Alien Immortalised

RANT!’S TOP TEN BADASS FILM CREATURES Series

In no particular order, Rant! articulates and analyses cinema’s most horrific creatures – from all genres of film.

Alien: the xenomorphous, fictional, endoparasitoid extra-terrestrial species that tried to kick Ellen Ripley’s ass but failed.

Designed by renowned Swiss Surrealist artist HR Geiger, and immortalised on film by Ridley Scott, Alien is the epitome of cinematic terror. When standing upright, the Aliens are almost bipedal in form although they adopt a more hunched, quadrupedal stance when walking or sprinting. Giger designed Alien’s cylindrical skull void of eyes because he felt that the creature would be much more frightening if beholders had no perception of where it was looking. The artist gave the Alien’s mouth a second inner set of Pharyngeal jaws located at the tip of a long, tongue-like proboscis, which could extend rapidly for use as a weapon. The creature’s skeletal, biomechanical form, usually coloured in muted shades of black, blue or bronze, has vaguely human attributes – thus opening the doorway for many a metaphoric interpretation.

Giger ascribes no meaning to Alien, saying

I don’t know what they mean. To me it is sometimes like when I’ve finished them they were done by someone else. And some things in it I can say at that time I was doing the painting I was fascinated about that or just during the work on the painting somebody came with something and I just incorporated that into the painting, like a box or a key or whatever.

But I argue that, in spite of Giger’s intuitive style, this is a man who creates with intent. Giger’s art is not for the faint of heart; it aims to provoke. It aims to repulse. Giger’s Alien is obscene, disgusting and deeply troublesome – and intentionally so. Alien might be considered exquisite in an ‘art for art’s sake’ kind of way but the creature was never intended for beauty; it was intended to unnerve. Harlan Ellison said of Giger, “This man knows what we fear. And he shows it to us again and again.” Alien ambiguously repels and attracts. Its primal nature invokes abhorrence but simultaneously demands consideration. Giger frees the limits of our imagination and gives us permission to delve into the origins of our personal fears – these fears, which lurk within the subconscious, are prescribed a get out of jail card through the evocation of art and cinema.

Unlike many other recurring enemy extra-terrestrial races in science fiction, the Aliens are not an intelligent civilization, but predatory creatures with no higher goal than the propagation of their species and the destruction of life that could pose a threat. The Aliens’ biological life cycle, in which their offspring are violently implanted inside living hosts before erupting from their chests, is in many ways their signature aspect. The film’s Line Producer, Ian Powell said of Giger’s Alien, “It could just as easily fuck you before it killed you, [which makes] it all the more disconcerting.” The precise horror of Alien stems from its instinctual, predatory nature – its reason for being is to breed, and the creature will do whatever it takes to spread its proverbial seed – ‘fucking’ included. In fact, Ripley is illusively impregnated with an Alien Queen in Alien3, drawing Alien and Human closer in relationship, and in design as well.

Giger said of his art, “I like to combine human beings, creatures and biomechanics. And I love to work with bones – they are elemental and function[al] and, after all, are part of human beings.” Alien has an amorphously human tone to it, and the creature’s androgyny invokes thought on the notion of sexual imagery. The Alien’s design blurs the lines between male and female and the result is a monstrous aberration of a creature; and so emanates a metaphor that requires careful dismemberment. But at the crux of the comparison is a comment on society’s perception of sexual deviance, which, in light of Scott’s film, is construed as monstrous abnormality.

Contributing to the aforementioned idea are the connotations of the word ‘alien’. The Aliens have no name – they are foreign organisms that are merely referred to according to their status. But ‘alien’ is a loaded word, not just in reference to foreign beings but more poignantly, the metaphor extends to anything ‘alien’ or ‘other’ – including Giger’s art, which adds an introspective element to the creature. As individuals we treat that which we fear or cannot understand – that which is ‘other’, be it ideas, people or art – with ignorant disdain or repugnance. In reference to Giger’s art, Harlan Ellison says;

There will always be [mediocre] men and women who gravitate to the Better Business Bureau and the Establishment of the Safe Ideas Boosters and flag wavers; pollyannas and con-artists those who lie without knowing they lie because they cannot face the truth and those with [vested] interests who lie because it is in their best interests.

What Ellison is alluding to is a general attitude of lethargy – an attitude of avoidance that seeks to be comforted rather than challenged or confronted. In so doing, truth is scorned. Giger’s Alien forces truth – it forces self-examination. It delves into the subconscious with an intent to absolve fear and thus eradicate denial. Alien coerces a confrontation with the illusive ‘other’, in whatever form, which we so often discount.

HR Giger is the mastermind behind a force that has become a pop culture icon of terror – in entertainment, in philosophy and in art. Alien is larger than life and transcends the medium in which it appears because it is an idea as well as a monster. Which makes the creature unquestionably badass!