Aliens or Alienation: The Commoditized Creature that Walk among Us

Aliens or Alienation: The Commoditized Creature that Walk among Us

These anxieties are, in a phrase, the return of a split-off, devouring, unrequitedly bad object from which there is no escape. Deep in space, crew members from the spaceship in Alien enter a maternal-like body, symbolized in the form of a spacecraft of another species, a vessel with a very viscerally organic construction, and itself long ago fatally ravaged by its taking in bad contents of a species alien to itself  but still providing haven and nurture for that species’ eggs. Despite the warnings and the orders of one crew member–Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver), whose character seems chosen by the moviemakers to embody their view of relatively higher ego functioning–the crew then transfers inside its own spaceship haven a being that bloodily and murderously erupts from an egg into a devouring creature that represents “a thoroughly bad part-object, unrelenting in its evil and destructive nature.”

Gabbard and Gabbard (1987) are masterful in pointing out how this movie’s story line and various of its cinematic techniques are used to evoke Kleinian themes of persecutory anxiety, part-objects, unconscious modes of experience, and the like. For instance, the movie’s cinematography relies heavily on use of kaleidoscopically cut shots of only parts of the creature’s body (frequently, its heavily salivating mouth, with rows of jagged teeth), thereby evoking fragmented, devouring part-objects (see, for more examples, pp. 232-233). Ultimately, all but the resourceful Ms. Ripley are annihilated by this primitively cunning, unambiguously evil creature.

A tale this unnervingly regressive needs to end with some sort of resolution so that viewers’ nerves are not left as jagged the alien’s teeth, thereby undercutting the movie’s box office potential. (Alien seems to have accomplished this task, for it not only attained moviedom’s fourth-largest dollar gross of 1979 [Gabbard & Gabbard, 1987, p. 226], it also has produced three sequels.) Alien resolves the considerable tension it evokes via a kind of survivalist scenario: At story’s end, Ripley maneuvers the alien into the main ship, escapes with the ship’s cat into a survival pod and atomically blasts the alien and the mother ship containing it into nonexistence, at least until the sequel. Gabbard and Gabbard accurately note that by this maneuver “Ripley has rid herself of badness via projection and then destroyed the badness (p. 237).” Her terrors obliterated, Ripley then enters suspended-animation sleep evoking “the nonambivalent, all-good, blissful union with the all-good mother” (ibid). The Gabbards could have further shown how her withdrawal into the pod is politically as well as psychologically regressive. Her manner–solo escape from cataclysmic danger, while others less clever and hardy perish–mirrors the essence of a late-20th century individualist survivalist strategy.

The Gabbards  (Gabbard & Gabbard, 1987) do address, if rather in passing, the “dystopia[n]” political context in which the terrorized crew had found themselves (p. 231). They note that a “sinister ‘company’ blithely declares its employees expendable” in order to acquire the creature for its weapons research division (ibid). The only impact of this deathly, absolute, instrumental depersonalization that the Gabbards remark upon is that “just as there is no place on the ship to hide from the monster, there is no familiar, consoling institution to give meaning to the persecution of the characters” (ibid). By their emphasis on “the company’s” treachery as an after-the-fact loss of potential solace, they underplay the role of the sociopolitical environment (the “company” and its on-board agents, the computer [“Mother”], and a crew member who turns out to be an android) in fomenting at its outset the anxiety/devouring process.

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About the Author

Gene Riddle

Gene RiddleGene Riddle earned his Ph.D. at The San Francisco School of Psychology and The Professional School of Psychology in 1997. His prior degrees were an MA in Clinical Psychology, before that a BA and an MA in Political Science. Gene Riddle’s doctoral dissertation, from which this essay is drawn, was titled “A Certain Laming of the Personality: The Alienated Dialectics of Subjectivity and Objectivity in Capitalist America.” For the past 15 years, Dr. Riddle has been a clinical psychologist with Kaiser Permanente at its Oakland California medical center, providing new patient triage services at the Adult Psychiatry clinic. He is currently researching a paper, provisionally titled “Lee Oswald’s Life of Unquiet Desperation,” examining the psychological makeup of Lee Harvey Oswald and how that bears on an understanding of the killing of President John Kennedy.

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