Motherhood is something that crops up in horror movies frequently. Whether it’s a villainous mother getting revenge in Friday the 13th, a mother desperately trying to protect her family from a monstrous presence in The Babadook, or even the lasting effects that mothers can have on their children like in Psycho, it’s a constant theme in the genre.
The Alien film series spans eighteen years, and each film tackles various aspects of motherhood. Through the character of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), we follow the stages that come with being a mother, along with the feelings and complications each step can bring. Ripley is the only character to appear in all four of the Alien movies, and this centralised theme carries through the whole series with her. In the overly male-dominated world of sci-fi and space travel, especially in Alien 3 where Ripley is the only female character left alive, it’s refreshing to see not only a female main character but also the unique experience of motherhood featuring as such a key theme.
Alien, the first film in the series, introduces us to Ripley, establishing her as our final girl and also the lead character for the rest of the series. While the themes of motherhood are less established in this film, it is something that develops more with each instalment as Ripley’s character grows and we learn more about her.
However, it would be remiss to claim that motherhood is absent from Alien entirely, with it mainly presented through the way the aliens reproduce. When Kane (John Hurt) discovers a chamber full of alien eggs, a Facehugger emerges from one of the eggs and attaches itself to him. We see the creature moving inside the egg before it hatches — it’s wriggling, blurry movements very reminiscent of a sonogram. From that moment on, Kane becomes a mere vessel for the baby alien, only being kept alive until the alien is grown enough to burst itself out of his body. It’s perhaps a far more gruesome version of delivery, but it does conjure up images of giving birth. There’s a lot of blood, screaming, and the body doing things you wouldn’t think it would be capable of before the tiny alien baby emerges; Ash (Ian Holm) even refers to the creature as “Kane’s son”.
With Ripley the only survivor of the Nostromo, the main focus is on her when we reach Aliens. In the Special Edition version of Aliens we find out that Ripley has a daughter back on Earth, and when she awakens from stasis after the events of Alien, her daughter is the first thing she asks about. As she has been asleep for 57 years, Ripley’s daughter has sadly died, which is hard for Ripley to accept as she promised she would be home in time for her daughter’s eleventh birthday. The death of her daughter understandably hits her hard, but it also sets up her motivation for the rest of the film as well.
Ripley is asked to accompany a team of marines to a terraforming colony which her former employer has lost contact with. However, she is reluctant until she hears the colony is made up of mostly families. Having just lost what little family she had left herself, and being fully aware of the devastation the aliens can wreak, Ripley puts her fears aside in the hopes of helping some of those families and their children survive. However, it turns out there’s only one survivor after the aliens have attacked the colony, and it’s a young girl called Newt who has been hiding under the floors.
The team of marines find it hard to interact with Newt and get her to trust them, but Ripley’s motherly instincts are what calms Newt down. Rather than bombarding Newt with questions and scaring her as the others do, Ripley brings Newt a hot chocolate, washes her face, and manages to get vital information out of her about the alien attack on the colony. The two also bond later over the mother and the daughter they have lost respectively, and it’s clear that they form a bond with each other so quickly because they are both alone and help to fill the loss in each other’s lives.
However, Ripley isn’t the only mother in Aliens, as we are introduced to the Alien Queen when Newt is captured and taken to the alien nest. Ripley heads down to rescue her alone and threatens to burn the Queen’s eggs unless she lets her leave with Newt. Both mothers are on opposite sides of the fight here, but they both understand the desire to escape without their children being hurt. The Queen seems to allow them to leave in order to protect her nest, but when they are almost clear, Ripley burns the eggs anyway. This is an act of pure revenge for Ripley, as the space station is minutes from exploding.
This leads to the epic showdown between Ripley and the Queen, who rips herself free of her egg sack to chase Ripley and Newt down. While we’re on Ripley’s side in this fight, both mothers have the same motivation. They want to protect their children and kill the thing which is threatening to harm them at the same time. This is also the first time the aliens are shown to have a strong motivation that isn’t just killing and providing more vessels for baby aliens. The Queen is out for revenge and wants to kill Newt to hurt Ripley as payback for the alien eggs which Ripley destroyed.
