It’s official, Alien 5 is happening. The fifth movie in the Alien series, starring Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, has been confirmed by director Neill Blomkamp. As we wait for this new addition to one of the greatest science fiction movie series of all time, I thought it only appropriate to reflect on what truly made this series stand out: its protagonist. The intelligent, determined and heroic Ellen Ripley was a character that broke the mold and, to this day, stands out as one of the greatest female film protagonists of all time.
Ripley stands out as a character who isn’t just in conflict with the inhuman enemy, but also with the people around her. In the first film, she is forced to stand up for herself as crew-mates Ash (who has sinister intentions) and Dallas make decisions that jeopardize her and the crew’s safety. When Ash breaks quarantine rules, Ripley does not just let it slide, but confronts him and lets him know in no uncertain terms that she is his superior officer and that he made a big mistake in going against her orders. It comes up again later in the movie when Ash is revealed as a traitor and Ripley has to defend herself and the crew against him in addition to the aliens.
In the second film, Ripley is under fire by her bosses, as they don’t believe her retelling of the horrifying events that led to the death of Nostromo’s crew. Burke, her false friend, encourages her to go along with what the higher ups are saying, but she never shows any signs of backing down and outright insults her superiors when they are attempting to say that she imagined the ordeal. “Did IQ’s drop sharply while I was away?” One cannot help but want to cheer for her, although we know she’s going to pay for the quip.
You tell ’em, Ripley!
Later, she promises the weaselly Burke that he will pay for his deceptions, and when he tells her he had thought she would understand and expected more from her, she tells him that she is happy to disappoint him and fully intends to go through on her promise to pin him to the wall.
In the third movie this conflict is taken to its logical extreme, when Ripley is forced to live in a penal colony full of woman-hating rapists and murderers. She has few friends in the colony, as most of the people there either want to assault her or leave her for dead.“You don’t want to know me, lady,” one man tells her, “I’m a murderer and rapist of women.” She in turn muses that if that’s the case, she must make him very nervous. Ripley was one of the highest ranking officers of the ship Nostromo, and she does not take any crap from anyone, human or not.
Finally, all you really need to know about Alien: Resurrection is that this happened –
Sure, everyone knows that Ripley is a total badass. Some of her feats include blasting an alien out of the airlock,
…getting into what is basically a robotic exoskeleton and going mano-a-mano with the mother alien,
…setting an alien nest on fire with a flamethrower,
…saving a group of marines (driving right through a sheet of metal to do so),
and committing suicide by fire so that the alien she’s carrying will die with her.
Maintaining a healthy level of badassery the entire time.
She’s an indisputable action star, but it isn’t just her feats of strength in battle that make her character so memorable, it’s as much her softer actions that give us a glimpse into her personality and heart.
The biggest example of this would be her tender interactions with other characters. It is established early on in the sequel that Ripley had a daughter who grew old and died while Ripley spent fifty seven years in hypersleep. Ripley, who hadn’t shed a tear throughout any of her near death experiences or her violent nightmares, breaks down when she learns of her daughter’s death. “I promised her I’d be home for her birthday,” she says through her tears, “Her eleventh birthday.”
Later on in the sequel Ripley meets Newt, a little girl whose entire community was slaughtered by the aliens. When Ripley sees Newt, she’s a filthy, mute little girl with dirty hair and a mess on her face. Ripley gently wipes her face and feeds her, and the girl who’d been silent speaks again, most likely for the first time since her family had died. Ripley protects Newt, but more than that, she loves her like a mother would. She lays down with Newt when it’s night time and the girl is scared, and promises she won’t leave her. The two share a bonding moment where both are able to smile and laugh with each other although they are in a frightening situation, and Ripley’s loving side shines through. In the end of the movie when it seems as though Newt may be dead, Ripley falls to the ground crying, too devastated to keep moving. It is only when she hears Newt screaming that she gets up, immediately going back into the role of protector, rescuing Newt in a truly heroic sequence that includes setting everything on fire and grappling with the queen alien while in a robotic looking lift suit. By the end of the movie Newt is calling her mommy, and it makes her death in the third movie all the more devastating and unfair.
And then there’s the ship’s cat Jones, the other survivor of Nostromo. Yes, Ripley the badass survivor isn’t just a mother, but a cat lover too! Those moments where Ripley cuddles with a cat or jokes around with her teammates just show that the best heroes are human, not stone cold fighting machines.
Ellen Ripley is not special just because she is a female hero, she’s special because she’s a beautifully written, dynamic female hero, with strengths and flaws. Unfortunately we will have to wait for Ripley’s return until after the release of a different Alien film, Prometheus 2, but as long as Ripley is returning, fans of the series can rest easy and leave the franchise in her capable hands.
“This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”