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Do I Still Agree With Myself?

INTRO

Since creating this website in 2013, my writing and analytical ability have developed past that displayed in many early posts, and my views and understanding of the world and many of the works I’ve covered have changed. This often niggles me, and I’ve considered deleting some posts, leaving what I consider my best, but as they’re still popular and serve as a testament to how much I’ve accomplished over the years, I’ve instead decided to create this post. I’ll be reviewing my past posts, seeing what I still agree with and what I don’t, and clarifying my current views. Who knows, maybe this will turn into an ongoing series as my perspectives are constantly evolving, and there may be other posts I discover I have issue with!

EAT THE GUN

The motivation behind this post was to praise economic writing and the song’s use of it. However, due to the lyrical content I’m examining, it could come across like I’m critical of the armed forces. I’m not, but at the time, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about going along with someone who was. I have no great knowledge or strong opinions about the military, but I’m greatly admiring of anyone willing to make a sacrifice in aid of others.

ALIEN EQUALITY (THE ALIEN FRANCHISE)

I don’t believe now the creators of Alien (dir. Scott, 1979) intended to criticise female empowerment, and I don’t think I believed it at the time. There’s actually a stronger argument for exactly the opposite, and aspects of the film I focus on can all be reinterpreted to support this. We do indeed see a future society without gender divides, and it works out pretty well as the strong female character Ripley ends up saving the day; it’s only because the male crew ignored her quarantine command that they got into trouble in the first place. The alien, symbolic of man’s bestial sexual nature, turns the male crew into victims of sexual violence, in ways previously beyond their comprehension; one even experiencing a painful childbirth as a result. The porno mag scene is clearly designed to be critical of female exploitation and sexual violence; the rabid Ash, spewing white goo, forcing the phallic magazine down Ripley’s throat. And although we do see Ripley strip to her skimpy undies for the climax, it’s revealed it’s shot from the perspective of the alien; forcing the male audience ogling Ripley to realise their connection with the beast.

As mentioned in the post, this analysis was inspired by my recent discovery of viewing films through the lens of feminism, and I believe I was motivated more by exploring this exciting new way of looking at films than I was with making a genuine exposé. This is also a symptom of university essay writing, which encourages analysis based on interpretation rather than fact. If you can justify it via your own interpretation of the screen language, it’s acceptable, whether you believe it was the filmmakers’ true intention or not. I don’t have a problem with this, in fact, I’m all for it! Finding connections and meanings in films that weren’t necessarily the filmmakers’ intention is half the fun of analysis. You can get into trouble, though, if you’re stringently critical of filmmakers for meanings in their films you’ve created yourself. I’d like to avoid ever coming across like this in future.

Aliens (dir. Cameron, 1986) does indeed reward Ripley with a family, symbolically returning her to the role of loving wife and mother. I don’t believe now, though, that this has to be viewed negatively. She’s never once depicted as weak in comparison to her male counterparts or shown she doesn’t belong in the heat of the action; quite the opposite. She draws strength from her maternal instincts, as male action heroes often have from their paternal ones (protecting family, being rewarded with one; common action movie tropes: see Mad Max), and this is to be commended. You maybe wouldn’t want ‘independent woman becomes wife and mother’ to be the plot of every action movie, but I don’t think there’s anything sexist about it here.

I think I make some good points in my analysis of Alien 3 (dir. Fincher, 1993) – an underrated film – in particular, recognising its depiction of a patriarchal society and rape culture; there’s depth to this film that’s often overlooked. There are a few points that were maybe just my own interpretation, tying together the overall point of the post, and not the director’s intention (the symbolism of Ripley’s sacrifice for example), but as I said earlier, that’s half the fun of analysis!

STRANGER, DARKER, MADDER… (LOVE AND MONSTERS)

My analysis of how Love and Monsters criticises fans who have a very inflexible view of what Doctor Who should be, comes across a bit hypocritically intolerant. That was not my intent. I would never want to suggest people aren’t entitled to an opinion, more that people who are unwilling to accept the greater possibilities of what Doctor Who (and life) can be are missing out on a lot of strangeness, darkness and madness!

