No Sleep October: Alien (1979)

A Lafayette, Ind. native, Nicole Brooks spent many snowy weekends enjoying movie marathons with her family. This paid off when, in high school, she was the only student to offer an answer to the teacher’s question on the connection between the airborne bone and the space missile in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Formerly a newspaper reporter and editor, she works in media relations at Purdue University and is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Butler University. Nicole’s poems have been published in Minola Review, Flying Island, Indiana Voice Journal and in the New Rivers Press book Visiting Bob: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Bob Dylan.

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The Last Survivor of the Nostromo

Ridley Scott’s Alien hit theaters when I was 2 years old, and while my parents were prone to overestimating my viewing maturity — hello, family watch party for The Exorcist when I was 10! — I first saw it as a preteen.

I sensed then what I know now: There’s power in a nurturing nature — even if you occasionally risk your ass for a damn cat — and in listening to one’s intuition.

In the now-classic 1979 sci-fi / horror movie, the strength of our hero, Ellen Ripley, is rooted in stereotypical feminine traits. This resonated with me as a young girl, before I could recognize the stereotypes, and it’s still cool with me now.

As portrayed by Sigourney Weaver, then best known as a 29-year-old theater actor, Ripley has a strong intuition. She listens to, and acts upon, that intuition. She is nurturing, and leans into that instinct — for better and sometimes worse.

Alien is now lauded for its patient pacing and slow build, and rightly so. The (in)famous last meal before the seven crew members are to return to their deep sleep, when all hell breaks loose from Kane’s chest, is nearly 55 minutes into an almost two-hour movie. The first hour has creepy moments, sure. But we are given mostly quiet time to get to know the dynamics of this group of space worker bees, these everyday Joes.

I’m choosing to recognize and then ignore that the script’s writers didn’t initially envision Ripley as a female character. During the drafting of the script, the seven crew members were unisex in the authors’ minds; gender was applied when the performers were cast. I have to believe that when Weaver signed on, the character of Ellen Ripley was filled in, fleshed out. The entire cast was encouraged to improvise, particularly in those early scenes of easy banter. Ripley’s playful “Fuck off, Parker,” when Yaphet Kotto’s chief engineer is complaining about his pay, can’t be found in the script.

Truly: Can you imagine Alien, and the series franchise to come, featuring anyone other than Weaver, our Yale School of Drama-educated kickass action hero? 

What’s our first inkling that Ripley is special? It’s when Dallas and Lambert bring an altered Kane back to the ship after the trio’s exploration of LV-426. They want in, and only Ripley hesitates. And then says flat-out: “No.” She insists on following protocol. “If we break quarantine, we could all die.”

Oh, Ripley. You don’t know just how right you are, babe.

It’s Ripley who later, finally, gets crucial information out of the ship’s computer, Mother: New orders. Bring back specimen. Crew expendable. Dallas, despite being the ship’s captain and no dummy, couldn’t crack Mother. It took Ripley. She may be near tears while plugging away at Mother’s keyboard, but she’s getting answers.

Ripley has long had a natural distrust of Mother and a similar gut-feeling toward Ash. Again, Ripley couldn’t have been more right. Ash, that ash-hole (for you fans of The Good Place) is Ripley’s direct counterpart, an unfeeling robot.

But before the android tries to kill Ripley with a rolled-up magazine in one of the movie’s most disturbing scenes, and before Ash gets his robot head knocked off by Parker, Ripley is bent on saving as many as she can. Even Ash.

Lambert, the ship’s other woman, wants to take off in the shuttle, but Ripley says no. The shuttle supports only three, and there’s four crew members left at this point — Ripley, Ash, Lambert and Parker.

Then, true, breathless panic sets in.

When the crew has been picked off to leave only Ripley as our guide to the end, the movie’s opening contemplative pace is a distant memory. We’re at breakneck speed. Ripley corrals Jones the uncooperative cat, sets the ship to destroy itself, and is then forced to try to undo that command in what is still, after many viewings, an anxiety-inducing sequence.

Ripley keeps moving until she is safely on the Narcissus with the blown-up Nostromo behind her. So vulnerable, in that tiny, white bikini underwear and that little tank top, getting ready for space sleep. Jones tucked into the sleeping pod. When, yes, the Alien’s claw-hand cuts through the air from its hiding spot.

As if to punctuate Ripley’s relatability and seal our love for her, we get a silly song. She sings to herself, “lucky star, lucky star,” after hiding in a closet and while easing herself into a space suit and helmet. Did she concoct a plan so quickly? Did she know she would successfully suck the creature out of the shuttle while she was strapped into the ship’s chair? The film is shot such that it almost looks like an accident, her hand slamming down on the shuttle door as the creature lunges for her.

Perhaps it was both conscious and unconscious. Both experience and instinct.

Alien and Ripley instill in us a vision: If we listen to ourselves, we might just save our own lives.

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For most of his life, Evan Dossey has generally avoided horror films. The genre makes him profoundly uncomfortable. This means he has enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Each year, he asks friends and family which essential horror movies he needs to see in order to fill those gaps and spends the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. This year, he’s sharing the month with those friends and family — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.

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NO SLEEP OCTOBER 2019

Pop Skull – Richard Propes

The Ghost and the Darkness – John Tuttle

Graveyard Shift – Eric Harris

Captain Kronos – Bob Bloom



Guest Writer


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