Alien: Close But No Cigar

Confession time: I am 28 years old and up until two days ago, I had never seen Alien. Granted, it was released 10 years before I was born (incidentally, I was a C-Section, much like the Alien creature) but still, you’d think I’d manage to catch it at least once over the years. And honestly, try as I might, I could not get into it. Objectively, I appreciate the movie for what it was in 1979 but as a Star Wars mega-nerd, I found myself seeing a knock off of Space Casual with less than stellar dialogue. The creature magic was still wildly impressive and ultra creepy, and I’ll never say no to a house cat on a space ship. But, when it comes down to whether I enjoyed it or not, I have to say that the lack of character development left me caring less who got stomach punched from the inside by Alien.

But you don’t read this column for film critique; you read it to ruin your day by remembering that the patriarchy ruins everything. While the male characters technically outnumber the female characters in Alien, I’d say most of the characters have the depth of a puddle, so I feel dishonest saying there’s a real gender disparity. Not to mention, Sigourney is the second in command on a space ship who ends up kicking alien ass and being the sole survivor of a one Martian invasion. That’s a pretty great light for a women to be shown in. The only thing that raised an eyebrow was the final scene where Siggy (pardon the familiarity, Ms. Weaver) is back in her freezer and suddenly wearing makeup for the first time in the entire movie. I’m not mad, just confused. Is she trying to impress the cat? Will the freezer preserve her makeup for the next four months? Where do I get one?

More impressive, I learned that the Alien script was written with the explicit note that the characters are unisex and could be cast with any gender. Now THAT is some innovative stuff that I wouldn’t mind seeing today. Instead of basing characters off of tired gender tropes, why not write dynamic characters with interesting stories that aren’t defined by their reproductive organs? Is a man’s peep really keeping him from being the center of a rom-com wherein he looks for love? Is a woman’s bajingo such an obstacle that she can’t be featured in a war drama? Touché, Alien writers. And props.

There was one thing that stood out to me in the film’s casting that brings a pressing issue in Hollywood to the table: age.  The crew of Alien are presented as peers, but take a look at their ages:

  • John Hurt: 39
  • Yaphet Kotto: 42
  • Tom Skerritt: 46
  • Ian Holm: 48
  • Harry Dean Stanton: 53
  • Veronica Cartwright: 30
  • Sigourney Weaver: 29

The age takes a steep dive at the women and yet we’re expected to believe that a 29-year-old has more space experience than the rest of her mid-forties+ crew.  This is far from an isolated incident; women are often cast as the mothers of someone who is only a year younger than them, in careers they would not have had the schooling for yet, and opposite male actors 25 years their senior in romantic pairings.  This raises so many problems: If we never see an actress over 40 in a leading role, what will we think when we see a 40-year-old in real life?  If we’re conditioned to only see value in young women, we’re being conditioned to believe that a woman’s power is in her physical attractiveness and sexuality.  Hollywood’s age problem tells us that a woman can only be useful if she can also be ogled.

In romantic roles, the consequences are more dire; If we normalize seeing sex between 50-year-old men and 20-year-old women, we are normalizing the infantilization of women and pedophilia.  While men in Hollywood keep aging, their love interests remain firmly fresh out of high school and we never question it.  Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan investigated just this issue and found some incredible things.  I implore you to check out the article but I’ll leave you with just a few of the charts they created to illustrate the discrepancy in ages between male and female love interests.

Major shout out to Vulture and Buchanan for investigating something so normalized and frankly, so gross.

Thanks for letting me ruin another aspect of your movie-going experience and I’ll see you next time.  Mac, out.

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