Saturday, February 19, 2011

Women in Alien and Body Snatchers

I find the movie Alien to be a horror classic in the alien sci-fi genre. The film was groundbreaking in its special effects, (which one has to remember was in 1979), and of course for creating the creepy and iconic “alien” itself. I am more of a fan of the sequel Aliens, mainly because it simply has more action than the first one and Sigourney Weaver has more opportunities for great one liners.

One element of both films I thought was interesting was its portrayal of women. You would be hard pressed to find a starker contrast than Alien’s Ripley and the bumbling Becky from Body Snatchers. Ripley is not only a strong heroine capable of saving both her and her crew mates, but she also displays more intelligence and foresight than her male counterparts in Alien. In any genre of movie we typically see a male being the ultimate survivor and ass-kicker, so it is refreshing when a story gives us a woman like Ripley who exemplifies both bravery and strength. Ripley is certainly one of the most famous and empowered heroines in sci-fi or modern cinema. On the other hand we can rewind a mere 20 years earlier to the time of Body Snatchers and observe the faint-hearted Becky. As we discussed in class, Becky is simply incapable of doing anything without the assistance or encouragement of her savior Dr. Miles. To give her some credit she does display a bit of bravery when opting to stay with her lover instead of fleeing, (and I guess she stabbed a guy in the doctor’s office), but throughout the movie it’s pretty obvious Becky cannot take care of herself. This portrayal of a woman being beautiful, (dressed to the 9’s with hair done, full makeup, and of course high heels on), and dependent on her man was typical of the decade and an idealistic view of what women ‘should be’. A film like Alien showing a female character on quite the other end of the spectrum shows a great leap of progress for women during the time elapsed between the two films. As always, movies and pop culture reflect broader social commentaries and political meanings-and the same can be said for the representation of women in these movies and the stereotypes of the time they were made.


  1. I also appreciated how Ripley was portrayed in Alien and became frustrated throughout the movie when her crew members ignored her suggestions. In Body Snatchers, I found Becky to be very annoying throughout the entire film and especially in the end. She did not provide any intellectual contributions to conquering the aliens and only followed the direction of Miles. Though I know this is reflective of the ideals of the time, I still thought it was a bit much for her to be portrayed as such a weak, incapable woman towards the end of the movie (when Miles had to carry her to escape the aliens). Thankfully two decades after the release of this film, a woman with intellect and physical capabilities is showcased in Alien. I think the women’s liberation movement, which occurred between the productions of the two movies, probably contributed to this transformation.

  2. I was also fascinated, for lack of a better word, by the portrayal of women in the films this week. I agree that the contrast between Ripley and Becky is intense, but am slightly less forgiving of each of their roles, or perhaps more cynical. By the end of Body Snatchers, I feel pretty convinced that Becky played an almost useless role in the film, actually hindering Miles' progress in most of the action. Her position seems to have been solely to look pretty and act as the love interest to the Doctor in order to gain viewers who want more than just alien suspense. But seriously, Miles definitely would have escaped sooner if he hadn't had to carry/support/drag/console Becky and I don't think it is any consolation to say it was for love, because this is an obvious sole motivation for a woman's role in a film of this time. So, thankfully, the women's liberation movement had indeed gained some ground by the time Alien came around- and yes, she did kick ass and was the only survivor of her crew, but she still had to be such as a woman, not just a person; whenever she was almost offed, it was because of "womanly instincts" causing her to go back looking for the cat or something. Alien does do a lot more for women's independence,though, and I am glad the movie ends just with her surviving, not with her being saved by a dude or reunited with a dude- it doesn't always have to be about love for a woman to kick some ass!