P.O.V. No.16 - FILM & POLITICS

Ripley as Interstitial Character: White Woman
as Monster and Hero in Alien Resurrection

Caroline Joan ("Kay") Picart

Abstract
Alien Resurrection (1997) heightens the movements across dark humor and horror, and enables more pronounced and complex conjunctions across the three types of "shadows," particularly in the case of monstrous female characters like Ripley. Thus, like the Terminator films, which used a hybrid action-science fiction-horror-comedic format, and a strong female central character, Alien Resurrection enables us to glimpse, through a glass darkly, other ways in which the gendered and raced complexities of the Frankenstein cinematic myth may be traced.


Genre Ruptures and Hybridities of Race and Gender:
Theoretical Framework
[1]
In the Alien series, it is the body of the archaic mother, rather than the parthenogenetic father, that is the site of desire and revulsion. The films visually emphasize dark, slimy passages and teeth dripping blood, acid and saliva. They rivet our attention by focusing on exploding stomachs and devouring wombs and on the "all-incorporating black hole which threatens to reabsorb what it once birthed" (Creed 1993, 11). The Alien series, like traditional Frankenstein filmic narratives, is about monstrous rebirths; yet the Alien films ultimately problematize the Frankensteinian filmic narrative's gendered and racial politics. The strain on the intertwined patriarchal myths of parthenogenesis, and of (imperialist and racist) science as an unambiguous guarantor of progress, is even more obvious in hybrid film versions of the evolving Frankenstein myth. Cinemyths are public performance spaces within which patriarchal and matriarchal myths compete with each other, and where conservative and progressive ideological forces struggle against each other in working through collective anxieties, traumas or aspirations. One contribution this paper adds to the discussion is that particularly in Alien Resurrection, the trauma of racial miscegenation is complexly imbricated in the public visualization of the monstrous, and that an intersectional analysis of not only gender, power and technology, but also race, is instructive in understanding how "shadows" operate in hybrid (science fiction-horror-comedy) film.

This article builds from Janice Rushing and Thomas Frentz's concept of "shadows"-points of extreme psychic ambivalence, revelatory of fears regarding technology and gender. In brief, they identify two types of shadows: the first, or "inferior" shadow, is represented by the feminine, women, the body, minorities, and anything that deviates from rational ego consciousness. The second or "technologized" shadow is represented best by Frankenstein's monster (Rushing and Frentz 1995; 1989). I have argued in earlier work that a third type of shadow, which is a combination of the two-either a feminine monster, or the feminine configured as monstrous-is the more crucial shadow to track in exploring the tensions of the Frankenstein myth within straight horror film renditions. It is this third shadow that often serves as the scapegoat, whose sacrifice is necessary in order for a conventional closure to occur. The Frankensteinian myth, re-envisaged through film, is a story of masculine self-birthing (parthenogenesis). In the original Frankenstein novel, this self-birthing is construed to be monstrous, and anti-natural. In contrast, many of the classic horror films, despite their heavy-handed emphasis on some sort of moral admonition concerning the possible excesses of science, ambivalently glorify the power of the scientist as magician and God. More contemporary hybrid offshoots, such as Alien Resurrection, effectively unleash, at least for a time, the transgressive powers of the parthenogenetic birth's twin myth, the story of Baubo's ana-suromai (Baubo's lifting of her skirts to reveal her genitalia and belly as a defiant act celebrating female reproduction and sexual desire).

Both Amy Taubin (1993) and Thomas Vaughn (1995) have demonstrated Alien3's affinities with avante-garde film and its liberatory potential as a critique of white, heterosexual, Reaganite "breeder" myths. Taubin's essay was the first to point out the gendered ambiguation in this film (which Vaughn continued), and though she does not develop the argument, she makes the insightful observation that the alien queen "suspiciously" resembles a "favourite scapegoat of the Reagan/Bush era-the black welfare mother, that parasite on the economy whose uncurbed reproductive drive reduced hard-working taxpayers to bankruptcy" (Taubin 1993, 96). It is significant to note that Ripley's survival seems to hinge upon her association with sacrificial black male characters, particularly in Alien, Alien3 and also in Alien Resurrection. Thus, despite Alien Resurrection's comparatively progressive gender politics, it remains rooted within a frame of non-reflexive whiteness. I illustrate this specific point by analyzing the complex and contradictory characterizations of Ripley.