JUST ONE MAN CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

In the first of my Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) posts, I posited that, despite their misleading appearance, the Marauders have more in common with traditional society, and the Settlers have more in common with the counterculture, but it is their more traditional beliefs that are their weakness. I think now, rather than representing any particular group, more simply, the Marauders are representative of what Miller considers the evil of humanity, and the Settlers, the good. The Marauders rape, war, pillage; they operate via a dictatorship, and they’re stuck in a cycle of selfish consumption. They lack a higher purpose and a desire to better themselves, which the Settlers have, along with democracy and a sense of community, family, and loyalty. The Settlers’ connection to self-sufficiency ties them with the counterculture (Pappagallo is a bit of an old hippy) but that’s more to do with the film’s criticism of fossil fuels (such an ironic theme) than an attempt to connect them with a particular group, and they possess many traditional qualities. Max is tempted over to the side of the Settlers and away from the marauding lifestyle once he’s given a purpose and a chance to better himself. The fact he’s betrayed – although he doesn’t seem too bothered about this – does add some ambiguity to the Settlers, but I don’t believe it’s their traditional beliefs that are being called into question. Perhaps, instead, it acts as a warning that although we require purpose in life, devotion to a cause can sometimes cloud one’s morality. I posited that the Settlers’ traditional community values give them a distrust of outsiders that prevents them from truly accepting the marauder-like Max and that their religious conviction leads to their act of betrayal. I no longer believe this was Miller’s intention. The Settlers’ initial distrust of Max is just a logical reaction, and their belief in paradise and Max’s martyrdom does not act as a criticism of religion, rather an endorsement of purpose and sacrifice and the spiritual power of storytelling.

GEORGE MILLER: there’s something that compels us collectively as human beings to find meaning in the universe. I mean, we can’t exist without that. And we do it through stories and narratives in order to explain the universe to ourselves. Or life to ourselves. And in all cultures across all time and space as humankind, we do that. We do that spontaneously. And I think that’s the function of storytelling, and some stories are so compelling, they become mythologies and indeed religions.”

IF WE CAN’T STICK TOGETHER (MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME)

In my Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller, 1985) post, I posited that it ‘also’ acts as a criticism of traditional (Western) society. I was closer to the truth in this case as it does offer a blatant critique of capitalism and seemingly supports a Marxist philosophy. However, knowing little of economics or politics at the time (I’m still far from an expert), but having done a little research into Marxism, I was quick to side with this critique without pinpointing any possible flaws. For example, we see those at the bottom of the hierarchy offered no payment for their services and no opportunity to climb the ladder. Not really reflective of capitalism. This lack of opportunity for social mobility and the fact that Pig Killer and his ilk are working solely in service of the state arguably aligns Bartertown more closely with communism. Either way, as I’ve mentioned, economics and politics are not my expertise, so I’ll keep away from siding with political ideologies, as I did here and in other posts, in future (certainly not before doing more research). The film also offers a more pointed criticism of religion, suggesting it can halt social progress. However, Savannah’s final monologue, again, endorses the spiritual power of storytelling.

HOMOPHOBIC HORROR

This was a piece of coursework written in the final year of my degree that I later posted on my website. It again suffers from the university essay ‘interpretation over fact’ philosophy. It’s unquestionable that Strangers on a Train (dir. Hitchcock, 1951) and Pyscho (dir. Hitchcock, 1960) used homosexuality and transvestism to enhance their killers’ perversion, that Strangers’ protagonist, Guy, was a prototype final girl, and that these films, as well as real-life killers, had a huge influence on the slasher genre and its continuing characterisation of homosexuals and transvestites as deranged deviants. However, I don’t believe for one second and didn’t at the time that every final girl is symbolically a male in the midst of a sexual crisis. The concept just allowed for a new spin on the material that would make an interesting essay; much like my Alien analysis.

HOPE AND FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

As they were based on interpretations of the earlier movies that I now disagree with, my hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015) now, on the whole, don’t reflect what I’d be hoping for from a new Mad Max movie. I’m not particularly interested in the Mad Max series giving direct criticisms of capitalism (or the rock industry. Where did that one come from?), more human ills in general. I’m not sure why I was hoping for a clearer critique of the military, having no strong opinions about it (see Eat the Gun). I suspect I’d just foreseen the possibility of this happening and felt I should include it. I was hoping for feminist themes (my obsession at the time), criticising female oppression, and again I unfairly criticise heroines with maternal instincts (see Alien Equality). Again, a more rounded view of humanity’s ills would be appreciated today. I enjoy the religious symbolism of the Mad Max series and its contemplations on the spiritual power of storytelling and would always hope for their inclusion. However, while criticism of religious extremism and manipulation are alright with me, I would not hope for a negative depiction of religion in general. Ponderings on the afterlife are, again, alright with me, but I’m not sure why I was seeking a definitive statement on Miller’s belief in the existence of Heaven or Hell; I’d prefer a little more ambiguity these days. Today I’d give a big ‘no’ to the possibility of any romantic relationship for Max. Giving him a partner or a family would undermine the self-sacrificing nature of his character; unless they were planning on ending the series. Lastly, I’m still in total agreement with myself that CGI and an overly talky Max have no place in the franchise!

