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Motherhood, “Aliens,” and Nationalism May 3, 2007

Posted by kelly in Aliens, Courage Under Fire, G.I. Jane, motherhood, nationalism.
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After our discussion in class and re-watching the scene in “Aliens” where Sigourney Weaver’s character rescues Newt I realize just how much that scene enforces the idea that women will choose motherhood over nationalism.

Sigourney Weaver blatantly chooses her “child” or so-called “maternal instinct” over the good of her comrades (which can be seen, in this giant metaphor, as her nation). She puts at risk the lives of the two crew members when she blindly walks back into the base in search of Newt. There’s about ten minutes left and the way the scene drags on makes us see just how stupid it is, especially after seeing that the tracking device is no longer attached to the child.

I watched the film with a friend and throughout the entire scene we couldn’t help but yell at Sigourney Weaver to F the kid and run. We saw her as ignorant and irrational, even selfish. Then I began to think about this in the context of the army.

In class we discussed the idea of fraternity in the army. Soldiers are not to leave anyone behind and should sacrifice themselves for each other and the good of the nation. In both “G.I. Jane” and “Courage Under Fire,” women make the decision to stay behind for the good of others, while many of the male soldiers would rather run. In both cases though, it seems difficult to separate their actions from the idea of motherhood. It almost seems that both women choose to stay because of some irrational maternal instinct that tells them to protect and rescue the other soldiers, as if they were their own children, even at the risk of dying or causing the deaths of others.

But when it is a man who makes this choice, we rarely ever see it as irrational or weak. Instead we see them as strong, courageous, and principled. While the decision may also imbue women with these qualities, society and our biases also force us to see the decision as one inspired by emotion rather than ideals. The women seem to be motivated by some irrational need to protect rather than the principle of fraternity we easily identify in the male soldiers.

In the end, though, does Sigourney Weaver protect her country? By saving Newt, she ensures a future for her people. Interestingly, Newt is female. She is capable of having children and thus reproducing the society that they have founded in space.

On the other hand, Weaver’s decision to reenter the base and save Newt is precisely what drives the Alien mother to come on board and kill the android. Even as he lays dying the android says, “Not bad for a human.” But isn’t this pretty bad for a human? Her human emotions have led to his decimation.

I also found it interesting that Ripley’s decision to rescue Newt has to be reinforced by the male soldier she is with. Of course this can be attributed to chain of command, but it may also be the case that his male validation is required in order to make her seemingly emotion-based decision acceptable.

The Alien mother also embodies this sense of irrational emotions. She could have easily stowed away and reproduced on the ship or on the next planet they went to, yet she makes herself known. Her attack is her method of revenge upon Ripley who has killed her children. Thus the Alien mother attacks Ripley’s child, in an attempt to deny Ripley what she has denied the Alien. It is clear that the Alien is intelligent, she can use the elevator and sneak onto aircrafts. Yet, in this case, she neglects the need to protect the future of her race (nationalism??) and risks her life and her species in an attempt to avenge her loved ones (revenge narrative!)

Thus the idea that women would choose their babies over their nation is oddly, yet clearly expressed in “Aliens.” As we discussed though, the idea of “motherhood” can be co-opted for any cause and my reading of the film is only one way of looking at the matter.

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