When feminism burst into science fiction, Sigourney Weaver in ‘Alien’

From space, Sigourney Weaver blew everything up. Becoming Lieutenant Ripley, the actress not only defeated the beast alone in Alien (1979), she also became the first female protagonist to have such a powerful and brave role in the world of cinema.

Bold, defiant, and with the ability to command, her character followed the path that was opened with Princess Leia in Star Wars to conquer spaces in the cinema that, until then, had always been occupied by men. As María Castejón points out in her essay Rebeldes y dangerousas del cine (Lengua de trapo, 2020), Ellen Ripley “inaugurates a genealogy of characters of tough, determined, intelligent women and, above all, protagonists.”

Directed by Ridley Scott and released in 1979, the film combined science fiction and horror like never before seen on the big screen. Claustrophobic, futuristic, intense, and even feminist, “Alien” has stood the test of time very well, among other reasons, due to the role that the then-unknown Sigourney Weaver played as the female protagonist.

Lieutenant Ripley takes command
Dominating the scene at all times, Lieutenant Ripley comes into action when the others – men – are carried away by fear and she is the only one capable of saving the earth from an alien invasion. Assuming the role of hero, a typically masculine role in cinema, the character played by Weaver moves away from the image of a vulnerable victim that was so abundant in science fiction films of those years. It’s also very interesting that she is never called by her given name, Ellen. Such a typical fact in cinema – and in life – when referring to women.

But perhaps all of this has to do with the fact that Ripley, as the leader of the ship, was never conceived of as a woman. Scott had not yet decided who would play the lead when he wrote the script, so he eliminated any gender bias. Except, of course, for the moment in which the protagonist confronts the alien creature in her panties. “Rigors of cinema and of the time,” as Castejón points out in her book.

Weaver explained in an interview that her performance also coincided with a new feminist movement in the 1970s: “Women were mobilizing to join the army, work in warehouses and drive trucks,” she told The Independent newspaper in 2014. A context that helped turn her character into a feminist icon, although in reality there was no intention in introducing claims of such a point in the sequences.

The actress was clear, in this sense, in an interview offered to El País Weekly in 2016: “I’m afraid that in the script they did not do it for feminist reasons, but because they thought that no one would believe that the woman was going to be the survivor.” However, Castejón continues, “Over the years, Lieutenant Ripley has become an icon.”

Revolutionary femininity and Motherhood
Intentional or not, the truth is that this film – and the rest of the saga – also contains an absolutely revolutionary point of view on femininity and motherhood. To begin with, pregnancy is transferred to men. This is the case of the ship’s commander who, after passing the well-known “pregnancy” period, awakens from his lethargy without knowing the deepest truth: he has harbored a life inside, he has served as a mother to the new alien being to whom he will give birth. to birth between vomiting and blood. Furthermore, if we look at who actually crews the ship, the answer once again has a female presence and voice, the Mother computer that guides everyone through its labyrinthine and dark corridors. “A rather apocalyptic and predatory vision of motherhood,” as Castejón points out in Rebels and Dangerous Ace of Cinema (2020).

Ripley’s Return
The last time we saw Lieutenant Ripley was in Alien: Resurrection (1997), where Weaver was under the command of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Since then, there has been a lot of speculation about the return of the saga in an Alien 5. A few years ago, the story broke that Sigourney Weaver had received the draft of a new installment, but there was something in the script that did not convince the artist. Furthermore, there are several occasions in which, when talking about Ripley, Weaver has assured that her character has already given everything she could and that she “deserves a break.” But in the meantime, we can always enjoy the classic Alien. The eighth passenger can be seen tonight, starting at 10:00 p.m., on Classic Cinema Days on La 2.