DEAD IN JOBURG (DISTRICT 9), ELYSIUM SYNOPSIS, CHAPPIE

I still agree that the depictions of ethnic groups (and aliens representing ethnic groups) in District 9 (dir. Blomkamp, 2009) and Elysium (dir. Blomkamp, 2013) range from stereotypical to arguably racist and that they, along with Chappie (dir. Blomkamp, 2015), have character development and plot issues. However, I’m a little strident in my delivery. I was trying to break away from the university essay writing style at this time, but there’s still elements of it here (the adamant assuredness of my position) mixed with attempts at a more relaxed style, which in places makes me come across like a real arrogant bitch (criticising Blomkamp’s political commentary when I’m no political expert myself). Thankfully, I think I’ve developed a more personable, relaxed style since then; hopefully displayed in this post.

MAD MAX

In my Mad Max (dir. Miller, 1979) post, I describe it as my least favourite of the original trilogy due to its morally questionable material. I suggest its depiction of Toecutter’s gang vilifies the counterculture while Max’s job as a cop suggests support for the establishment. I now disagree with this. The gang, like the Marauders, more likely represent the evils of humanity, with their lawlessness and purposeless self-indulgence. While Max and his job represent moral duty, and law and order; hardly things to be criticised. The gang’s homosexual characterisation is questionable as it bears similarities to the previously mentioned slasher killers, being used to heighten their perversion. However, there is the argument that the use of gay characters is meant to represent a sexually liberated future, with Max’s commanding officer Fifi also characterised as gay. I label Fifi’s characterisation as stereotypical, but he is a unique and memorable character, in a respected position, traditionally held by straight, masculine males, so that was perhaps a little unfair. I also cite Max’s traditional family life being presented as the ideal in comparison to the homosexual gang as being problematic. This argument is weakened when we consider the defence of the gang’s homosexual characterisation and the true themes of the trilogy, purpose and betterment. Max’s family are representative of this as are the surrogate families in the sequels he’s given the chance to help and protect (as he failed to do with his), showing the series is rightly supportive of families, and the protective nature of the parental figure (see Alien Equality). I was also critical of the film’s grim ending, but as this is clearly presented as a tragedy, it is in no way morally corrupt, and actually makes the message harder hitting, as seeing our hero (and identity figure) losing his purpose in life and giving into the gang culture and survival of the fittest philosophy, makes it easier for us to empathise with the film’s themes. Far from being morally bankrupt, Mad Max contains many admirable moral messages, and has gone up in my estimations to become my second favourite of the series (nothing can top Mad Max 2).

A further note on the fridging of Max’s wife, Jessie, and fridging in general. I referred to Jessie’s death as an example of fridging at odds with the feminism of the sequels. Fridging is used to describe instances in which a female character close to a male one is killed to further his arc. I now believe to describe Jessie’s death and every instance of this trope as sexist is a little ridiculous. Characters (male and female) close to protagonists are killed off all the time to symbolise themes and further the protagonist’s arc; Goose, Max’s dog, Mufasa, Newt, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. It doesn’t automatically make it sexist every time it happens to a female one. After all, it’s not their story, it’s the protagonist’s, and good economic writing dictates it’s they who should be the main focus. Not every support character can have agency, be a hero, and have a happy ending; that would just be a mess. It may be the case that more female characters are fridged than males (but thinking off the top of my head, I mostly came up with males), but rather than being a symptom of inherently sexist writing, that’s probably more to do with the majority of writers being male and creating male heroes, which I don’t think they should be criticised for (good writers write what they know). More female filmmakers and writers would probably reverse this trend (if indeed it exists; I haven’t seen the stats). Jessie, and Max’s love for her, are symbolic of purpose and betterment, and the lose of the positive influence of a woman in Max’s life is presented as a complete tragedy. Male writers should be praised for viewing women in such a way, not criticised.

ONLY FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Much I disagree with here. My central argument is that Furiosa should’ve been the only wife of Immortan Joe as the Fives Wives are superfluous, lacking character and agency, which reduces them to figures of objectification; contradicting the feminist themes of the film. This thinking is based on the rules of economic writing – don’t use any more characters than you need to – but I now see why the Wives are needed and where their agency lies. While Furiosa possesses a lot of agency, if she were the only wife, she’d resemble little more than your stereotypical rape revenge heroine, and while the Wives don’t do any of the kick-ass fighting, their agency is that of endurance. They have survived abuse through endurance and had the bravery to decide to seek help and flee their captor; it is they who set the whole plot in motion, not Furiosa. The implication being abused women shouldn’t have to be kick-ass fighters to be seen as heroes; there’s bravery in endurance and having the will to escape oppression. It’s true they wear skimpy clothing, opening them up for objectification, but the scene I cite where they’re washing each other with the hose is shot from Max’s perspective, inviting the male audience to ogle them, connecting them with the oppressive male characters of the film (it’s the same trick from Alien), and arguably this is done for the whole film. I still think as characters they’re underdeveloped and doing more than just giving one of them a weak love story would probably have been a good idea. Speaking of which, I still totally agree that Nux’s sacrifice is uninteresting and we would’ve connected with it more if it were given to Max. I’m not sure about cutting Max altogether and making this a Furiosa film, it probably could’ve worked, but having male and female characters learn to work together is a more positive way to go.

