Directed by David Fincher
Written By Walter Hill, David Giler and Larry Ferguson
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Ralph Brown and Paul McGann
Running Time: 114 Minutes Theatrical Version/145 Minutes Extended Version.
In 1979 Alien reinvented the horror/sci fi genre with its simple haunted house in space premise. Alien also made a star out of Sigourney Weaver. This was for the most part a horror film hybrid. In 1986 James Cameron delivered Aliens. In this film James Cameron shifted gears from the first film by reinventing the formula. Aliens was an Action film in space that owed no small tribute to the Robert A. Heinlan’s 1950s pulp serial ‘Starship Troopers’ and Rambo (1984) which was also written by James Cameron. So we had horror in Alien and action in Aliens. In 1992 Alien 3 was released with a lot of anticipation and was expected to follow the template of Aliens. David Fincher created something few expected. He took the conventions of the Alien series and introduced Film Noir. This can seen stylistically in the rustic prison scenes and in the contrasting shadows. This demonstrated the bleakness of this world, but unlike other neo-noirs that are admired for their technical skill and for referencing older films, Alien 3 is true film noir in its themes of death and as antithesis to melodrama that destroys any feelings of hope that James Cameron created in the final moments of Aliens.Where in Aliens Ripley was seen as a hero, in Alien 3 she is on a journey towards her own death. Through this essay I will demonstrate why Alien 3 is a film noir by investigating Ripley’s masochism and how the alien in Alien 3 is a metaphor for the internalized hatred of these characters.
Ripley’s death was one of the major selling points of the film. This is perhaps why Alien 3 was the highest grossing film in the series. Alien 3 was also the most disliked of the series. This was due in no small part to the absence of an emotional catharsis to Ripley’s story arc. An example of this is in the closing shots of the three empty cryogenic chambers that Ripley, Neut and Hicks went to sleep in at the end of Aliens. This was another signification of the meaninglessness in the world of Alien 3. All that is left behind of these characters is a computer log recording of Ripley’s voice. If Ripley had died in a heroic blaze of glory or she had some grandstanding speech, audiences would have been more receptive to her self-sacrifice.
The film going audience tends to enjoy this in melodrama such as Titanic and The Notebook. In the case of neo-noir films such as Alien 3, audiences often despise seeing their heroes die. The most likely difference depends on the emotional investment on the audience’s part and the belief that a character died for a good reason. Alien 3 did not satisfy in this manner. David Fincher’s film moved against the easy formula set up by James Cameron and Ridley Scott. He thrust his audience into perhaps the bleakest sci-fi world ever conceived in a mainstream film. Alien 3 in this regard was difficult for audiences in that the film was about a woman’s journey toward irredeemable death.
James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) featured the subplot of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) waking up 60 years later and knowing that her closest relatives and her daughter have passed away. By the end of Aliens she had found a new surrogate family in the form of Neut the orphaned girl and a burgeoning love interest in Hicks (Michael Biehn). David Fincher’s Alien 3 on the other hand opens with the annihilation of this surrogate family and this represents the destruction of hope for Ripley, for the future survival of the family unit and for the audience’s emotional catharsis awarded at the end of Aliens. It was this discomfort, the antithesis to melodrama and the absolute alienation of humanity in this film that brings Alien 3 into the sub genre of film noir.
Ripley’s fate was sealed in the opening act with her impregnation. Therefore the film is in its simplest form is a neo-noir about Ripley’s journey towards death. Even when Ripley realises that she is going to die at the birth of the Alien Queen, she is anomic to her own doom. She just wants it over with. This was evident in her scene with Charles Dutton’s character, the preacher. She asks him to kill her but demands that there are no references to god, no eulogies or anything else. She just wants to die. Symbolically she was already dead via the death of the family. This scene was perhaps the most important scene. This scene signifies Ripley’s need to destroy herself was a greater priority than killing another Alien.
The secondary characters in Alien 3 were the prisoners. These men chose to remain on a prison planet even after the company closed down the prison and abandoned them. They not only chose to remain on the abandoned planet but they established their own religion and a vow of celibacy on a planet without women. Their incarceration manifested as religion alleviated them of their existential free will to do wrong. They were ‘condemned to be free’ and Ripley spins them out of control by posing a threat to their vow of celibacy. Whereas the prisoner’s existence represented the worst that humanity has to offer, Ripley was the representation of everything they hated about themselves.
Therefore, regardless of the Alien threat, the Prison population were going to die out. Ripley as a threat on the other hand was going to turn these men inwards and bring out the darkest instincts of human nature. The Alien in this case was an internalized hatred of themselves. Neither their prison sentences, nor seclusion from the rest of the known universe, nor religion could purge their basic instincts. Even if Ripley did not sacrifice her self to neutralise the alien impregnated in her, she would have had to die to preserve the social order of the planets population.
Despite what some may say when comparing this to other stories that involve self-sacrifice Ripley’s sacrifice was meaningless to Ripley. This was because she had nothing to continue living for. Due to the nihilistic nature of this film it is easy to see why mainstream audiences reacted negatively. After James Cameron’s hope inspiring finale Ripley has a meaningless existence. This does not make Alien 3 a bad film as some would argue but in many ways there is a lot more going one beneath the surface of these characters that were pushed aside in favor of action spectacle in the previous film. Alien 3 may not be the best in the series but examining Alien 3 as a film noir or a neo-noir provides a greater appreciation for this often neglected and misunderstood film that is very much a David Fincher film.