From Eli to Ellen, and from the bitter cold of the undead in Sweden to the bitter cold of aliens in space as we take a closer look at Ellen Ripley, the unintended heroine played by Sigourney Weaver in director Ridley Scott’s space horror masterpiece Alien.
[Loba Tangent: I simply wanted to acknowledge that this is the first time I’ve drawn a name and been keenly aware of the placement of the character in the hierarchy of May-hem, which still exists even though I have tried to eliminate it by using random chance to determine each entry.]
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Ripley. Of course, I love her. She might not be the first “final girl,” but she’s one of the ultimate, not only surviving the infiltration of ship and crew by one of the most disturbing alien designs ever to slither from the darkness of someone’s imagination (thank you now and forever, Mr. Giger), but defeating said monster all on her own (minus the cat, of course).
The hate isn’t necessarily for Ripley but instead for the truth behind Ripley. Ripley, who so many, myself included, consider to be the ultimate queen bee when it comes to discussing women of horror. Only Ripley was not originally intended to be a woman. Ripley was written as a male character. Although she helped pave the way for so many strong female characters to follow, from horror to sci-fi to fantasy worlds, I have such a difficult time dealing with the fact that she started as a man.
In fact, all the characters were originally written as men, although I’ve read that screenwriter Dan O’Bannon indicated that they all could be considered unisex when it came to casting. Even that revelation speaks volumes to me, though, that O’Bannon preferred to write from a completely neutral position rather than try to figure out how to write to a particular gender for his characters. (Of course, by writing from this gender-neutral perspective, we’re spared any of the gender-specific claptrap of the sequel, usually in the form of insults thrown at the rather butch Vasquez or in the need to maternalize Ripley…or, even worse, in the sequel’s tagline, “The bitch is back,” which was supposed to be even more amusing because, haha, which bitch? Ripley or the alien? Haha.)
Although, in regard to examining how this film deals with horror movie tropes, opting to envision the entire crew (or, as it ended up, the majority) as male, going up against an alien species that attacked and procreated in such a sexually violating manner, one could argue that O’Bannon essentially turned the rape-revenge trope completely on its ear. He also stood in opposition of the average horror movie’s thematic exploitation of female characters at the hands of the villain. Minus her scenes in what could be the tiniest company-issued undies in the history of the universe, Ripley is never intentionally exploited based on her gender.
Is this a byproduct of originally existing as a male character? Would things have been different had Ripley started out as a woman? I don’t really know…and I guess this is what bothers me the most. I suppose it shouldn’t though since, regardless of how it all began, how it ended gave us one of the most amazing horror heroines ever. There is no denying the fact that Ripley has been the inspiration for so many genre heroines who were equally well-conceived and female right from their inception, so her ultimate existence as a woman guarantees her a place in any discussion of what it means to be an ass-kicking Lady of Horror May-hem.