My statement that the film doesn’t expand much on what we learnt from interviews and trailers is utterly vacant. There’s a great deal going on in the film under the surface, but I think my overall disappointment with it on first viewing meant I just wasn’t looking. Everything we need to know about the world and the characters is shown to us, instead of repeatedly told; which is how it should be. I’ll give a brief summary but it’d take a whole new post to get everything. It’s another amplification of humanity’s ills. It depicts society as a perpetual war machine, kept going by a power-hungry man (that’s who killed the world) just so he can cling onto power. Women are employed as baby making machines while the men don’t fare much better, being bred and brainwashed solely for war; willing to die for the glory of their divine leader. Like the Marauders, they’re stuck in a cycle, with no higher purpose or chance for betterment, which is what they’re given via the altruistic actions of our heroes. It’s not on the whole how I view society, but it’s a credible exaggeration of the worst of humanity and certainly a layered depiction. I still prefer the original trilogy with its zero use of CGI and better use of Max, but I’ll gladly admit I was unfairly critical of this first time around.

MISSING MEL (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Never thought this actually could or should’ve happened – I wasn’t campaigning for it – but it would’ve made a cool (possibly better) movie, and if they got the go-ahead ten years earlier, this could be quite close to how it would’ve turned out. As it is, I still think it’s a nice bit of fanwank.

THE MAN WHO CAME FROM THE SKY (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

This post continued the assumptions (I now believe to be incorrect) made in my first Mad Max 2 post about the film’s themes and what Max, the Settlers, and the Marauders represent. I also suggest the Gyro Captain’s ownership of a snake connects him with Satan and reveals him as the true villain of the piece. An interesting but farfetched analysis, his snake more likely representing his cunning nature, and his minor deceptions hardly paint him as the ultimate evil.

THE LIGHT AND THE DARK (STAR WARS: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY)

I cited the subversion of the ‘women as reward’ trope as something I like about Star Wars (dir. Lucas, 1977), and I still very much like this. However, it’s probably the subversion of the damsel in distress character that’s more appealing. No one likes the whiny damsel in distress, always stumbling into trouble, which makes Leia’s feisty, pistol-packing princess a really enjoyable innovation. The fact she’s not given to one of the male characters as a reward for their heroism is a bonus as it allows for a more unconventional story. It also showed excellent foresight as it would’ve dulled the character for the sequel, which is exactly what it did do when it happened (Leia doesn’t act like Leia in Jedi). I would like to point out, though, that, like fridging (see Mad Max), describing every instance of this trope as sexist would be ridiculous (not that I was doing that). Of course you want strong female characters, but the guy getting the girl doesn’t always equate to sexism. A female love interest may not always be as developed as a male protagonist but, again, it’s not their story, and she may be symbolic of very positive views of women (see Mad Max). Furthermore, female protagonists are given men as reward just as often. Some might consider this sexist, though, as it places them in a traditional gender role (you can’t win sometimes). Viewing films through the lens of feminism can be interesting and is definitely worthwhile, pushing writers to consider subversions of stereotypical characterisations and worn out, old tropes. However, it can also be very restrictive, to both creativity and enjoyment, if you are too extreme in your readings.

I offered Han and Leia’s relationship as something I don’t like about Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980). I asked why does she fall for him as all he seems to do is act in a sexist manner and she seems quite adamant she’s not interested in him? I rewatched Empire before starting this post in a deliberate attempt to find material to counteract this argument but sadly didn’t find much. The first time we see Leia, she’s staring across the room at Han, suggesting feelings for him, but it’s subtle and easily missed or interpreted differently. Han expresses his feelings more openly, being rather sweet and sincere when he goes to say goodbye to her. Leia is very harsh in her response, and in the subsequent arguments, Han suggests Leia is concealing her feelings. However, not much is done to suggest this is true, as she constantly refutes his claims. It also begs the question, why is she doing this? Fear that it will undermine her position, or of falling in love in such difficult times? Possibly, but again, it’s not suggested. Han is protective and shows a lot of concern for her, but she’s always pushing him away when he does this, and when they finally kiss, Han comes across like a real sleaze, forcing himself on her (she escapes the situation as quick as she can). It’s true Leia is a bit stuck up and rude and could maybe learn to relax a bit, like Han, but this suggests the theme of the love story is ‘she really wants it, she just needs to loosen up a bit’, and I can’t really defend that. I also criticise Han not telling Leia he loves her, but more because it shows he hasn’t really changed or done anything to deserve her. The line is definitely better than the alternative, suggesting character and avoiding being mawkish; and the feelings are all expressed visually anyway.