As Donna Haraway points out, if our postmodern way of being in the world is cyborg-ian (i.e., hybrid in multiple ways), then monstrosity (understood as pluralistic category violation) is a way out of a maze of dualisms that somehow seem inadequate to describe the chiaroscuro of lived (and culturally imagined) existence: "A cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden; it does not seek unitary identity and so generate antagonistic dualisms without end . . . it takes irony for granted [italics mine]"(Haraway 1991, 180). These ambiguities, with their potential, through bisociation (Koestler, 1949, 1967, 1978) for liberation as well as suppression, are particularly evident in hybrid genres, as I show in Alien Resurrection. More particularly, in Alien Resurrection, generally summarized, the characterizations of the female, ambiguously sexed and gendered, and inter-species characters (Ripley, Call, the Alien Queen, the Newborn) function to bisociate shadows in provocative and ambivalently hegemonic ways that the narrative does not grant to its white male characters. All of these "mixed" characters are important to characterize in terms of whether they gain or lose power by virtue of being liminal or bisociative characters if they are interpreted as coding for different types of miscegenations. Ultimately, production choices collectively render the hybridities of these characters into an ambivalent mix of conventional and untraditional characteristics. Thus, in the case of Ripley, marks of "difference" difficult to assimilate (slime, blue skin, matted hair, other marks of bestiality) become reduced to style (black fingernails, tight leather accessories). Similarly, animal instinct (often associated with discourses of racial inferiority) becomes coded as collective memory, heightened senses, hyper-enhanced sexuality, and diminished capacity for moral judgment as well. Marks of difference that are admiringly fetishized are disturbingly predictable: athletic strength and agility; ruthlessness and cunning; propensity for violence. Call's "difference" as a robot is overlaid by her white, Audrey Hepburn look. The Alien Queen and the Newborn, despite their acquisition of human-like characteristics, still fulfill the conventional role of the classic horror "Not-I" that has to be staked and killed off ritualistically. Underneath Alien Resurrection's horror-science fiction plot is the familiar story of the white man's envy of the "exotic" alien (as seen in all of the interstitial characters I sketched above), and fascination with "mixed" femininity (e.g., the stereotypes of the tragic mulatta or the fatal Jewess instantiated in Call). Despite the prevalence of these conventional elements, the story punishes the white traders and scientists who engage in slave trading and genetic engineering, this points to an ideological struggle at the heart of the narrative. In Alien Resurrection, the blurring of shadows in the interstitial characters (characteristic of hybrid genres), and an inversion of the myth of parthenogenesis (anchored by and through appeals to conventional perspectives) enables an ambivalence concerning relationships binding gender, race, science, technology and the trading of commodities. It is this ambivalence that creates new possibilities for exploring the struggle between hegemonic containment and ideological tension.

Ripley as a Mixed Entity
Ripley's status as a multiply liminal or interstitial character is immediately at the forefront of the narrative. Joss Whedon, the scriptwriter, confronted the task of credibly bringing Ripley back to life, after she had voluntarily perished (like the T-800) in a vat of molten metal. His answer to the conundrum was one used by Jurassic Park in resurrecting dinosaurs: cloning from frozen blood samples taken from the pregnant Ripley by her former lover-medic on Fiorina 161 in Alien [2]. The use of cloning as a narrative explanatory device also allowed the imaginative screenwriter to forge new possibilities, particularly in terms of Ripley's characterization; it also updated the classic horror version of the Frankensteinian creature from a lumbering patchwork corpse to a more credibly genetically engineered entity (with its echoes of Nazi and U.S. experimentation in this area). The new Ripley was now the 8th attempt at cloning, and her genetic make-up was part-human, part-Alien. Reminiscent of Sarah Connor's remake in Terminator 2, the result is an incredibly more powerful and feral Ripley. This reborn Ripley can sense the Aliens' embryos implanted in human bodies through her hyper-enhanced sense of smell. She can hear and understand the Aliens' ultrasonic signals to each other through her hyper-enhanced hearing, and use her acid-blood to sear holes into metal and glass. Yet Whedon also spoke of the more human aspects of Ripley's resurrection as pivotal to the film's plot: "I realized that the emotional arc of the story rides on her feelings as she goes through this resurrection. Her story, for me, is about her accepting her own kind of humanity, on her own terms even if she doesn't necessarily fit the description of 'human.'" (Murdock and Aberly 1997, 6).

One could read racial representation as one of the tension points of the released film, particularly in its opening credits. It begins by featuring a strangely warping, porous object that has the color of caucasian skin (which we later find out is the cloned Ripley's skin). As the credits roll, the thing undulates like a strange film, with extreme close ups of strands of dark hair and an eye becoming recognizable, and then wafting out as the material continues undulating. For a while, monstrosity and whiteness become visually conflated, and there is a sense in which the film could potentially unfix commonsensical demarcations of not only gender, sex, human-ness and power, but also racial marking. The opening credits visually sets up a potential reversal, in which it is not "coloredness" that is an instance of a "shadow," but whiteness itself, within the context of an aging colonialist culture in which phenotypic racial "marking" is becoming increasingly problematic. However, this visual thematic eventually becomes subverted as the film continues.

Indeed, there is much in Alien Resurrection that binds it to its earlier, and more conservative, predecessors, cast within the Frankenstenian (and parthenogenetic) mythic mold. Wheddon's "final script," which was published on the internet, continues the same dream/nightmare motif that was characteristic of the earlier Alien films (Whedon 1999). It features three pages of detailed crosscutting between: 1) nightmarish images of a young girl being attacked by a swarm of monstrous insects (with one of Newt's memorable lines in Aliens being uttered in a voiceover: "My mommy said there were no monsters-no real ones-but there are"); 2) Ripley, with dark, Alien eyes, ripping open her own chest; and 3) "real" images of Ripley being operated on by a medical team aboard the U.S.S. Auriga, in order to harvest the Alien Queen that gestates in her chest. The film omits the nightmare, and immediately presents the audience with the spectacle of a naked young girl, encased like a preserved specimen, in a glass container. Her features dissolve imperceptibly into Ripley's recognizable features, and we realize that the girl, a female Rip van Winkle, has slept her way into maturity in that aqueous artificial womb. Around her, ubiquitous Frankensteinian scientists stare, observing and recording. Among these scientists, two figures stand out. One of them is Dr. Gediman (Brad Dourif), whose character Jeunet describes, much like Colin Clive's Henry Frankenstein in the 1931 Frankenstein as: "wildly enthusiastic, gradually going into madness. He has a paternal side with the aliens. Above all he wants to save his experiment. Blinded by his passion, he doesn't see the consequences of it."(Murdock and Aberly 1997, 11). Yet if Gediman may be described as paternal, then his famous "kissing scene against the glass" with one of the Alien warriors he studies and then gasses with liquid nitrogen in order to exert dominance, is both incestuous and bizarre. The other major scientist, who is Gediman's superior, is Dr. Wren. Wren is played by J.E. Freeman who described his character as: "an evil man who is quite mad, with a grand idea and a twisted sense of humor. Mengele with a sense of humor" (Murdock and Aberly, 11).

In the script, Ripley's status as a female monster is revealed early (even her skin is blue and covered with "aspic slime") (Whedon 1997, 1); in this scene, she immediately lashes out and crushes a surgeon's forearm before a rapid cut is signaled in the screenplay. In the film, that revelation is reserved for later. After the Caesarian birth of Ripley's monstrous progeny, we next see her cocooned in translucent plastic; in a series of dissolves, the camera draws closer to the figure curled up like a fetus as she becomes conscious. Like the creature in Frankenstein Must be Destroyed, who wakes up to realize he has been reborn in another's body, Ripley examines her hands, touches her face, feels the birth scar running along her chest; like a Holocaust victim, she finds the number "8" tattooed near the crook of her elbow. Yet more like the Terminator, Ripley remains stoic and unmoved, "her face unreadable" (Whedon 1999, 6). The published script even more blatantly codes her as a conjunction of female monster (third shadow) and wild, hysterical woman who "needs" to be contained (first shadow): "Ripley crouches in the middle of a small, dark chamber. She is wide-eyed, staring straight ahead in a state of near catatonia. Hair tangled and wild. But at least she's not so blue as before, now as slimy" (Whedon 1997, 3). Consistently, the production choices in the transformation from script to film eradicate the less "aesthetically" assimilable marks of difference (slime, blue skin, matted hair) to more palatable stylistic characteristics (black fingernails and tight leather accessories, which we see later.)

When we next view Ripley, she is dressed in a white lab gown, seated upon a table as Gediman examines what remains of her surgical wounds. In the film, her hands are harnessed, and it is with her legs that she grabs Gediman-a gesture both sensual and aggressive-snaps her bonds, and begins to strangle him. Clearly, Ripley's "hybridity" has enhanced her "animal survival instinct" (often associated with racial inferiority, sexual looseness and amoralism). Wren, who had walked into the room, and had alternated between not speaking to Ripley (as if she were a lab rat) and speaking to Ripley (albeit in the tone of a father proud of a prodigious child), now sounds the alarm. A guard runs in and blasts Ripley with a shockrifle or "burner," causing her to crumple in a corner. In the script, like the bewildered creature of the Frankenstein narrative, Ripley wearily asks "Why?";" however, the film has Ripley strategically quiet, almost as if she were weighing her options for survival.

Thus, the Ripley who emerges in the film is very much like the remade Sarah O'Connor in Terminator 2 (and to some degree, the Terminatrix in Terminator 3); she is ruthless, both as a survivor and a destroyer, and at this point, seems devoid and perhaps even incapable of emotion. Like the Terminator, she has "detailed files" because as an unexpected benefit of her genes mixing with those of the embryonic Alien queen she carried, she retains a genetically inbuilt collective memory. This memory, despite its occasional "cognitive dissonance," allows her to respond as a fully grown adult with most of her prototype's original memories. Yet unlike the recreated Sarah or the Terminatrix, but like the mythic Baubo, the resurrected Ripley is not detached from her sexual power as a female-both erotically and reproductively. The competing characterizations of Ripley as resurrected Baubo-figure and miscegenated creature reflect the progressive and conservative ideological strains at the heart of the narrative. Thus, constant sexual innuendos mark her speech, particularly in relation to Johner (Ron Perlman), and she identifies herself as the "mother of the monster" to the terrified, impregnated Purvis (Leland Orser). In the script, reality fades imperceptibly into a dream sequence, in which she surprises Gediman as he observes the Aliens. She flirts with him, and then takes the initiative and seduces him with a kiss. Just when a romantic interlude looks inevitable, an Alien tongue shoots out of her mouth and "buries itself" in his face. Ripley awakens, breathing hard (Whedon 1999). Despite the fact that this section of the scene never made it to the final cut, it is clear that Jeunet made it his prerogative to "[push] Sigourney to be more sexual" (Fanshawe 1997, 11, AMPAS Clipping). It is important to note, however, that Ripley's sexual desirability is also differentially coded; scenes in which she is attractive to heterosexual white men underline her whiteness, and she is shot in high key lighting. Scenes in which she flirts with cross-species and cross-gendered boundaries are often shot in low key lighting, emphasizing her as a literal and metaphorical "creature of darkness."

