“Was she your daughter?”
1992’s Alien3 is the brutal, miserable, and angelic third entry in the Alien franchise that began with the one-two punch of Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens. Much has been made of the difficult production director David Fincher went through (yes, that David Fincher) on this, his first feature. The bigger conversation of course surrounding the film is the opening sequence that shows the systematic destruction of Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn), Bishop the android (Lance Henriksen), and most devastatingly little Newt (Carrie Henn) at the hands of stray Facehugger, leaving Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to fend for herself amongst not only this new alien, but even worse, a convent of rapists, murders, and crooks in an abandoned mining facility/former penal colony on Fiorina “Fury” 161. Alien3 completes the circle that was begun in the previous two films. If Alien is Birth, Aliens is Life, then Alien3 is most certainly Death. To say Ripley goes through the gauntlet in this film is an understatement.
This is Sigourney Weaver’s best performance as Ripley period. The only thing left on the line now is her humanity. And there’s little humanity left on Fury 161. You’ve got the preacher Dillion (Charles S. Dutton) touting a sledgehammer spirituality, the prison warden Andrews (Brian Glover) laser-focused on keeping order, the medical doctor Clemens with his warm but tragic touch, and a host of other horribly twisted inmates beaten down by religious ravings, time, and isolation. “I guess I must make you nervous,” Ripley says early on to Dillion’s character. He’s initially upset at a woman coming in and disrupting their pious way of life. When it becomes clear that an alien is on the loose, hunting them down one-by-one, she takes charge. She’s a survivor and will continue to survive, odds be dammed. The odds are not in her favor.
Things take a turn when Ripley discovers that she in fact is host to a a gestating Xenomorph inside her. “You’ve been in my life so long I can’t remember anything else,” she says chillingly late in the film in one attempt to confront what the former inmates have dubbed ‘the dragon.’ It will not harm her, most likely a new queen is growing inside her she muses dryly. The motley crew rally around her to try and trap it until the nefarious Weyland-Yutani corporation arrives. The momentous absurdity of the plans to contain the creature continuing to fail (whether at the hands of a crazed inmate Golic finding god in ‘the dragon’ and releasing it or something as simple as a door jam or a dropped flare) just shows that the relentless march towards death is all but inevitable. Dillion says loudly and proudly to the rest at one point, “The only question is how you check out. Do you want it on your feet? Or on your fuckin’ knees… begging?” Ripley knows what she must do to complete the cycle otherwise the Weyland-Yutani corporate stooges will just take the alien from her and unleash it on the rest of the universe as an unstoppable bio-weapon.
Director Neil Blomkamp (District 9) has made a desperate plea of late to resurrect the Alien franchise pitching a sequel that would retcon the established continuity and bring back the family unit that Cameron had established at the end of Aliens, but looking back at Alien3, its grim reverie is more vital than ever. The film cracks the mirror that the titular Alien held up to our own society with it’s pure and relentless hunger. Instead of giving up or running away scared, Ripley made the choice to do the right thing even if that meant taking her own life in the end. ‘Choice’ is all we have and her heroic sacrifice is the redemption of the human spirit. So although Ripley would go on to be reborn as a literal superhero in Alien: Resurrection, here Ripley dies in the least sentimental way possible, but she dies truly human and truly a hero.
Let us know in comments below what you think of Alien3! Are you revisiting it for Alien Day? What’s your favorite David Fincher movie?
Author’s note: The 2003 Special Edition of Alien3 is the essential version of the film to watch and my comments reflect that version of the film only.