I still don’t like Leia being revealed as Luke’s sister in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (dir. Marquand, 1983). It’s a ridiculous coincidence, mainly done for shock value, and doesn’t fit with what we’ve seen and been told so far. However, my criticism that she doesn’t react to the fact Darth Vader is also revealed as her father could be argued against. Her emotional interaction with Han after the revelation suggests distress, and her inability to divulge the truth suggests fear it could endanger her friends. I also state it doesn’t affect the story. This is a major oversight, as it sets up the most crucial moment of the climax; Vader using it against Luke, inciting him to embrace his anger and the dark side. It’s still a very silly twist, though. It would’ve been better if the other hope for the Jedi that Yoda refers to in Empire was Vader. It is, after all, Vader who kills the Emperor and destroys the dark side. This would show Yoda’s wisdom and strong connection to the force, knowing there is still hope for Vader, and reveal he was training Luke to turn his father back to good all along (like all his teachings suggest). This is even suggested in the mise-en-scene in Empire as Yoda is surrounded by black and bathed in red (the colours of Vader) just as he delivers the line, “no, there is another”.

IT’S TERRIBLE, IT REALLY IS (GHOSTBUSTERS 2016)

I professed earlier that I’d developed a more personable style of analysis, devoid of the more strident (and bitchy) elements found in some of my early work, back when I was still refining my technique. Yet it’s hard to describe my review of Ghostbusters (dir. Feig, 2016), my latest film review, as anything other than strident and bitchy. My explanation for this? Ghostbusters is a truly terrible movie. I don’t regret one word.

CONCLUSION

Well, that, along with finally putting The Darning Needle behind me, was a satisfying purging experience. Now I can get on with bringing you brand new analyses, films, scripts, and other projects in the coming year!

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It’s Terrible, It Really Is (Ghostbusters, 2016)

Intolerably loud and garish. The original was set in a semi-real world, the support characters were played straight, while the leads were unique characters in a unique situation and the comedy came naturally from this. This is set in a full-on comedy world, or more accurately, a full-on ‘bad’ comedy world. OTT characters spout nonstop cringe-inducing jokes, utterly brain-numbing compared to the dry wit and sarcasm of their forebears and relentless in their awfulness; the only interruption coming from the even more dire cameo appearances. The most embarrassing material is given to Chris Hemsworth as Kevin, the Ghostbusters’ dim-witted secretary, who confusingly has a dog named Mike Hat. Yes, it sounds like ‘my cat’, that’s the joke! The bombardment of awful visuals is almost as sickening as the verbal diarrhoea spewing from the characters’ mouths. The bright, shiny, CGI ghosts look pathetic compared to the graphic and, in some cases, genuinely horrific creatures from the original, and the cartoony action sequences again rob the world and characters of any realism.

ghost 4

Stuff of nightmares vs. puff the magic dragon.

As well as brainless comedy, there’s also plenty of brainless morality on display. Okay, the morality of the original is questionable, with Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman coming across as a bit of a sex pest, but this is just mean-spirited in the extreme. The ‘Big Bads’ from the first two films were mythical demigods, creatures that thought themselves above ordinary humans but who were defeated by heroic underdogs. In this film, the underdog’s the bad guy. A recluse, an outsider, a loner, driven to take revenge on society because he doesn’t fit in (judging by their disrespectful comments against fandom, perhaps he’s intended to represent the kind of person the filmmakers think will dislike their awful movie). I was waiting for an acceptable payoff for this, hoping the Ghostbusters, characterised in some ways as outsiders themselves, would help or embrace their familiar. But no, instead they offered a cruel joke about his assumed virginity and then blasted the poor bastard to hell. The final line of the film is “that’s not terrible, not terrible at all”. Sorry, but it is, it really is.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Happy Halloween! Today I’m posting about that terrifying Halloween classic, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (dir. Speilberg, 1982). E.T. is the tale of a parasitic alien from the darkest depths of space, who infiltrates a family home and attaches itself to a small boy, forming a symbiotic relationship that drains the boy’s life-force. A brave group of government agents must battle to save the boy and defeat the monster; before it’s too late! Okay, that might be the story told from an adult character’s point of view, but E.T. is not a story told from an adult’s point of view. E.T. is a story about empathy, an attribute we see facilitated through childhood innocence and impeded by adult ignorance and misplaced authority that must be rebelled against. Immediately upon being stranded, E.T. is hounded by a group of adult hunters, viewing his otherness as dangerous to their way of life and something to be extinguished. E.T. is able to find refuge with a child, Elliot (Henry Thomas), who hides him from adult persecution. Elliot does not see E.T. as a monster, but as a person in need of help who has been separated from their home and family. Elliot is able to empathise with E.T., having recently had a split in his family, with his father leaving his mother (Dee Wallace). Before the arrival of E.T., Elliot is insecure and lonely, being picked on and excluded by his older brother Michael (Robert Mac Naughton) and his friends. He is also immature and inconsiderate, bringing up the fact that his father has run off with another woman in front of his younger sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore). This upsets his mother and angers Michael (“Damn it. Why don’t you grow up, think how other people feel for a change?”). The arrival of E.T. sees Elliot take Michael’s advice, as having to care for someone in a similar position, sees him mature and gain confidence and purpose.

