause in their contracts which says they have a duty to investigate anything that could signify intelligent origin, they realise they’re not going home any time soon change their course.
Ripley, Brett, Parker and Ash stay behind while Dallas, Kane and Lambert make their way down to the surface. After a bumpy landing on the rocky terrain, they set off to explore the area and locate the source of the transmission, but they soon spot a giant crashed ship sticking out of the horizon. Ash watches them enter the ship via closed circuit screens back on the Nostromo.
As the team enter the ship, they’re in awe at the size of it and struck by its interiors which are more organic and reptilian-like in appearance than a piece of machinery. They walk further through its body and then arrive at what looks like the ship’s belly where they see a giant space jockey, strapped into a chair and ready for battle, but it’s long dead. The creature is now fossilised, and its remains puzzle the team – there’s a gaping hole in its ribs where it looks like something broke out of its chest.
Meanwhile, Ripley determines the signal they picked up was a warning and not an SOS, but Ash is dismissive of her findings. The team then find an opening in the ship’s floor and lower Kane down the hole to see what’s beneath them. He sees rows and rows of pods and as he gets closer to inspect one of them, its translucent outer casing shows something moving inside.
Suddenly, one of the pods open and Kane foolishly peers in. What he sees is a moist, pulsating mass of a creature moving around, it’s both repulsive and fascinating. Without warning, it leaps from the pod and onto Kane’s helmet, piercing through the glass and attaching itself to his face.
With Kane incapacitated by the creature, Dallas and Lambert make a desperate attempt to get him back on board their ship for medical treatment, but Ripley puts the situation into perspective for them in the following confrontation.
I’m right here.
Ripley, can you let us in?
What happened to Kane?
Something has attached itself to him. We have to get him to the infirmary right away.
What kind of thing? I need a clear definition.
An organism. Open the hatch!
Wait a minute. If we let it in, the ship could be infected. You know the quarantine procedure. Twenty-four hours for decontamination.
He could die in twenty-four hours. Open the hatch!
Listen to me, if we break quarantine, we could all die.
Could you open the god-damned hatch? We have to get him inside.
Ripley hesitates, thinks and then assertively and calmly responds.
We see Ash at the interlock hatch, waiting for orders to let them in, but he’s already made his decision.
Ripley, this is an order. Open that hatch right now, do you hear me?
Ripley! This is an order! Do you hear me?
Yes. I read you. The answer is negative.
Acting in clear violation of quarantine rules, Ash opens the door and lets them in, much to Ripley’s disbelief.
With this one act of insubordination, Ash has allowed Kane to unwittingly become the conduit by which a lethal alien finds its way into this small population of humans. ¹
One-by-one, as it grows, it picks them off. Its outer shell is practically impenetrable and its blood is acidic. It’s the perfect killing machine, which is why Ash has been given orders to bring it back to Earth, even at the expense of the crew.
Ripley, who assumed command of the Nostromo when Dallas was off-site, was prepared to make a decision that might not have been best for Kane, but would’ve been for the greater good of the crew.
Quarantine rules, which have existed since the 17th century, seek to protect people from instances of an outbreak or contamination, whether natural or not. In Kane’s case, his civil rights are in a way suspended by Ripley as she tries to adhere to these rules.
While it seems like Ash is playing the humanitarian here, he has another reason for wanting Kane on board, and as soon as possible. Again, his civil rights are suspended when they’re put in the hands of a corporation that wants to study an alien life form – at any cost.
What makes Alien so fascinating are these subtle dynamics and power-plays. Here we have a woman who refuses to back down or surrender when it comes to survival. Her moral compass always points north but her approach is usually more utilitarian than Kantian. When push comes to shove, Ripley will stand up and make those choices, and it might not be for her own good, but it will certainly be for the good of others.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .