Back to top

Gallardo and Smith's AlienWoman


AlienWoman: The Making of Lt. Ellen Ripley.

Gallardo, Ximena C., and C. Jason Smith. New York: Continuum, 2004. 241 pgs. Softcover, $19.95. ISBN: 0826415709.

<1>Ximena Gallardo C. and C. Jason Smith's recent book, AlienWoman, is a truly fascinating analysis of the relationship/conflict between the female protagonist Lt. Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, and the monstrous feminine Alien throughout the Alien saga consisting of: Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien3 (1992), and AlienResurrection (1997). Lt. Ellen Ripley introduced viewers to their first self-reliant and successful female hero. The authors claim an important site for discussion on the changing ideas about gender, sex, and the female body is created by the Alien saga.

<2>Insightful scene-by-scene analysis reveals race, gender, and class distinctions operating in each of the four Alien films. Each of the four chapters is dedicated to one film. In "Can't Live with Them, Can't Kill Them," Gallardo and Smith argue that the male-female dichotomy is broken down in the Alien films, and women as well as men are "raped" to serve as wombs for the symbolic mother-destroyer Alien. The authors claim the Alien saga was the first science fiction film to approach what it means to be human on the basis of biological sex and gender roles. As males are penetrated, impregnated, and give birth, everyone is feminized. The authors describe space as a sexual enterprise where monstrous generative mothers threaten to devour men. Gallardo and Smith credit the first film with setting up the conflict between the female protagonist and the monstrous feminine that operates throughout the Alien series.

<3>Gallardo and Smith argue in, "Ripley Gets Her Gun: Aliens and the Reagan Era Hero," most science fiction movies during the time of the release of Alien and before establish the role of women as having distinctively secondary roles to males. They claim that other strong female protagonists of science fiction during this period relied on a man, or were finally defeated by evil forces. They also claim nonhuman females were often portrayed as an evil and seductive force to be overcome. Such is not the case in the Alien saga. Gallardo and Smith claim Lt. Ellen Ripley stands for the redeemed American who has returned to the hard-body politics of right and wrong, good and evil, us and them. In this chapter, they also argue that Ripley fights to recover her lost daughter, and binds a male to her quest, creating an impromptu family. They see her as the mother who destroys the Alien threat to her family.

<4>In "Men, Women, and an Alien Baby," the authors admit Lt. Ripley is not necessarily a feminist icon, but does provide a strong female protagonist. They explain that Lt. Ripley may not be feminist because she does not actively fight for women's rights, but her role is certainly reflective of feminist ideology. The authors of AlienWoman credit the Alien saga, and rightly so, as being "forward looking." Gallardo and Smith argue that Alien effectively erases the basic sexual distinction between men and women, and invokes cultural anxieties about the subversion of male power by visually representing the male body as a site of rape and birth. They also claim Ripley's confrontation and final destruction of the Alien becomes the major theme of the film and thereby gives voice to the contemporary feminist goal of saving humanity from the destructive impulses of patriarchy. Gallardo and Smith claim American audiences saw women as heroic survivors as a concept alien enough to pique interest, but not so foreign as to put them off. Although women were enjoying a more privileged place in society in the 70's, women still led lives centered around family and home. Judith Newton is noted saying that Alien offered equality and friendship between white, middle-class women and men. The authors emphasize that a woman saves the day, but the day still belonged to the man. Gallardo and Smith disagree with critics who view Ripley as a stand in for the heroic male. They point out that by the end of Scott's film, all the men are dead. Ripley saves not only herself, but humanity as well.

<5>Gallardo and Smith claim Alien3 is introspective and emphasizes collaboration and suffering. In "'The Bitch Is Back': The Iconoclastic Body in Alien3," the authors credit Alien3 as erasing the happy ending of Aliens, leaving viewers with the image of a radically different type of hero: the mother-protector is replaced with the mother-destroyer. They claim Alien3 rewrites Ripley as a woman who will ultimately reject the patriarchal imperatives she defends in Aliens. Gallardo and Smith comment that her transformation from perennial victim of the Company and the Alien to eternal foe makes Ripley's death a victory.

<6>The final chapter, "'Who Are You?': Alien Resurrection and the Posthuman Subject," examines Ripley as the dark or monstrous posthuman superwoman. The authors claim Ripley's cloned "selves" represent a threat to patriarchal order. Not only is there an Alien in this one, but Ripley her self becomes alien. The authors claim the reason for the threat to patriarchal order stems from the new Alien from a mixed female (Alien Queen and Ripley); a race produced solely of Woman. Gallardo and Smith point out that after Ripley chooses to "abort" her Alien offspring, she becomes a complex posthuman female.

<7>The Alien saga has proven to be remarkably useful in analyzing what it means to be "human" and gendered. AlienWoman is a celebration of the new found light in discussion of gender, sex, and the female body in science fiction film studies. This book is useful to anyone interested in film, gender, or cultural studies. The authors display a vast awareness of the science fiction film genre and present the material in digestible chunks. The only noted weakness, and it is admitted by the authors themselves, is the lack of a theoretical methodology. However, the notes and bibliography provide more than ample theoretical reference for further study. Overall, the four-chapter structure with ample end notes creates an invigorating quick read of a manageable amount of interesting material.

Stella Williams