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‘In space no one can hear you scream’

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  • Pages: 10
  • Word count: 2443
  • Category: space

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Alien was released in 1979 and directed by Ridley Scott. Its tagline was ‘In space no one can hear you scream’ though another apt statement might be in darkness lies death. This film portrayed a gothic depiction of the future inspired by the art of H.R. Giger, following a small crew aboard a commercial towing vehicle. The film was a ‘body horror’, popular at the time, that explored the anxieties surrounding the human body and sexuality. Lighting and color were used to great effect in this film, ascending from an element of film to a unique character that is as important as any actor in the film. The light embodies safety, science, and progress while the darkness conveys fear, curiosity, and death. Throughout the film this delicate balance of light and dark shifts, expressing the fragile nature of human existence and the human psyche.

Technology plays a prominent role in the film and is given a specific color scheme as well as lighting effects. When crewmembers access computers throughout the film they are always veiled in shadows, these shadows embody the ignorance of the crew. When the computer provides results to their query the white light of the screen illuminates them, both figuratively and literally, instilling in them the knowledge necessary to go on while also physically revealing them in the shadows. The computer known as ‘mother’, or MU/TH/UR, furthers these established characteristics of technology. ‘Mother’ is the main computer present on the ship and acts as an artificial intelligence. It is housed in a small room that is white, like all other technology, and constantly illuminated by thousands of small white lights that are continuously blinking in random patterns. These blinking lights express the constant activity or ‘thought’ of ‘mother’. Crew members defer to ‘mother’ for solutions to their problems throughout the film and are dumbstruck when she can no longer provide the answers. These elements embody technology, and more specifically ‘mother’, as a false god that is worshipped by the crew of the ship. ‘Mother’ baptizes the crew in illuminating light that serves to enlighten and inspire them and without ‘mothers’ help the crew falls apart. The failure by ‘mother’ to provide specific guidance coincides with the death of crew members, serving as an omen, warning that utter reliance on technology or any other belief is a na’ve and dangerous proposition.

The danger of technology is further emphasized later in the film during a moment of conflict between Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Ash (Ian Holm). After ‘mother’ reveals that the crew has been deemed expendable and fails to provide Ripley with further guidance Ash enters. He is in charge of ensuring the return of the alien sample regardless of the destruction of the crew and has allied with ‘mother’. Ripley leaves ‘mothers’ chamber and her nose begins to bleed, the vibrant red of the blood humanizing her while Ash appears with a line of white unknown fluid running down his forehead that serves to dehumanize him. This white has become associated with technology throughout the film and it is quickly apparent that Ash is a robot as he attempts to subdue Ripley so that he can complete his mission. The ensuing struggle displays the power of technology as well as its lack of regard for human life and the danger of its malfunction. After Ash has been beaten by the remaining crew his face is soaked in the white fluid, further dehumanizing him, as he explains technologies lack of regard for the crew’s lives over the life of some evil unknown organism. Ash is a tool of technology, without remorse or pity, which displays the similar cold and calculating characteristics of all technology and again warns of the dangers of an existence reliant on such technology.

A majority of the film occurs on the commercial towing vessel known as the Nostromo. The opening scene of the film displays the ship slowly moving through the dark vacuum of space. This scene exemplifies the isolation of the crew, their utter separation from civilization and also displays that they are constantly only inches away from the cold death of vacuum. The ship itself echoes the gothic atmosphere of the film, its structure resembling the flying buttresses and towers that are associated with gothic architecture such as the Notre Dame Cathedral. As the shot moves into the ship this gothic atmosphere is maintained. The corridors are labyrinthine and gloomy, dimly lit technological and futuristic forms of the subterranean passageways of gothic keeps. These corridors also establish an extremely pressurized environment, emphasizing the feeling that this ship is hermetically sealed to keep the darkness and vacuum of space out that serves to create an intense sense of claustrophobia. The maintenance tunnels and air ducts of the ship are extremely dark, lit only by lights serving some function. These areas are also often filled with steam and smoke resulting from mechanical function of the ship that create further areas of unknown. Lighting in these areas is used to heighten the tension of later scenes when the crew is pursued by the alien. Ripley moves through the tunnels lit by the igniter flame of a flamethrower that creates numerous shadows and the emergency lights expressing the urgency of the scene due to the encroaching explosion of the refinery. The living quarters of the ship are colored and lit differently to exude a sense of safety and comfort. These corridors are a brilliant and virgin white and bathed in sanitary lights similar to those in a hospital. This lighting and color denies these areas any shadow and reveals everything. The alien is never seen in these areas further establishing them as a sanctuary for the crew, it is only when they venture forth into shadow that they are in danger.

When the ship receives a distress call the crew must touch down on an unknown planet to investigate. As the ship approaches the planet, it is bathed in shadow with only a fraction of its surface illuminated by some distant star. As the ship lands the surface is revealed to be mountainous and jagged with numerous outcroppings and violent cliffs and ravines. These sharp lines of contour create further shadow and express the danger of this unknown land. Beyond the imposing nature of the planet is a sense of curiosity, all of the land beyond the lights of the ship is unexplored and unknown, the wonders it could hold are limitless. As the crew ventures forth they are dwarfed by the environment and within a few steps they transcend the limits of the ship’s lights and pass into this vast unknown. This battle of safety of light versus unknown danger of shadow is a prominent theme in the film and the planet and ship wage this war in a blatant manner. As the crew moves toward the distress signal a structure entirely different from the surrounding environment appears. This alien structure is a ship, responsible for the signal that Ripley has suddenly determined to be a warning, and presents a further object of curiosity. This curiosity is impossible to deny and thus the crew moves inward.

The alien ship is composed of elements that differ entirely from the cold technological feel of the crew’s ship as well as the rocky environment of the planet it rests on. This differing environment is intended and was desired to be so striking in the film that Dir. Scott used two different designers for the opposing human and alien environments creating a powerful dichotomy between these two opposing forces. The crew has now entered into the dark land of H.R. Giger. The inside of this ship has an extremely organic appearance and is enclosed in shadow. As a crew member descends into the bowels of the ship he discovers a bed of mist enclosed by a blue light. This is the only time in the film a light that is such a blue color is witnessed and thus it feels extremely alien and expresses the alien nature of its location. This bed contains the alien eggs and as Kane (John Hurt) views them a light within the egg illuminates its contents. This light rewards the curiosity of Kane as well as the audience, revealing the pulsating organism inside as it is awakened from its slumber before it attaches itself to Kane. This instant is a time of contrast with the overall theme of the film; the light has lost its characteristic safety and instead has shown the danger that emerges from the darkness that resulted from man’s curiosity.

The alien itself is an embodiment of the previously described danger and unknown of darkness. Its body is humanoid in form but contains numerous alien characteristics that separate it from man. The alien spends much of the film as a constant threat, seeming to exist in every scene, without ever being seen, inhabiting the shadows. In this sense the alien is darkness incarnate, occupying the thoughts of the crew without a corporeal form they can seek out. Despite this lack of exposure it is a real danger, emerging from the darkness to seize a member of the crew and then returning with them to said darkness. The alien is the opposition of light and thus an enemy of technology. In this sense the alien becomes an embodiment of the devil emerging from shadow to drag man back within the darkness and out of the light of society and safety. This demon of the dark creates a contrasting danger to the reliance on technology, the false god, which creates a precipice upon which man must find firm purchase to survive.

The vibrant red color of blood is an essential color within the film. Blood is used to humanize the members of the crew as previously mentioned when Ripley fought Ash. Red blood is also used in multiple other scenes to symbolize the life of an individual when their life is lost. When the immature alien erupts from Kane’s chest blood sprays forth and covers other members of the crew. The loss of blood from his body shows his loss of life, demonstrating in a physical and tangible way that his soul has left his body. The blood that contaminates the clothes of the crew around him as well as the white walls of the ship serves to deny the innocence that previously existed. Their white jackets and are now stained in the blood of a friend and the walls of their sanctuary are painted with a warning of danger that inhabits the ship with them. This blood also baptizes the immature alien as a murderer, displaying for all the crew to see that this organism is a ferocious and merciless primal being that will kill without pause. This idea of being contaminated by blood recurs later in the film when Parker (Yaphet Kotto) is soaked in Brett’s (Harry Stanton) as the alien carries him away. In both cases the crew member who is covered in the blood of another suffers a change in personality afterwards, Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) becoming extremely on edge and nervous of the encroaching danger while Parker becomes infuriated at the loss of his friend and anger consumes him, driving him to seek out the alien while Lambert pleads they flee. Both of these crew members suffer the loss of innocence differently, and in a way often expected for their differing sexes, but both are also killed by the alien by the end of the film because of the resulting emotions this contamination by the life force of another has caused.

Yellow becomes a color associated with the presence of the alien in the film. When Dallas (Tom Skerritt) moves through the air ducts he is surrounded by the flashing of yellow maintenance lights as he descends into the tunnel where the alien captures him. Later in the film these maintenance lights are flashing throughout the ship as Ripley is pursued closely by the alien. When she does not encounter the alien in the corridors it seems the danger has passed, but as the lights indicate, she soon finds herself enclosed in an escape ship with the alien that forces her to face the darkness.

This final scene with Ripley trapped on the escape ship with the alien is the conclusion of this battle of light versus darkness. As the escape ship moves away from the refinery the refinery erupts into a brilliant white light followed by a fiery explosion. This white light and fire wiping away any evidence of the struggle Ripley has escaped while illuminating the darkness that had previously plagued her thoughts. The danger seems to have been removed with this all-encompassing light and Ripley removes her uniform exposing the white underwear contained beneath, returning her to a state of innocence and safety that had been repressed since the beginning of the film. At this point the alien once again emerges from the darkness of the ship’s recesses, once again threatening the existence of human innocence. Ripley proceeds to drive the alien out of the ship and into the darkness of space that it is more suited to. Ripley performs this act in a space suit that is all white, different from those worn earlier in the movie, providing her armor that protects her continued lack of contamination by the darkness of the alien. As the alien seeks refuge in an engine of the ship Ripley activates the engine and a brilliant blast of white light erupts from the ship burning away the silhouette of the alien and the fear and danger it represents to Ripley. Her journey has come to an end as she climbs back into a chamber similar to the one she emerged from in the beginning of the film, returning to the womb of technology and civilization.

Throughout the film Ripley avoided the contamination of the blood of her crew and the darkness of the alien. When she encountered the imprisoned crew, cocooned by the alien, she purified the remains of their shattered forms with the fire that she held, a righteous act to protect their innocence. Ripley defeated the unknown of the alien, resisting the temptations of the encroaching darkness despite being pushed to the edge of insanity. This is why she is portrayed in the white armor of the suit and even when stripped bare wears the white underwear. She is the figurative savior of mankind and the embodiment of the power of maternity, a feminine hero largely unheard of before the release of this film and still rare to this day.

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