Personal reflections

Musings of a Luvstruck Mind

by Iain Souter

I find Luv a truly tragic character. While I grieve for Joe, at the movie’s end, my heart breaks for Luv. She is Ariel and Caliban, both, to Wallace’s perversion of Prospero. A truly tortured being, a demigod child raised by a parent who is emotionally abusive to the Nth degree, fracturing her psyche and creating a monster. The glimpses of her vulnerability and inner torment - the eye twitch and the lone tear - are utterly convincing. In a thirty year career, I specialised as a detective in cases involving physical and sexual abuse, and of children, in particular. I always think of a seven year old boy, who had been raped by another boy - a teenager - who spoke quietly to me, in a monotone, which didn’t alter in pitch or intensity once, as he described exactly what was done to him. His face was frozen as his voice, emotionless and still, except for the tears, which fell constantly from his eyes, for over thirty minutes. He was entirely unaware of the fact that he was even crying, his emotional trauma was so great.

That is why I find her such a terribly sad character.  When Joe kills her at the end, it’s an act of mercy, of release. The way he gently strokes her cheek, after releasing her throat, tells me that he knew this also.

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It also resonates with me that Wallace calls her the best of all his “angels”.  I had a very Catholic upbringing. Catechism, mass, communion, confession and more catechism, on a daily basis, even before the school began (the school was affixed to the church, and more than half our teachers were jesuits and nuns).  It was always instilled in me that biblically speaking, angels are not the fluffy guardians who shield us from all harm, if we have the right colour crystals and our chakras are in harmony with their “true names”.  They were the messengers of God, and as such, they were truly terrible, both in aspect and character. When these swords of god were sent, plagues swept the land, or else nations fell, firstborns died, cities were blasted to ashes and even the faithful were turned to salt for disobeying a single command. They swept the world of life, for their God, bringing the rains. They are said to be the ones who shall unleash the end of all things, breaking the seals that unleash the Beast. They are not merciful beings. They have no souls - that gift was given to Man, and Man alone. This is from a Biblical point of view, of course, not a personal one.

So when Wallace speaks of his angels, and of Luv being the best of them all, and when she is clearly such a destructive and tremendously damaged character, wreaking death in the very heart of the police station, not once but twice? Yes, I’d agree with Wallace. HIS creations ARE meant to be angels. Swords of God, perfect in every way that he wishes them to be. Soulless, devoid of conscience, bred to obey him utterly and to bring him the stars and all the worlds beyond - and, I believe, somewhere along the way, help fulfil his yearning for godhood and possibly even immortality, through them.

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Luv is all that, and more; the distillation of the same savagery, which drove Batty in a killing spree through the the colonies, across the galaxy, and back to his flawed manipulative creator. While Joe represents the light side of Batty, which evolved from his feelings - his love - for Pris and his fellows, Luv is that darker side. While she echoes Rachael in appearance and playfully silken tones, she is Wallace’s sword, through and through, striking down any and all who get in the way of the quest to unlock the puzzle that maddens her creator and holds him back. He might as well be the hand striking Coco, or wielding the blade that ends Joshi and, ultimately, Joe. She is his creature, more effectively collared than any dog - regardless of how her childish ego has to demean and diminish this male competitor to her title.  This is why she lets him live, in Vegas, I believe. Because he has been brought to heel by someone fit to be his mistress - a better, matchless perfect servant of their Creator.  “Still the best”.  She forgets him, almost as soon as she turns from his unconscious body.  While her intention might, conceivably have been to let him die slowly, I believe the contrary.  This is a creature who has developed a taste for killing up close, in an intensely personal way.  Stabbing someone to death is an almost sexual act, providing a leave of gratification which simply cannot be felt by killing from afar.  While she clearly uses the drone to relieve her ennui, and thereby assist the hound they have loosed upon the trail of Rachael’s child, her face comes alive only when she strikes up close - the perfect, beautiful mask dropping, then, to reveal the savage lurking beneath the surface.  Caliban unleashed. 

Her childlike rage, the screeching, gurgling tantrum, when she realises, finally, that she has been bested by this same hound, is truly awful to watch.  It’s as mesmerising, as it is repulsive and tragic, all at once.  Euthanising a savage beautiful creature, which never stood a chance and never chose to be the way she has been moulded.

She breaks my heart, every single time.

It’s an incredible performance, by Sylvia Hoeks.  For me, it’s unquestionably the standout of the movie.

