David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

“Alien”: In Space, No One Can Hear You Screw Your Employees

I bought the original Ridley Scott Alien on DVD the other day, and watched it last night. I had remembered that it was scary. I had remembered that it wasn’t above the occasional gross-out scene. I had remembered that it showcased Sigourney Weaver incongruously stripping down to a very skimpy pair of underpants.

I hadn’t remembered that Alien is really a film about the exploitation of blue-collar workers. (Warning: there will be spoilers in this article.)

Sigourney Weaver in Ridley Scott's 'Alien.'On the surface, Alien is your prototypical high concept film: a monster movie in outer space. I’m willing to bet that’s how it was pitched to 20th Century Fox. And with H.R. Giger’s gloriously macabre production design, that concept might have worked in any setting.

But screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett chose a gritty commercial towing cruiser named the Nostromo. And they chose as their heroes a crew of ordinary blue-collar joes and janes whose situation in life can be summed up by the fact that they’re getting paid to waste months of time in a rickety ship under cryogenic suspension.

The fascinating moments of Alien don’t necessarily lie in the suspense of who’s-gonna-git-it-next (although the suspense is very nicely done). The fascinating part of Alien is watching the day-to-day interactions of the Nostromo‘s crew. Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (the great Yaphet Kotto) lamenting the fact that none of the others ever dirty their hands by coming down into the guts of the ship. Dallas (Tom Skerritt) making brash (and as it turns out, totally wrong) managerial decisions on the spur of the moment. Ripley (Weaver) and Ash (Ian Holm) arguing over quarantine procedure and what the proper chain of command is when senior officers aren’t aboard the ship. Parker making crude come-ons to the female members of the crew even though he knows they won’t take the bait. Unlike the fake blue-collar camaraderie of so many Hollywood films — The Abyss comes to mind — the interplay between the characters in Alien is spot on.

These are miners, people who work with their hands, people who smoke cigarettes on the job and don’t bother to pack anything more than the grubby company jumpsuit as clothing. Parker wears a ratty bandana, while Brett smokes something that looks hand-rolled and might very well be something other than nicotine. We can see in one scene that someone has chosen to decorate the walls of a supply room with nudie pictures.

How much are they getting paid? A single Company share each. The movie doesn’t say how much a Company share is worth, but I’m willing to bet that you and I would be making at least three or four of them. Two of the crewmembers aren’t even making that much; Brett and Parker spend most of their screen time in the first half of the film bemoaning the fact that they’re only earning half a share.

So when the crew of the Nostromo lands on the nameless moon to track down the source of the intercepted transmission, they’re not searching for riches or glory or the mythical lost Sceptre of Mizlpaxtrzh. No, these are tired miners heading home from a long job. They’re diverted to the moon by direct order of their employer, as a clause in the fine print of their contracts. They’ve been commanded to investigate; no investigation, no pay.

Your typical horror movie shows us bratty, spoiled rich kids getting disemboweled as punishment for their innate greed. Alien shows us low-rung, end-of-the-road schlubs getting mercilessly slaughtered by a monstrous stand-in for their corporate employers.

Oh yes, the subtext here is perfectly clear. The alien is the Company. The alien sees the human crew as just a nest to implant eggs in. According to the ship’s computer, the Company regards the crew as “expendable”; Dallas and Company’s sole purpose here is to transport the Company’s new prototype weapon back to Earth. By the film’s end, the alien’s tentacles are indistinguishable from the wires and tubes of the ship’s architecture itself, signifying that this alien is just a manifestation of the forces already devouring these blue-collar workers.

Who runs this insidious Company? What is their primary line of business? What kinds of outside pressures are bearing down on them to cause their engaging in such a ruthless research project? The later Alien films shed some light on these questions, but within the scope of the original, we just don’t know.

Remember, in the end this is a Ridley Scott film. And while Ridley Scott is a master craftsman, he is simply an entertainer a heart, just another tentacle of the ruthless corporate alien that is Hollywood filmmaking.

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  1. Menschenfresser on February 6, 2007 at 10:36 pm  Chain link

    “I don’t know who’s worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.”


  2. George Pedrosa on July 1, 2007 at 3:09 pm  Chain link

    You see a lot of things in a lot of different works (Alien, Lord of the Rings…) that I never really thought about. It’s always great to read these articles. Keep them coming.

  3. Badcop666 (Andy W) on July 16, 2007 at 2:52 am  Chain link

    Great! I sometimes just yell “fuck!” at the end of a movie to break the spell and remind people that they can say “my god that is shit!” and not just suck on the satanic cock that is the hollywood movie delivery appendage.

    Thanks for the analysis. Great. I look forward to reading your books.

  4. Ken on December 6, 2007 at 2:52 pm  Chain link

    ‘…a monster movie in outer space. I’m willing to bet that’s how it was pitched to 20th Century Fox.’

    ‘Jaws in space,’ is, I how the movie was pitched, I believe. Nice and simple.


  5. power_switch on April 30, 2008 at 3:57 pm  Chain link

    brilliant assesment! i found this whole series to actually be pretty well handled, which in itself is rare, but when you take into account each movie had a different set of direcotrs/producers/writers and so much time passed in between them it is amazing!

    i am not a fan of horror movies at all, but the Alien movies always stood out as excellent story telling.

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