Looking at Alien through the gender prism.
Alien has some mixed signals to send about women. On the one hand, signs of the female dominate in the film: the operating system of the ship is called Mother and the men in the crew aren’t macho at all. Nor are the women particularly feminine. The sole survivor is a woman called Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, who is tall, striking and very capable. She’s often cited as one of the first female action heroes in twentieth century cinema. ((The proof? Even when she is struck still by the horror of the alien, she keeps on strategizing. Her dash for the ship at the end is panic-stricken, but also calculated.) Ripley’s gender is such an exception that that Alien is often understood as upending the casual misogyny and gender dynamics in many horror and action films. And yet Weaver’s casting was a last minute choice; writers, producers and Scott had all thought she would be male. The aliens’ physiology was also a decision after the fact; the Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger had been drawing their eroticized shapes for years before filming began, and Scott’s genius was in importing Giger’s creepy grace rather than creating it from scratch.