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Wonder Women

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In a scene in Aliens, Ripley confronts Burke (a company man assigned to the mission to keep the corporation’s financial interest in the creature quietly front and center). Ripley discovers that Burke had a part to play in the devastation that they’ve encountered on the planet, and she doesn’t hesitate to make her voice known to him—despite the consequences she might suffer should they make it out alive. Burke, a snake-oil salesman, turns into a deer in headlights as Ripley grills him about the deaths that’ve happened because of his actions. She doesn’t back down.

In a scene from Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, Diana confronts Steve Trevor when she realizes that she sees the potential for darkness and destruction in him, understanding that the same potential is what she’s fighting as they engage full-scale war. It’s an incredible moment, and a revelation—both for Diana and for the audience. Diana then makes her choice, and it’s to fight. It’s what she has to do.

Ripley, in her final adventure with the Alien, as witnessed in David Fincher’s Alien 3 (1992), finds herself impossibly impregnated with an alien queen. She is given a last-minute offer to trust a familiar face who works for the Company (a company she no longer trusts): they can put her into stasis and remove the alien embryo. Ripley is faced with the notion of living out the rest of her life, or surrendering it for the good of mankind. She is faced with a choice. And like her counterpart, Wonder Woman, she chooses to fight. She falls into a vat of molten lead, ensuring a future for mankind.

It isn’t a common thing to see characters—particularly female characters written by men—who embody such unabashed integrity without being saddled with a traumatic (and oftentimes abusive) backstory. James Cameron is indeed a smart filmmaker, and equally a smart writer, but like so many of his male counterparts, he tends to believe that a good female character must be troubled in some way, or must come from some kind of heavy dysfunction and/or abuse to be believable.

James Cameron put his name on the map with The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, before moving on to writing and directing Aliens, centering around Ellen Ripley. Ripley had no hesitation when it came to choosing, knowing and doing what was right, in her eyes. Ripley began her life as an ordinary person, then was thrust into extraordinary circumstance, relying on her instincts to navigate through some of the worst darkness one could experience. By the second film, she’s leading a band of marine misfits out of harm’s way. Ripley has more in common with Wonder Woman than James Cameron realizes.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Cameron is quoted as saying,

“All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided," he said in an interview with The Guardian. "She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards."
"Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon," Cameron said. "She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit. And to me, [the benefit of characters like Sarah] is so obvious. I mean, half the audience is female!”

Unlike Wonder Woman, Ripley isn’t a demigod; she’s a regular person trying to make the best choices in terrifying situations. Like Wonder Woman, Ripley is a beautiful woman, not troubled, not a bad mother, surrounded by a growing nightmare. In Cameron’s film, Ripley has to make a choice: let a platoon of marines die fighting an onslaught of aliens that have ambushed them in a processing station, or take charge and rescue them. When we meet Ripley in Aliens, she’s the lone survivor of a doomed mission (Alien, 1979). Her nightmares about that mission haunt her steps. And then she finds herself again in the middle of an infestation, back on the planet she narrowly escaped from in her first adventure.

Wonder Woman, by comparison, had a much easier life. Diana Prince grew up on a magical island, born from the love of Zeus and her Amazonian mother, on the mythical isle of Themyscira, full of strong and brave women.

Both Ripley and Diana, in their own ways, pivot from a similar place by way of their integrity. Their instincts tell them both what is unequivocally right. They can to see the darkness in good men and the light in dark men. James Cameron’s criticism of Wonder Woman is curious, because there is so much of Wonder Woman in Ripley: so much goodness, unbridled goodness, and a fervor to do the right thing—no matter what the men around her are telling her.

Cameron wrote and directed Ellen Ripley in her most famous incarnation to date. She hadn’t been abused or beaten, troubled or traumatized (except for her experience in the first film). Ripley was good and true, because she was good and true. Her experiences didn’t form her core character; her character had always been thus. Cameron developed her that way. We live in a world where women’s experiences have been framed and constructed by men throughout recorded history. They’ve always been in charge.

It’s time we shut up and listen. There is much we could learn.

JM Prater

Founder and Co-host

Perfect Organism: The Alien Saga Podcast

Shoulder of Orion: The Blade Runner Podcast

9 STAGES OF GRIEF: RIPLEY, ALIEN 3, AND LOSS

by Mykal McCulloch

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Like many of us affected by the loss of Ripley in Alien 3, I’ve wandered through sad and distraught years as an Alien fan. Looking for silver linings and finding few of them. I've tried novels, comics, and media of all kinds, but nothing’s helped. I've sat through not one but TWO horrific AVP films, hoping to numb the emotional pain.

