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ALIEN (1979) - FILM REVIEW

This review will be analysing the sci-fi film Alien (1979) directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan
O’Bannon. It will be focusing specifically on Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection described in her
book ‘Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection’, and how it can be applied in certain scenes within
the film. Alien (1979), follows a crew of astronauts through their time in a space merchant vessel
when a they are encountered with a new life form. They try to kill it, but it instead murders the crew
one by one, only leaving Ripley the female protagonist to fend for herself.

The term abjection derived from Kristeva’s book ‘Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection’, and it
refers to the human reaction, horror or vomit, to a threatened breakdown in meaning, usually by
the loss of distinction between self and other. Kristeva claims that there are multiple things/
situations which can cause abjection including; disappointment, bad luck, open wounds and
sewage. One scene within the film which shows this is Kane’s death scene, as it features a lot of
these elements (figure 1).

Fig 1. Kane’s death scene-Alien 1979 Fig 2. Kane’s death scene-Alien 1979

In her book she quotes “Abjection is above all ambiguity... abjection acknowledges it to be in
perpetual danger.” [Kristeva, 1980] which proves that abjection can be also be triggered if you
appear to be in danger or someone else is. Figure 1 is a scene which combines all of the causes
for abjection as there is a lot of blood in the scene, and the baby alien poses as danger for the rest
of the crew and Kane. This quote by Kristeva also proves how this is one of the key scenes to
cause abjection: “The primary example for what causes such a reaction is the corpse’ [Kristeva,
1980]. Being shown Kane’s bloody dead corpse, with a life form coming out of it creates tension
and disturbance within the scene, not only for the characters but for the audience too. Therefore,
the abject is strongly present in this scene due to Ridley Scott choice of composition and prop.

Fig 3. Ash’s death scene-Alien 1979


Another theory that is explored in the film is Kristeva’s ‘Eruption of the Real’, “Kristeva
associates the abject with the eruption of the Real” [Dino, 2011:1] The eruption of the Real
refers to humans rejection of deaths insistent materiality. Abject material is what can cause
these responses, anything that “overflows boundaries, that oozes from the
body” [Luckhurst, R. 2014;52] . Figure 3 presents the character Ash, he is the only crew
member who is artificial made but its only made apparent to the characters and audience
in his death scene. The scene features a lot of liquid coming out of his body, and he is left
decapitated on the floor. When people are confronted with a corpse of a family member or
friend, fear and death becomes more apparent and real to them. “The corpse, seen
without God and outside of science, is the utmost abjection. It is death infecting life. Abject”
(Powers 4) [Kristeva, 1980]. This proves how seeing death of others is the worst form of
abjection you can create, therefore Ash’s death (figure 3) in the film has the most impact
on the characters and audience.

To conclude, the chosen two scenes represent Kristeva’s theory of the abject and the
Eruption of Real well, due to the use of gore and liquid as well as the death of characters.
This therefore, creates tension and uncomfort for the audience when watching, and adds a
sense of horror and fear towards the film.

Illustration List:

Figure 1: Alien 1979 - Kane death scene, Available at: https://www.top10films.co.uk/25726-


classic-scenes-16-alien-1979/ Last Assessed on: 21st November 2018

Figure 2: Alien 1979 - Kane death scene, Available at: http://avp.wikia.com/wiki/


Thomas_Kane Last Assessed on: 21st November 2018

Figure 3: Alien 1979 - Ash death scene, Available at: https://screenrant.com/alien-worst-


most-disturbing-deaths-franchise/ Last Assessed on: 21st November 2018

Bibliography:

Kristeva.fr. (2018). Julia Kristeva -texts in english. [online] Available at: http:/
www.kristeva.fr/english.htmL Last Assessed on: 21st November 2018

Luckhurst, R. (2014), BFI Film Classics: Alien. London: Palgrave MacMillan. Page 52

Felluga, D. (2018). Introduction to Julia Kristeva, Module on the Abject. [online]


Cla.purdue.edu. Available at: https://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/psychoanalysis/
kristevaabject.html Last Assessed on: 21st November 2018

Pimley, D. (2003), Representations of The Body in Alien: Mother and the Other. [Online] At:
http://www.pimley.net/documents/the-body-in-alien.html Last Assessed on: 21st November
2018