Ripley takes on the fight, despite the seemingly unbeatable odds of both the Queen and the station minutes from exploding, to try and save Newt, or at least save her from the more vicious death that the Queen would dish out. When Ripley and Newt are eventually reunited, Newt calls Ripley “Mommy” as the two embrace.
While it seems that Ripley wins the fight, we find out in Alien 3 that the Queen laid an egg on their ship, and Ripley finds herself the host to a baby Queen. This was the Queen’s last revenge to ensure she robbed Ripley of her happy ending if she escaped, and make sure that the alien race could continue as a new Queen could create a new nest elsewhere. When their escape pod crash lands on a prison planet, Ripley is the only survivor, as Newt drowns when her stasis pod is damaged.
With Newt dead and the knowledge that she is carrying a Queen inside her, Ripley has little left to live for except to destroy the last of the aliens before she dies. Not only does she want to ensure that the aliens die forever, but she also wants revenge for Newt. Rather than the usual motherly instincts of wanting to protect the life that is growing inside her, Ripley knows that she will have to kill herself to prevent the Queen embryo from reaching maturity.
However, the alien inside her does give her an advantage, as the Xenomorph which is loose on the prison planet can sense the Queen embryo, and therefore chooses not to harm Ripley whenever they cross paths. This also hints at the closer relationship that Ripley will have with the aliens in Alien Resurrection. While Ripley and the Queen were pitted as enemies in Aliens, the Queen was willing to use Ripley to ensure the continuation of her species, meaning Ripley and the aliens are virtually family now.
While Ripley succeeds in killing herself and the baby Queen, Alien Resurrection sees Ripley being cloned so that scientists can get access to the Queen inside her. After seven failed attempts, they managed to create a successful Ripley, and even remove the Queen embryo without killing her in the process.
As the Queen and Ripley were cloned at the same time, they have both inherited features from each other. Ripley has acidic blood and is incredibly strong, but her gift to the Queen is a human reproductive system. This means the Queen now has a uterus and has to painfully give birth to a full-size Xenomorph with more human-like features. While the Queen begins by laying eggs and therefore creating a lot of standard Xenomorphs, she soon moves to a second cycle of birth which sees her giving birth more humanly. With no host to bring the alien into its final stage of life, the Newborn Xenomorph is a mixture of its two mothers: the Queen and Ripley. “Look, it thinks you’re its mother”, Dr Gediman (Brad Dourif) exclaims before the Newborn unceremoniously kills him. Because the Newborn decides that it is closer to Ripley than the Queen, it kills the Queen by ripping half her face off, despite the fact she just gave birth to it. While the Queens have a strong protective instinct towards their young, as seen in Aliens, this feeling is not reciprocated by the Newborn, and it strikes the Queen down in a moment of post-birth vulnerability.
When Ripley tries to escape, the Newborn follows her in a warped version of imprinting, and Ripley has to decide to kill the Newborn so that she and her shipmates can escape. Because the Newborn sees Ripley as it’s true mother, she is able to trick it into trusting her and leaving Call (Winona Ryder) alone for long enough so she can make a hole in the ship with her acidic blood. The Newborn is sucked into space, and even though it’s a more vicious killer than the normal Xenomorphs, Ripley is still tearful as she watches it die. While she knows it’s the right decision and that no alien can make it to Earth, her motherly instinct and the fact the Newborn alien trusted her both have an emotional effect on her.
The Alien movies do a fantastic job of showing us that the role of a mother isn’t always an easy one. Coming into contact with the aliens means Ripley never gets to see her daughter on Earth again, and also costs her the incredibly strong bond she has built with Newt. Not only that, but Ripley has to deal with being the mother of two alien creatures, which she then feels it is her responsibility to destroy, even if it means killing herself in one instance. Ripley shows that she will do whatever it takes to protect those she loves, but also that she is willing to take extraordinary measures to kill the monsters which she has helped bring into the world.
by Kim Morrison
Kim Morrison is a copywriter by trade, but a horror writer by passion, from Edinburgh, Scotland. She enjoys crocheting, has a mild obsession with bees, and a The Simpsons quote for every occasion. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
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