But nothing could bring Ripley back. She was gone. She’d sacrificed herself to save humanity, leaving me—a young fan—without his badass, bug-stomping mother to guide him.

Then I saw a way to slowly bring myself back to earth without drifting for 57 years. A plan to nuke my trouble and sorrow from orbit (just to be sure). I found a plan that consisted of nine stages, designed to slowly ease endless pain.

And here is what I found:

1. SHOCK: The first stage is the one I’ll truly never forget. As a teen sitting in the movie theater, I can remember not being able to breathe as I saw the horrified look on Newt’s face or the pile of Hicks’ interwoven body parts in his smashed cryotube. But I had no idea what waited for me before that trip to the theater would be over. I remember sitting next to my dad and crying as I saw the scan of the embryo inside Ripley. Then, without any idea it would happen, the hero that been with me all my childhood sacrificed herself to save humanity from this nightmare she’d fought for so long. I actually yelled “No!!!!” as I watched her fate unfold in the theater!

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2. DENIAL: As I slowly walked out of the theater with my heart in my throat and head in my hands (all while my father tried his best to console me), I kept thinking “no way.” They cannot possibly let this fearless woman go out like this. Look what she’s been through. She will definitely come back. She has to! Her story can’t be done. Little did I know she would—and would be in a way that would hurt even worse.

3. ANGER: The third stage that I had entered was that of anger. I was mad as hell, to the point that I went home and threw everything Alien I could see into a box and stuffed the box in my closet. I took down all my posters and threw all my movies and comics under my bed. I was mad at everyone: the director, Fox, the guy that held the mics, and the guy that poured the coffee. For months afterwards, I cursed at the people who came up with the story. When the comic adaptation came out, I refused to even look at it!

4. PHYSICAL DISTRESS: Physical distress came as open emotions. I had tears in my eyes. My heart felt like I had been in a race. It just ached; and for several days afterwards, I couldn’t even sleep. I just kinda lounged around. When I say I had it bad, I had it bad!

5. GUILT: Now, the fifth stage was a weird one. My only real feeling of guilt was the fact that I felt like I had contributed to this by buying a ticket. I had paid for a movie that had contributed to the untimely death of Ripley, and I was sick!

6. BARGAINING: Eventually I got around to the sixth stage. This is where I started to mentally formulate a plan. Something I could do to change the way things went down. First I took the holy road: I looked to a higher power to change time and space and make this all go away. I tried it all: promising good behavior; giving things up; I even had thoughts on joining the clergy—but then again, I knew that was never a possibility. At this point, I had thought my prayers were answered. Later on in life, when Alien Resurrection was released, I would see the devil’s handiwork firsthand. Damn you, Satan!!

7. DEPRESSION: Well, when I reached the seventh stage I really fell apart. My sci-fi interests were gone. I literally couldn’t bring myself to read a comic, let alone watch a movie. While I was at home, I moped around in a lost fog, not knowing where to go what to do. I had no real purpose.

8. TESTING: Slowly but surely I moved on to the next stage: testing. At this point in my young life, I had decided that I needed to move forward (at least in some small wall). I needed to get back on the saddle. So I started slowly bringing in new Dark Horse Alien comics (which I’d fallen way behind on). I then came upon some great novels by Stephen Perry, which would get the old mind back in gear. Slowly, I was getting over the mountain and on to the other side. Back towards the blue skies.

9. ACCEPTANCE: Finally, I reached the point where I was going to try—as an adult—to accept Alien 3. It was time for some closure. At this point, I had bought the DVD but hadn’t watched it. I won’t lie: I may have binged. I watched the movie for several days over and over again. I was bound and determined to see it in a better light. Then, one night, it happened: the lightbulb came on. I thought to myself, “Wow, she needed to do this. Her story needed closure.” This was her curtain call. Ripley had been fighting this battle for so long that she no longer remembered life before the xenomorphs. She was done. She followed through and sacrificed herself to end them once and for all.

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The hero that I had grown up with was doing exactly what a hero had to do. Now I love Alien 3. It may be my favorite, after Aliens. All it took was to see it as an adult viewing it with my mind rather than a kid using only my heart.