et-elliott

E.T. does indeed form a symbiotic relationship with Elliot, but there is nothing sinister about it. Instead, it is used to emphasise the importance of empathy. E.T. and Elliot share emotional and physical experiences; getting hungry, scared and ill together. Seeing them share these experiences reminds us that although E.T. is different to us, he still feels the same and should be treated equally. E.T. and Elliot’s empathy goes beyond consideration for intelligent life, as an affinity with all of nature, including animal and plant life, is displayed. E.T. is able to live in harmony with all living things, caring for them as though they were part of him. This is shown through his ability to heal, as he mends a cut on Elliot’s finger and brings a flower back to life. Thanks to his relationship with E.T., Elliot develops empathy for other life, freeing the frogs that are about to be dissected in science class and starting a youth revolt against the ruling adult teacher (Richard Swingler). The teacher is another example of adult cruelty and detachment. He treats the frogs as just things to be experimented on; just as Elliot fears the ‘adult’ authorities will treat E.T. (“they’ll give it a lobotomy or do experiments on it”).

Freeing the frogs.

The film expresses the importance of family. Separated from his family, E.T. grows ill but recovers upon their return. The family home is used to symbolise an ideal empathetic environment; there E.T. is safe and cared for by those who treat him as kin. Childhood is used as a symbol of virtue, as E.T. is taught about the world through the use of toys, watching kids TV shows and reading children’s books, and his idea to “phone home” is inspired by a children’s comic. He is also, at one point, mistaken for a soft-toy, an item that is the focus of childhood love and care, but that is later abandoned by adults. This shows the importance of carrying childhood empathy into adulthood and bringing the love and care shared within a family into the outside world. When the government agents track down E.T. to Elliot’s home, we see the devastating effect a cold-hearted ‘adult’ view of the world has. They transform the warm, empathetic environment into a sterile laboratory; intending to experiment on E.T. just like the frogs in science class. They believe they want to understand E.T., but unlike Elliot, they do not try and communicate with him; their lack of empathy means they only know how to take apart and destroy. Again, a youth revolt saves the day, as Elliot, Michael and his friends rescue E.T. from the government agents and return him to his people.

ET

E.T. is a messianic figure. He comes from the heavens, heals the sick, dies and is resurrected. Upon his resurrection, we see him dressed in white robes, and finally, he ascends back into the heavens. Unlike most messianic figures, his message is simple, as simple as his last words to Gertie, “be good“. A message of empathy. Spielberg has described E.T. as “a minority story“. E.T. is a minority on Earth, Elliot is also a minority, beginning the story as a loner. Through empathy, they are able to ignore their surface distinctions and join together to overcome adversity. That is the film’s message to the world – to put aside our difference, embrace our commonality and have compassion for one another. As E.T.’s spaceship departs, it leaves a rainbow in the sky; a symbol of universal harmony, unity and hope.

rainbow

Additional Points

  • Elliot has rainbow curtains in his bedroom – symbolising his empathetic outlook.
  • I don’t like that the girl Elliot kisses in class (Erika Eleniak) is seen standing on a chair, screaming when the frogs are freed. It’s a sexist stereotype (girls are fragile little things, afraid of creepy critters). It would make much more thematic sense if the large boy who struggles with Elliot to keep his frog in his jar was scared of the frogs – cruelty comes through fear and ignorance.
  • Gertie is read Peter Pan. Specifically, the scene where Tinker Bell is brought back to life by children’s belief in fairies. This fits with the film’s theme of the virtue of maintaining childhood innocence. Later, the children fly on their bicycles and are silhouetted in front of the moon; another nod to Peter Pan.

 

Dark Star

A film that may provide some explanation for the similarities between Alien (dir. Scott, 1979) and The Ark In Space (1975) is Dark Star (dir. Carpenter, 1974). Released a year before The Ark in Space, it is a possible influence, and also happens to be written by Dan O’ Bannon, who wrote Alien.

