Listening to Neil Gaiman talk about influences and ways to become inspired by other people’s works inspired me to write this. Could Gaiman’s suggestion be applied to any art form or medium, including film making? It’s also extremely relatable when you think of the movies that you love. Everything that you allow to touch or move you on a personal level can inspire you in life. Or perhaps characters from a movie or TV show or anime or manga inspire you in some way.
So I’d like to discuss movies that inspire us as cinephiles and why these movies remain on our “best of” lists forever.
SPOILER WARNING – This article discusses Ellen Ripley and the movie Alien, and therefore there will be spoilers.
The Inspiring Ellen Louise Ripley
Personally, I cannot do without Alien and the character of Ellen Ripley. My letterboxd user name is RipleyEllen, so clearly, this character means a lot to me. And I think I gravitate towards these types of characters because I admire their courage to face fear head-on and vanquish it. I guess it’s much like the knights in shining armour vanquishing the dragon in a fairy-tale. I admire those traits in fictional characters, and I admire similar traits in people. There is a definite connection. We can certainly aspire to be as close to these characters as possible in our own lives. But unlike fiction, we won’t always succeed. This is why I think it’s just as important to see heroes fail as it is to see them succeed in a movie or story.
And that’s the reality of real-life over fiction – life sometimes gets the better of you. And it’s how you survive the struggle that matters. Does that sound a little cliched? Perhaps but true nonetheless. Everyone faces challenges in life, and not everyone can meet those challenges head-on. And this is why Ripley is so endearing because you don’t know if she’ll make it through the film’s final act. She doesn’t know if she’ll make it. This is what makes her so special and so relatable.
Ripley is a Survivor
Survival is explored in numerous situations and scenes in Alien. Ellen Ripley is a Warrant Officer, and this makes her third in command on the Nostromo after Captain Dallas and Executive Officer Kane. You would think that either one of these characters could succeed where Ripley would fail. Both Dallas and Kane had more experience than Ripley. That alone is reason enough to expect that they had the skills or knowledge to survive a crisis better than her. But they don’t.
Most would probably agree that it comes down to the “survival of the fittest”. But that doesn’t always make sense, particularly when the person surviving is not some super athlete. So what was it about Ripley that gave her that little bit extra to survive when nobody else could? Of course, we could point to Ripley’s character’s direction and writing, but did you know that Ripley was originally supposed to be a male? Yup, and Ridley Scott explained this to numerous journalists.
Ripley knew very early on what the alien meant in terms of the crew’s survival. She was the one who risked putting everything on the line when she made the call nobody else wanted to make about Kane. When Kane encountered the face-hugger, nobody knew what would happen. Ripley knew nothing about this alien species, but her survival instincts were already kicking in when she ruled that Kane had become a threat to the crew. She was willing to make an objective, life or death decision about one of her own. And this is where the story takes us to the secondary villain in the film, Ash the android.
To be fair to the other characters, everyone had the same fighting chance when they encountered the Alien. But none of the other characters engaged the Alien in combat to survive. They were all too petrified with fear to do anything, and rightly so. So why wasn’t Ripley afraid?
The thing is, Ripley was just as afraid as the others. And again, this is where I think Ripley’s strength is highlighted in the film. She was afraid to face this alien creature, but she did whatever she could to survive despite this fear. That includes calling Kane a threat to the crew because he was contaminated. And we know the reason why Ash completely disregarded her decision – there wouldn’t have been much of a conflict in the story or film if the Alien threat wasn’t on board the ship. But Ripley didn’t forget what Ash did. She kept it in the back of her mind knowing that something was off with Ash.
More than one threat is one threat too many? Not for Ellen Ripley!
Not only did Ripley have to fight an alien species aboard the Nostromo, but she had to fight one of her own crew members. This was a brilliant stroke of story-telling because it showed us again that Ripley was on the right track regarding Ash. Ash was acting strangely, and once Ripley had acquired the information she needed to prove it, he became hostile. Luckily this happened when other crew members could come to her aid. Ripley probably wouldn’t have survived Ash’s attack. This shows the audience that Ripley is not a super-hero. She is just as vulnerable as anyone else, which humanizes her character, making it easier for the audience to connect with her.
To say that Ripley had great survival instincts is an understatement. Perhaps she was just better at reading people than the other crew members? This can’t really be proven, but it is implied with regards to Ash. We can’t say the same thing about the Alien. Nobody was supposed to survive the Alien, but it wouldn’t have been much of a movie without the protagonist pulling through to win in the end. Regardless of how heroic a character may be to the audience, it is far more important to make the character believable and relatable than to show only their strengths. This is why Alien is such a brilliant film and one reason for staying inspired by fictional characters in movies.
Thank you for reading. Check back regularly for more articles in this blog series, “Movies and Characters That Inspire.”
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Freelance entertainment writer and reviewer. Visit my blog on https://thebrokenquill.com.