31st October 2007
In this chapter, I will be writing about the movie Alien from 1979, by Ridley Scott. As you know, or should know, the artwork of the movie was both conceived and created by H.R. Giger, contemporary Swiss painter and sculptor. The movie was and still is one of the most influential horror movies, and in this chapter I will try to dissect its innards to show why it is such an interesting movie.
But first, the word “alien”. This word has Latin origins – “alienus” and “alius” – and basically means “stranger” or “foreigner”. This is why the United States of America still use it for foreigners and are by no means trying to suggest any outer space origin for all those people who do not possess an American passport. I’m saying this because I did hear people complain about that. “But... They’re not from outer space!” And I’m sadly serious.
To the movie now. Or rather, to the creature of the movie. The alien is one of the most fascinating creatures ever invented for many reasons. First, as you’ll have noticed, it has no eyes. Producers complained about this, and wanted eyes to be there, but, thankfully, this didn’t happen. The eyeless creature therefore “sees” its surrounding in ways we can’t fathom in the least. The eyes also tend to be the spot where you focus with your own eyes. This being lacking, you don’t really know where to stare when looking at the alien; I personally look at the teeth...
What the alien is, after some analysis, is basically... an enormous dark sexual symbol. As you may have noticed, the alien possessed a head that the normally-equipped human can only see as heavily phallic. And in case you still have doubts after a careful examination of the beast, you only need to look up H.R. Giger’s artistic work – especially the works that made Ridley Scott hire him for the movie – to realise that this head is indeed a penis.
Not only that, but the rest of the creature’s body is feminine in shapes [it shall be noted here, though, that this may not be true of the movies, as can be seen on the pictures on this blog, but if you look up Giger's art, the "alien" creature definitely has a feminine shape]; so you get a combination of genders that make for an impressive vision: on the one hand you have the dreaded penis (and you know what I mean by that, considering it is criminal to show one’s penis in the street and that the sight of one isn’t generally appreciated), and on the other you have the female shape that makes so many people sexually frustrated, sad, and anorexic. This goes for both gender: males are frustrated because they cannot possess it, and females are frustrated because they cannot be it. If you don’t think images are this powerful, please make sure you are aware that anorexia appeared shortly after the use of women in advertising, around the early 20th century if I am not mistaken. [As a matter of fact, anorexia existed before and in other countries, even where being fat was the ideal, so I stand corrected. Edit from November 2008. Thanks to Gerard from the comments for this!]
Still about phallic symbols, there is the tongue of the alien. As you know, the alien’s head is equipped with some weird tongue that is retractable and has its very own mouth. This deadly tongue comes out at will and bites, perforates, penetrates. So yes, not only is the head a giant penis, this head itself has a penis in its mouth, and if you think oral sex is uncommon in H.R. Giger’s work, I could show you one or two paintings that will let you know otherwise.
The other aspect I haven’t said anything about is the biomechanical nature of the beast. This is a key element in H.R. Giger’s work; you will find hundreds of those entities that combine elements of biology and mechanics. Most often this is done in blatant sexual ways. And this is how it works for the alien as well: it has both aspects incorporated. It is as wild as an animal, and as efficient in killing as a machine. Plus it has pipe-like organs and many other things that hint towards the mechanical. At this point it shall be noted that, if my memory is correct, that H.R. Giger studied industrial design.
On to the alien reproductive cycle. This is the most interesting part of my exegesis. In order to reproduce, the alien creature has to go through a number of phases. It begins with the Queen, which spawns eggs, much like a queen bee. In these eggs are incubated the “face-huggers” as they are referred to in general, although there is no official name. Those face-huggers then must find a host, and inject in them the seed of an alien. Then the host serves as a forced mother, and eventually the grown alien foetus breaks through the host, killing him or her, and the cycle ends there, unless this very alien happens to be a queen, for there are various sorts of aliens.
The face-huggers are designed to resemble a hand, but also a spider. If you look at H.R. Giger’s artistic work, you can see that each arm of the thing has nails at the end, and that it’s impossible not to see a hand in them. Also, viewed from below, this creature looks like a vulva, if a scary one. That vampiric being is also endowed with some scary appendage that resembles a penis in shape, and which happens to be the organ with which the face-hugger injects the seed of the alien to be.