Dark Star is also critical of conformism, featuring an irritable crew who are repressed by the conformism and regimentation of their work. The crew must address each other by their surnames, and this reaches such extremes that at one point a crew member confesses he has forgotten his first name. The crew talk wistfully of the individual hobbies they had back on Earth. Lt. Doolittle (Brian Narelle) talks endlessly of his love for surfing. While the deceased Commander Powell (Joe Saunders), who is kept in stasis by being merged with the ship’s computer, once revived, talks of his love for football, but forgets important facts about his favourite team, as the ships systems rob him of his identity. The Ark in Space also uses man’s merger with technology as a metaphor for conformity, and Alien uses the idea to suggest possible dangers of gender-equalityThe ship’s computer in Dark Star is also named Mother, an obvious influence on Alien, and a possible inspiration for the artificial family unit in The Ark in Space. The end of the film sees the ship’s destruction, but Lt. Doolittle rides to safety on a surfboard he forms from the wreckage. This represents him rejecting the mechanical conformity that the ship symbolised, as he creates a symbol of his individuality from its remains and rides it to freedom

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Dark Star also features a destructive alien creature, but it is mostly used for comic relief, presented as a mischievous gremlin rather than a deadly menace. It is possible that both Alien and Ark merely developed the themes of Dark Star, choosing to enlarge the role of the monster and have it symbolise their chosen thematic evil. However, this does not explain the technical similarities between each work’s alien creature, such as their gestation inside a human host and their multiple life cycles. Although I have not seen the films, I have heard that the Alien creature was also inspired by parasitical monsters from the B-movies, It! The Terror From Beyond Space (Dir. Cahn, 1958) and Planet of the Vampires (Dir. Bava, 1965). Perhaps the Wirrn was also inspired by these creatures? If not, the similarities between The Ark in Space and Alien are either a massive coincidence or the creators of Alien owe the creators of The Ark in Space a huge debt, which, as of yet, has not been expressed.

Alien Equality (The Alien Franchise)

My adaptation, being my first work to feature a female protagonist, has got me thinking recently about gender equality within films. Searching for a focus for this topic, a presentation I held, analysing Aliens (dir. Cameron, 1986) using the theoretical framework of Christopher Vogler’s The Hero’s Journey, led me to examine the entire Alien franchise, considering notions of gender equality. Note that I will be analysing the extended cuts of all the films.

The ‘Alien’ franchise is renowned for its portrayal of gender equality due to its central female protagonist, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Ripley is as intelligent and physically capable as your standard male action-movie hero, an anomaly in a genre littered with women who are nothing more than child-like, screaming incompetents. Although this characterisation has undoubtedly been positive, proving female action heroes can give as good as any man, analysing the films further shows that they are far from entirely positive portraits of gender equality.

The original film, Alien (dir. Scott, 1979), although depicting a society in which there is no longer a divide between gender roles, is strewn with male anxiety over the possibility of this future. At the start of the film, the characters emerge into a technological world in which it is suggested the traditional mother role has been abandoned. They are figuratively born into the world, blinkingly emerging half-naked from their cryogenic chambers; an unnatural birth rather than one born of innate sexual interaction. They are cared for by the ship’s computer, titled Mother, suggesting technology has now superseded female ownership of this role. The crew consists of both men and women working side by side as equals, and the extended duration of the mission suggests the role of housewife and mother has long been forgotten.

Alien cryo

At first, it seems there are no problems with this sexless society, but when the crew enter the world of the Alien, the film’s fears of what the natural progression of such a society may result in are revealed. The Alien is discovered on a ship that like the crew’s own sees the technological superseding the biological but to such a great extent that they have merged. The ship’s only inhabitant, besides the Alien, referred to by the film’s crew as the Jockey, is found dead, seemingly growing out of the ship, fully merged with the technology. Its chest has burst open from the inside, the results of the Alien’s aberrant birth. This suggests that the Alien monstrosity was born of a society devoid of gender division, in which technology has replaced the need for heterosexual sex. This assumption is confirmed in the film’s prequel, Prometheus (dir. Scott, 2012), in which the Jockey is revealed to be part of a society consisting entirely of males that genetically engineered the Alien species, only for it to turn against them. In this horrific world, where there is no divide between sexes, the Alien and its habitat, visualised as a perverse mesh of male and female genitalia, are the embodiment of this horror.

Alien Sexual imagery

Prime examples of male anxiety over a genderless society are the Alien’s rape and impregnation of Kane (John Hurt) and its offspring’s resultant birth. These instances present male fear of loss of sexual dominance; the fear of becoming vulnerable and/or victims if they become woman’s equal. Another of the film’s much-praised scenes is Ash’s (Ian Holm) attempt to kill/symbolically rape Ripley. Ash attempts to rape Ripley by suffocating her with a rolled up pornographic magazine, acting as a phallic symbol. The use of the magazine is significant as it suggests disapproval of women being seen as purely sexual objects. This scene has been used to support claims of the film’s feminist outlook, but these theories are easily dismissed. At the start of the scene, it is revealed Ash is not a man but an android. He represents a proto-Alien, a perverse blend of the biological and the technological, also inclined to unnatural and violent sexual attacks. He is another step on the ladder in the transition from a safe male-dominated world to the horror of the genderless Alien nightmare. Furthermore, for all this scene’s supposed criticism of females being seen as purely sexual objects, at the climax of the film, we see Ripley, for no logical reason, strip down to her skimpy underwear as she strolls around the escape ship, the camera lingering on her buttocks. Here we see Ripley reduced to the role of sex object, which evidence suggests, the film’s makers, consciously or subconsciously, believe is her rightful place.

