Alien (1979)

by | Mar 26, 2013 | - 2 - Regain Stories

A crew member returning home to Earth on an interplanetary mining vessel attempts to rid the vessel of a vicious alien creature that has inadvertently been brought on board.

Medium: Film

Writer(s): Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett

Director: Ridley Scott

Production Co.(s): Brandywine Productions; Twentieth Century-Fox Productions

Story by: Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett

The Story on the Screen

In the science fiction film Alien, the crew of a deep-space commercial towing vehicle named Nostromo is on its way home to Earth, carrying millions of tons of ore, when its hibernating crew is awakened by the ship's computer (called "Mother") to investigate a radio transmission that is emanating from a nearby planetoid. Although the crew are generally resentful of the interruption to their journey, they are required by company rules to investigate any such transmission.

After a rough landing on the planetoid, which causes minor damage to their landing vehicle, the ship's captain, Dallas, and two other crew members don pressure suits and venture into the toxic atmosphere outside the craft to investigate the source of the transmission—whereupon they find a huge alien spacecraft that seems to have crash-landed a very long time ago. In the depths of the alien craft, one of the crew members (Kane) finds a field of leathery egg-like objects surrounded by a strange, low-lying mist. And when he attempts to get a better look at one of the objects, it opens up and launches a small, strange-looking creature that breaks through his helmet visor and attaches itself to his face.

When a deep-space commercial towing vehicle investigates a radio transmission from a planetoid, one of its crew is infected with an aggressive alien species. Over the protestations of the main character, Ellen Ripley, the infected crew member is brought aboard the ship.

Against the efforts of the ship's warrant officer, Ellen Ripley (the main character), to protect the rest of the crew by quarantining the search party, the three crew members are allowed onboard by the science officer, Ash. And when the repairs to the landing vehicle are complete and it returns to the Nostromo, the entire crew that landed on the planetoid, including Kane, the comatose crew member who suffered the attack, are along for the ride.

Onboard the Nostromo, the captain and science officer attempt to study the creature that has attached itself to Kane's face and to see if it can be removed. But a simple attempt to do so by cutting through one of its legs nearly exposes the crew to the vacuum of space when the creature's acid-like blood eats through several decks of their vessel—and they resolve themselves to the idea that they are incapable of safely removing it.

When the creature detaches on its own a short time later, and Kane appears to be fully recovered and feeling fine, the crew is relieved, believing their troubles to be over. But when a new, vicious-looking creature with rows of sharp teeth bursts from his belly and runs off into the depths of the ship, they realize that their real difficulties may have just begun.

The emergence from the crew member of an aggressive alien creature with sharp teeth spells trouble for the crew.

From that point forward in the story, the chief aim of most of the crew (with the notable exception of Ash), is to find and destroy the alien creature and to purge the ship of the infection that the creature represents. In their efforts to do so, however, the crew members fall prey to it one-by-one as it grows in size and power—until only Ripley remains. But when she abandons ship in the emergency shuttle craft and destroys the Nostromo in an attempt to rid herself for good of the alien creature, she discovers that it has accompanied her onto the shuttle craft—and that the work to free her life of the alien presence is not yet complete.

Behind the Scenes

Although much of the plot involves efforts made in the spirit of survival, which typically may be classified as keep actions, Alien is not a keep story. Likewise, although the story involves gain actions—such as when the three-member scouting party investigates the alien ship and when Dallas and Ash study the creature that has attached itself to Kane's face—it is not a gain story, either.

The driving intent of the story derives from its main character, who is a regain character.

The driving intent of the story derives from its main character, Ripley. And from the moment that the alien creature bursts from Kane's belly and disappears into the bowels of the Nostromo, she has one overarching goal—to purge the ship (and her life) of the infection that the creature represents and return the Nostromo to its creature-free state. She is not alone in her efforts (and is actually opposed by Ash, who intends to keep the alien onboard so that it can be brought back to Earth for study), but because she is the main character, it is her type of intent that defines the direction of the plot. Consequently, Alien is a regain story in which the treasure of the main character is the infection-free state that her world enjoyed before it was visited by the invasive element of the alien creature.

In this way, the story shares similarities with any other story in which the world of the main character is set upon by an unexpected infection that generates in her an intent to do whatever is necessary to return that world to a healthy and infection-free state. And regardless of whether the infection takes the form of an alien creature, a rare disease, or the arrival of someone whom the main character sees as poisonous and disruptive, the intent of the main character is the same—namely, to purge the offending element.

The issue of Alien concerns more than mere survival.

The issue of Alien concerns more than mere survival until a threat disappears on its own or is defeated. In the person of Ripley, rather, it may be generally stated as "working aggressively to purge a life-threatening infection and return one's world to an infection-free state." And because the storytellers seem to favor the side of Ripley over that of the ruthless alien creature, we may assume that they consider her endeavor to be advisable; therefore, the proposition for the story can be stated as:

  • One should attempt to purge a powerful infection when it invades her world, because success in the attempt will render her free of the infection and restore her life to its previous infection-free state.

After a dramatic final effort in the confines of the rescue shuttle, Ripley succeeds in purging her world of the alien creature and blasts it into space, and we-the-audience are pleased by the outcome; therefore, Alien stands as a dramatic and tension-filled succeed/pleased story. But the consequences of her battle, which leave the rest of the Nostromo crew dead, prevent the ending from being considered truly happy.

For More Information

For details regarding the concepts and terms used in this analysis, refer to the Discovering the Soul of Your Story overview video and the glossary. For more story analyses like this, visit the Story Analyses page (or use the search tools in the sidebar).

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