Ridley Scott’s scifi thriller, Alien has been famed for it’s cultural influence ever since it’s release in 1979. It’s combination of nature and technology instils a “nothing is safe” mantra into viewers, accentuated by the relatability of the characters and “homeliness” of the ship. The film lulls you into a false sense of security, the sets are filled with half empty mugs, food, and even pornographic imagery- seeming like an ordinary home or workspace. (fig 1) Even the walls of the ship have a grubby feel to them. All this is comforting to be shown after shots of vast space and an otherwise quite technical looking set up. The viewer’s security is then put in jeopardy, causing discomfort to add to the suspense.
Suspense plays a big part in the film, and not just conventionally through use of music. "Alien" uses a tricky device to keep the alien fresh throughout the movie: It evolves the nature and appearance of the creature, so we never know quite what it looks like or what it can do.” (Ebert 2003). You never know what to expect. This is reiterated a number of times through the mentioning of the unknown. During a couple of scenes especially, they play on the relatability and innocence of the humans, using shaky point of view shots- putting the viewers in their shoes. The acting in the film is delivered naturalistically- the viewers feel a part of the characters casual conversations causing more shock when they’re interrupted.
The aliens themselves are both mechanical and insect-like, as well as a hideous mix of human flesh and organs (fig 2). This is unnerving as it is elements reacting in a way we would not expect them to. The whole film gives us an uncomfortable mix of what we are used to in a way we wouldn’t want to see it.
"It's an impossible nightmare, this fusion of technology and vermin, death and sex,"(Skal 1993).
Sex is another subconscious theme in the movie, put in place to make the audience feel uncomfortable. The screenwriter said himself "This movie is about interspecies rape. That's scary because it hits all of our buttons." (O’Bannon, 2002)
This comes both subtly and unsubtly, from the shape of the ships and aliens (fig 3) to the ideas of penetrative sperm like aliens escaping from space eggs, “impregnating” and being birthed through the stomach of on of the crew members. "One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex... I said 'That's how I'm going to attack the audience; I'm going to attack them sexually. And I'm not going to go after the women in the audience, I'm going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number." (O’Bannon, 2002)
Roger Ebert ,2003, Alien at http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-alien-1979
David J. Skal, 1993, The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror at http://articles.latimes.com/2003/oct/29/entertainment/et-beale29
Dan O’Bannon, 2002, The Alien Saga at