Alien

Applying Vogler’s theory to Aliens provides further evidence suggesting the franchise’s creators are determined that females remain in their traditional roles. At the start of the film, Ripley is awoken from her cryogenic chamber 57 years after the events of Alien. We discover, although it is not alluded to in Alien in any way, that she was, in fact, mother to a young daughter, who has long since passed away. Vogler describes this loss as ‘the hero’s lack’.

CHRISTOPHER VOGLER: “They are lacking something, or something is taken away from them. Often they have just lost a family member.”

Ripley’s dreams are haunted by terrifying visions of the Alien. Vogler identifies this as a ‘tragic flaw’, a weakness the hero must overcome to gain their rewards. Upon discovering that contact has been lost with a colony that was built on the planet where the Alien was discovered, Ripley reluctantly joins a group of marines travelling to the planet to annihilate the Alien threat. Once there, she takes charge of the mission after its original leader proves incompetent, and again proves she’s as physically capable and resourceful as any man. She takes charge of an orphaned child, Newt (Carrie Henn), and forms a close bond with a handsome marine, Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn). At the film’s climax, Newt is taken by the Aliens to the Alien Queen’s nest. Upon rescuing Newt and defeating the Alien Queen, Newt verbally acknowledges Ripley as her mother and Ripley’s relationship with Hicks moves on from mere friendship to romance. Furthermore, upon entering their cryogenic chambers to return home, Ripley informs Newt it is now safe for them both to dream, showing that by overcoming the Aliens she has overcome her ‘tragic flaw’ and received her reward of a surrogate family, fulfilling her ‘lack’. Vogler’s theory shows that the entire film is structured to return Ripley, a strong independent woman, to the traditional female role of loving wife and mother. A most anti-feminist message.

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I have chosen not to give serious consideration to Alien Resurrection (dir. Jeunet, 1997), being as it features a female character who seems to exist solely to show off her bum whilst having a sexy massage, and Ripley, with the line, “so who have I got to fuck to get off this boat?“, offers to whore herself out to anyone who can take her to safety. Therefore, I’m concluding my examination with Alien 3 (dir. Fincher, 1992). Although disowned by its director and the recipient of poor reviews from fans and critics, Alien 3 presents a positive depiction of gender equality unlike anything else in the franchise.

Ripley’s ship crash lands on a prison planet, her surrogate family does not survive, and an Alien is set loose on the prison. The prison is inhabited by male convicts who have found religion. The convicts are immediately hostile towards Ripley. Unwilling to accept a female into their society, they believe Ripley should be locked up and segregated from the rest of the inhabitants. They consider her mere presence an incentive to rape, firmly establishing their belief that women are inferiors, who can be nothing but victims of a male dominated society.

Only upon the death of the society’s patriarch is Ripley accepted as an equal, which after the death and chaos of the first part of the film results in productivity, as the inhabitants begin successfully working together to defeat the Alien menace. Upon capturing the Alien, there are extended shots of the convicts walking in slow motion under the sprinklers. In keeping with the film’s religious themes, this is symbolic of a rebirth for the convicts as they are cleansed of their past misogynistic sins. Here the film clearly approves the incorporation of women into society as equals. After the Alien’s initial capture, it is again set loose by Golic (Paul McGann). Golic did not participate in the democratic capture of Alien as he was locked up after becoming fanatical after first encountering it. Earlier in the film, Golic gives this speech to Ripley:

GOLIC: “You married? You should get married, have kids. Pretty girl. I used to know lots of ’em, back home. They used to like me…for awhile. You’re gonna die too.”

This shows that Golic supports traditional gender-based roles for women. It also reveals that he sees women as objects, as it is implied that once girls resisted his sexual advances, he would murder them. Golic empathises with the Alien, both being sexual predators. He also worships it as a satanic figure that symbolises his wicked temptation, referring to it as ‘the beast’, claiming it ‘eats minds’, talks to him, and tells him what to do. Golic eventually succumbs to this temptation, releasing the sexually predatory Alien back into the newly formed egalitarian society.

During the course of the film, Ripley discovers she was impregnated by the Alien during her cryogenic stasis and decides to take her life rather than let the creature inside her live. Dillon (Charles S. Dutton) pleads with her, “you can still have a life, children”, but in opposition to the message of Aliens, Ripley rejects motherhood. Ripley sacrifices herself by throwing herself into the ironworks, her arms outstretched in a Christ-like pose. We have seen via its relationship with Golic that the Alien of Alien 3 is representative of male abuse and dominance of women. This is supported by the fact that the creature is born from an animal in this instalment, a merging of man and beast rather than man and woman. Ripley, therefore, dies for the sins of a male dominated society, sacrificing herself rather than letting the Alien that embodies these sins live.

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