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The Theory That Alien Is an Allegory for Assault, Explained – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

The Theory That Alien Is an Allegory for Assault, Explained



Women have always been at the center of the horror genre, enduring unimaginable suffering to evoke fear and distress in audiences. While many films have attempted to dissect and critique this representation, none have done so quite like 1979’s Alien. Written by Dan O’Bannon and directed by Ridley Scott, Alien follows the crew of the Nostromo as they are hunted down by an extra-terrestrial creature. What sets Alien apart is its intentional use of sexual imagery to create a truly terrifying experience.

The Xenomorph, the film’s iconic monster, is full of phallic and vaginal imagery. Its head and second mouth bear a striking resemblance to male anatomy, while the eggs and the abandoned ship it comes from are unmistakably vaginal. The process by which the Xenomorphs procreate is intentionally reminiscent of sexual violence, as they use their victims as hosts and rape them to give birth to their offspring.

This theme of trauma and sexual violence is echoed throughout the film, with the deaths of the crew members alluding to different forms of abuse. Even Lambert, the only other woman on board, is subjected to implied sexual violence when the Xenomorph slithers its tail between her legs.

But the Xenomorph is not the only perpetrator of sexual violence in the film. The ship’s computer, “Mother,” and the corporation she serves both protect the alien, perpetuating the cycle of violence. And then there’s Ash, the second extension of the company, who not only protects the alien but also perpetuates its violence himself.

What Alien suggests is that violence, particularly sexual violence, reverberates through trauma and affects everyone in its orbit. The Xenomorph is the physical manifestation of that trauma, a product of sexual assault. To escape, Ripley must enact a similar act of sexual violence by penetrating the Xenomorph’s body with a grappling hook. But even as she escapes physically, the trauma is permanently etched into her psyche.

Overall, Alien’s use of sexual imagery and violence is intentional and deeply disturbing. It turns traditional horror roles on their heads and serves as a commentary on the lasting effects of trauma and violence.

It’s no secret that women’s suffering is often a central subject of the horror genre and has been since the birth of film. From scream queens to final girls, women in horror are put through the wringer for the purpose of evoking fear and distress. While there have been numerous films over the century of movie history that dissect and critique that representation, none has done so quite like 1979’s Alien. Written by Dan O’Bannon and directed by Ridley Scott, Alien follows the crew of the Nostromo as they are picked off one by one by the eponymous extra-terrestrial.



Much has been made over the decades about the sexual imagery and content in Alienand for good reason. This isn’t something fans have read into, but rather something that O’Bannon and Scott wanted in the movie from the start. In the 2002 TV documentary The Alien SagaO’Bannon claimed that his goal with the film was to “attack [the audience] sexually.” It was this desire that led O’Bannon and Scott to hire H.R. Giger to design the Xenomorph and other parts of the alien world, including the iconic “Space Jockey.” Giger’s sexually charged designs work in tandem with O’Bannon’s script and Scott’s direction to make a film that turned traditional horror roles on their heads.

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Sexual Imagery in Alien

Alien-Space Jockey
20th Century Fox

To say that there’s a lot of sexual imagery in Alien and the subsequent films in the franchise would be an understatement: it’s there in pretty much every scene. Most obvious is the Xenomorph’s design itself, recalling male anatomy with its phallic head and penetrative second mouth. When it’s first born, the Xenomorph even more closely resembles a phallus thanks to its fleshy coloring. The abandoned ship the Xenomorph comes from is just as sexually charged.

Related: Here’s How Laura Mulvey Changed Film Theory With the Male Gaze

Psychoanalytic film theorist Dr. R.H. Greenberg identifies much of this imagery in his essay “Reimagining the Gargoyle: Psychoanalytic Notes on Alien and the Contemporary ‘Cruel’ Horror Film.” The Derelict ship that Dallas, Kane, and Lambert discover “resembles a stupendous uterine-fallopian system” made that much more obvious by the “unmistakably vaginal hatches” the crew members enter through. The first being the crew finds, the Space Jockeysits in a chair “from which juts a huge penile shaft.” After this, Kane is lowered into a dark, womb-like cavity replete with hundreds of eggs. He watches as one of the eggs opens, revealing an evocatively fleshy, pulsating inside.

Xenomorphs Procreate Through Assault

Alien (1979) - Chestburster
20th Century Fox

It’s at this point that Kane’s fate is sealed. While he’s looking inside the egg, the monstrous alien spawn bursts forth and attaches itself to Kane’s face. Upon bringing Kane back to the Nostromo, the crew discovers that they have no way to remove it. The facehugger deposits its egg inside of Kane and, in one of the movie’s most iconic scenes, the alien bursts from his chest in a horrifically violent birth. The process by which the Xenomorphs procreate is intentional in its mirroring of sexual violence, as explicitly stated by O’Bannon himself. In an interview with The Washington Post just two months after Alien hit theaters, O’Bannon describes it thusly: “[The alien] uses its victims as a host. It rapes them. Then they give birth. This is what makes it so disturbing.”

Related: 9 Horror Movies That Deliver Important Messages About Society

Film critic Mark Kermode elaborates on O’Bannon’s intentions with the chest-burster scene, claiming “O’Bannon argues that it also functions as a metaphorical dramatization of the male fear of penetration. He says that the oral invasion of Hurt’s character was ‘payback’ for all those horror films in which sexually vulnerable women were terrorized by rampaging male monsters.”

While sexual violence here is centralized in Kane’s experience, we can see the theme of trauma echoed throughout all the subsequent deaths in Alien. Dallas and Brett, as revealed in the director’s cut, are used as hosts to create more alien eggs in a grotesque reversal that threatens to continue the cycle of violence. Parker’s death continues the theme as the Xenomorph uses its phallic inner jaw to penetrate his body. Even Lambert, the only other woman aboard the Nostromo, is subjected to implied sexual violence; when the alien suggestively slithers its tail between her legs, we can only imagine what comes next.

What Does the Xenomorph Represent in Alien?

Riply in a spacesuit as she ejects the xenomorph from the escape pod in Alien
20th Century Fox

The Xenomorph is not the only perpetrator of sexual violence in Alienthough. Consider the ship’s computer “Mother,” and by extension the corporation she serves. Both look upon the alien’s assault as an opportunity and choose to protect the perpetrator of the violence instead of the victims. And then there’s Ash, the second extension of the company, who not only protects the alien but also perpetuates its violence himself. In the scene when Ripley confronts Ash, he attacks her and attempts to choke her with a porno magazine, mirroring the oral penetration the facehugger deploys on Kane.

What Alien suggests with its violent, sexually charged monster isn’t just that men fear most that which symbolically emasculates them, but also that said violence reverberates through the trauma it causes. The Xenomorph is the product of sexual assault, a physical manifestation of the trauma caused by that violence. When it tears through the crew of the Nostromo, then, it represents the permanent stain of that assault on everyone in its orbit. To escape, Ripley must enact a similar act of sexual violence by penetrating the Xenomorph’s body with a grappling hook. Ripley has, for now, escaped the physical representation of her trauma, but by the end of Alien, it’s clear that that trauma is permanently etched into her psyche.

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