Yet this Ripley (clone number 8) is sexual not only in relation to male bodies but also in relation to female bodies-and in particular to the extremely attractive Annalee Call (Winona Ryder), who, we later find out, like the Terminators, is an advanced robot created by robots. Ripley's interstitiality in relation to Call therefore is multiply cyborg-ian: lesbian, maternal, predatorial. Early in the narrative, Call is simply a tough, pretty girl, who is "the very devil with a socket wrench." It is clear that all the men seem to gravitate toward her sexually. General Perez remarks that she "makes an impression;" Elgyn (Michael Wincott), the leader of the smugglers, remarks that he finds Call "extremely fuckable" and that Vriess (Dominique Pinon) "somewhat pines;" and Johner, when he finds out that Call is not human, exclaims with horror that he "almost fucked that thing." Once again, the white men's fascination-repulsion with the "tragic mulatta/Jewess"(a la Helen Hirsch in Schindler's List) finds an echo in Call's characterization as human-like robot who cannot help but exude a passive sex magic over others, and yet suffer from self-loathing. Yet other than an asexual protectiveness over Vriess (who is a cripple), Call, like the androids Bishop and Ash in earlier Alien films, seems oblivious to the sexual interest in her.

Even Ripley responds to Call's sexual desirability. In the scene in which Call sneaks into Ripley's chamber with a large stiletto in order to assassinate the woman whom she thinks is carrying the monster, Call falters when she glimpses Ripley's scar and realizes that such a murder would be pointless. Cold-blooded as ever, Ripley provocatively asks whether Call intends to kill her, thus turning the tables. When Call offers to euthanize Ripley, Ripley thrusts her own palm into Call's large dagger without flinching, inquiring: "What makes you think I would let you do that?" before she withdraws her hand from the blade. In the script, Ripley then only "touches [Call's] forehead gently, almost sensually" as she speaks of the inevitability of the Aliens' escape and their wholesale destruction of everyone they encounter (Whedon 1997, 34). But the film shows Ripley gripping Call and sensually caressing her face, as she utters the words of impending doom in a husky, seductive voice, as if seeking to hypnotize her prey. With lightning quickness, she then grabs Call's throat, and ironically returns the terrorist's offer with the words: "I can make it stop. . ." The script has her saying this sadly, but the film reconstructs the line to be meant mockingly. The bisociation between Ripley's soothingly uttered offer of salvation and her deadly grasp of the young girl's neck inspires the entire gamut of horror, fear, awe and fascination, and enables us to witness Ripley's dark, predatory humor at work. In addition, the scene is shot in low key lighting, which can be narratively explained because they are in an inner cell that imprisons Ripley. Nevertheless, the use of the lighting emphasizes Call's not only diminutive stature, compared to Ripley, but also her comparative whiteness-and thus her vulnerable femininity (Berenstein 1996; Dyer 1997). This type of visual coding could be read as aligning the audience with the terrified (and white) Call, as opposed to the cool (and darker) Ripley. Yet the fact that Call, as a terrorist and aspiring hunter turned hunted, had come to kill Ripley, leaves the audience also potentially conflicted regarding whom to side with; this ambivalence seems formally signaled in the noir-like lighting that suffuses Ripley's cell.

Yet Ripley's sexuality seems to cross not only gendered boundaries (through the implied lesbian attraction that seems to draw her to Call) but also species boundaries. When she slips into a lower layer where "a swarm of black, insectile bodies" (Whedon 1997, 102) undulate rhythmically. This engulfment by the aliens again marks her as an interstitial character-not only in terms of species categories, but also implicitly, in racial categorizations of "blackness" and "whiteness". The slimy material and phallic shaped objects envelope her suggestively. When she is first captured by the warrior Aliens, she is borne gently in their arms. The online script makes the erotic coding even more obvious by adding the line: "If she were awake and out of her mind, she could be kissing the beast" (Whedon 1999, 106). Even more blatantly, in the published script, it becomes clear that her cross species grandson (i.e., the hybrid son-though with breasts--born from the human womb of the Alien Queen) has sexual designs on her.