To proceed to do this, the face-hugger embraces the head of the victim and tightly holds to it; its vulva-like orifice to the mouth of the future host. I forgot to mention that the face-hugger also has a tail, which it uses to lasso the neck of the victim, and tightens on it. In the movie, it is assumed that if you try to get the face-hugger off the host before it has done what it wants to do, it tightens its grip on the neck and threatens to suffocate the poor, and thankfully unconscious, host.
As I hope you see, this creature also contains the two genders: its vulva-like orifice, and its penis-like appendage. This creature is also an oral rapist of the worst kind. While face-hugging a victim, the latter can no longer see, hear, or talk, and he probably wishes he could no longer taste either.
The long terrible appendage then goes down the host’s throat and I am not certain of how far down this goes, but it places a seed somewhere around the stomach. The face-hugger simply dies when its task is done.
Then the host carries the seed in itself and nurtures it, quite against its will, and quite against its very awareness, in most cases. If you are an attentive person, you will connect this with pregnancy. Indeed, the whole alien cycle parallels sexuality. Before I go further about this point, let me tell you something you didn’t know about the eggs.
The eggs, which shelter the face-huggers until some hapless victim comes to knock on it, can be seen in the movie as having a cross-like opening. This wasn’t always so. Originally, H.R. Giger had designed a vertical slit as its opening, and yes, it was meant to resemble a vulva. A yucko vulva that gives birth to yuckier creatures, which themselves own a vulva and a penis, and which inseminates other beings with the seed of what will become a giant penis-headed female-like killer. The producers of the movie couldn’t take the sexual opening, because, as they said, the movie would air in many Catholic countries, and obliged Giger to change it. As the artist himself notes in his book about the alien project, he decided to complement the egg’s opening with yet another slit, horizontal this time, to look like the Cross that Catholics liked so much; and that’s paraphrasing a quote of Giger’s. So, the opening moved from being a vulva to a cross. From the sexual to the religious, the gross to the divine. (And no, I don’t mean to say that vulvas are gross, only that our sexes aren’t the part of ourselves we expose the most, or that we’re proud of having, and etc.)
Our sexes are indeed the parts that we think are most alien to us. It’s the most animal part too, and we all come from one, and give life with one.
Back to the pregnancy. Giger based his work, for the movie but not only, on what would usually take place while giving birth. Of course, this won’t apply to this day’s giving birth, but that of millennia ago. Death was extremely frequent during child-delivery. The other thing, and I know many of you won’t like it, and others won’t even believe it, is that child-delivery can cause sexual pleasure, and yes, even orgasms. Naturally, if you’re on anaesthetics, you may not feel that, but remember that the days I am talking about did not have those things. I also know from an acquaintance who had two children, that she came during both deliveries.
The point here is that in this important moment of birth, both sex and death dance together. And this is perfectly true of the alien creature and its cycle. You may also think of the strange fact that people who are hanged eventually ejaculate before they die. The mandragora, root of the mandrake plant, was said to come from the seed of the hanged people, because this root is shaped like a tiny human being. As an aside, I don’t think the hanging in question is the neck-breaking kind, rather the slow choking one.
The other thing about this alien pregnancy is that the being inside the host is utterly alien to it, and that’s not a pun, or not quite. Pregnant women vomit during their pregnancy, and lots of other things happen to their bodies, and all, or so it seems, tend to indicate that the body itself doesn’t recognise the guest as belonging to the same body. Being no doctor, I could be entirely wrong about this, but I was given to understand that the throwing up came because of something related to that, or to that directly. I claim no authority on the issue, but it is well known that giving birth can be damaging to the host, and in olden times, it was very often lethal.
So, the victim of the alien is first raped by the face-hugger, impregnated by it, then forced to nurture a monster in his innards, the latter of which eventually gives itself childbirth by clawing through the host’s body to get out. A most unpleasant way to die, I am sure. And traditional human childbirth is the model for this gruesome delivery. Both are bloody and disgusting (and don’t give me that “but childbirth is beautiful! You are heartless!” because I got it before, and I think it’s still bullcrap. Child-delivery is yucko from A to Z, even if you want to think that giving life is beautiful; they don’t have to be related. I love Tiramisu more than any other dessert, and the day I made some, it was yucko, and yucko ingredients were used; I still love the result, but the process is yucko).
I hope that this chapter made the alien creature more interesting to you.