In the film, Ripley leaves the controls of the ship to Johner and Vriess, and descends just in time to save Call from the Newborn, which is, like Ripley earlier, toyingly caressing the terrified android's face. (The visual dynamics of associating female whiteness with sexual desirability and vulnerability, and darkness with sexual predatoriness are again at play in this sequence, with Ripley being an intermediate figure.) Ripley calls softly and yet unmistakably imperiously to the Newborn, as if it were her child, or her lover. He/it approaches her, and they caress each other as Call stands transfixed by this "grotesque" dalliance. Ripley continues to run her hand along the Newborn's head, and suddenly presses hard against its teeth, cutting herself. She flicks blood to a small glass window, creating a vacuum that sucks the Newborn out, cutting and filtering its guts out through the tiny opening as it screams in pain and anger. In the released film, Ripley's ambivalent alliances become clear: she grimaces in sympathy and pity as she, hanging on for her own life, watches her cross species grandson suffer. She whispers, "I'm sorry," sharing its agony (Whedon 1999, 46). [3] Thus, the Ripley who emerges in the final film is like a Christlike (and demonic) figure who is both fully human and fully divine-but in this version, fully human and fully non-human. Nevertheless, despite her numerous enhancements, Ripley is still coded as a human woman-a mother figure, who protects the android Call (a mechanical substitute for Newt in Aliens) at all costs.

Conclusions
Like the Terminator films, which used a hybrid action-science fiction-horror-comedic format, and a strong female central character, Alien Resurrection enables us to glimpse, through a glass darkly, other ways in which the gendered and raced complexities of the Frankenstein cinematic myth may be traced. Ultimately, none of the white male characters are able to fulfill the ambivalent bisociative functions that the interstitial characters enact. Nevertheless, despite the metaphoric coding of Ripley's (and Call's bodies as interstitial, both Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder are white females. Crucially, it is upon white female bodies that this fantasy of multiple liminality is played out. There are no colored female bodies who are even part of the story, much less marked as heroic, and who survive the narrative. Christie (whose name is ambiguously gendered), the African-American sharpshooter-thug turned savior, follows his predecessors in the earlier Alien films and dies sacrificially. Ramirez, the other colored character, does not survive and is murdered viciously by the Newborn. There are certain types of liminalities that cannot be assimilated, as evidenced in the Alien Queen's and the Newborn's conventional slaughter. It is in these senses that Alien Resurrection reveals its tensions as a miscegenation fantasy, and shows how ambivalences reveal the struggle between conventional and progressive ideological elements in hybrid cinematic narratives of gender, race, power and technology.




1 I wish to thank David Frank, Davis Houck, Michelle Commander and Tami Tomasello, who have provided invaluable assistance in getting this article in its current form.

2 I draw this argument partially from Sarah Kofman (1988), who states: "In the Eleusinian mysteries, the female sexual organ is exalted as the symbol of fertility and a guarantee of the regeneration and eternal return of all things." Kofman┤s position, that "Baubo can appear as a female double of Dionysus" effectively locates Baub˘ and Dionysus as masks for life as eternally self-generating and protean. Yet if I were to carry the implications of her genealogy even further, it appears that Baubo is more than Dionysus' twin. As someone who nurses a goddess of fertility back into health, and as the woman upon whose belly the image of Iaachos-Dionysus (i.e., Dionysus as an infant) is etched, she seems more powerful than he is. See also Picart, 2001.

3 In the online script, the grotesque spectacle of dying by being sucked through a tiny hole was reserved for General Perez, but the film instead substitutes the equally macabre {though darkly humorous} scene of the general being bitten in the back of his head, and then plucking out a piece of his own brain in disbelief.




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