Unpicking the monstrous: A Psychoanalytic and Marxist analysis of Alien.

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Title Page: Page 2

Analysis: Pages 3-12

Conclusion: Pages 12-13

Bibliography: Page 14

Name: Liam Stott

English and Film & Media Studies Level Two

Unit Title: FS299 – Critical Approaches to Media Research

Unit Tutor: Marc O’ Day

Course Leaders: Marc O’ Day/Melanie Selfe

Assignment 2: Negotiated Essay

‘Unpicking the monstrous: A Psychoanalytic and Marxist analysis of Alien.’

Barbara Creed states that the convergence of psychoanalysis and cinema studies initiated at the end of the nineteenth century. Since the 1900s, psychoanalysis has endured a complicated history because of its elusive concepts and theoretical influences, particularly in post-1970s psychoanalytic film theory. Throughout the 1970s, psychoanalysis informed and contributed to other cinematic critical approaches such as post-colonial theory, queer theory, feminist film theory and body theory (Creed in Hill and Gibson, 2000: 75-77). Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979) is a significantly psychoanalytic film, symbolically underpinned by a range of psychoanalytic notions such as sexuality, the unconscious, phallicised, primal phantasies (Lebeau, 2001: 7), the woman as an actively sadistic monster and the cinematic voyeuristic male gaze at the expense of female sexual objectification (Taylor in Jancovich and Hollows, 1995: 151).

        However, Alien cannot only be interpreted through the critical approach of psychoanalysis. Alien can also be critically read from a Marxist perspective. John Storey argues that Marxism is centred on the ruling classes or bourgeoisie as the dominant force that governs society over the subordinate classes (Storey, 1993: 99). This is emphasised by Matt Perry who suggests that Marxism positions society as a ‘two-way relationship between the exploiter and the exploited’ and says that the ruling classes are primarily interested in material objects and disregard the exploited proletariat, resulting in class warfare (Perry, 2002: 44). This is highlighted in Alien, where the Company exploits its Nostromo mine workers in a degrading fashion. The Company is only interested in the alien as a commodity of weapons research, irrespective of its unique killing abilities and indestructible power. Therefore, this ultimately leads to intergalactic class warfare between the terrorising, bourgeoisie Company figure of the alien and the working-class labour workers.  

        Thus, what makes Alien an interesting analytic example is the film’s diverse range of symbolic psychoanalytic imagery, which is often associated with horrific connotations concerning the alien as castrating Other. This profound use of psychoanalysis is located within the Marxist zone centred on the economic horror of the alien and the social horror of intergalactic class warfare. Interestingly, the way that these two critical approaches of psychoanalysis and Marxism are applied to the film may suggest that these are two separate tools of analysis, without any theoretical relationship. However, during the 1970s, Robert Miklitsch argues that there was a theoretical convergence between psychoanalysis and Marxism, labelled ‘psycho-Marxism,’ where the two discourses enjoyed a profound and highly interactional relationship (Miklitsch, 1998: 227-228). Thus, Alien could be interpreted as a film that visually illustrates the amalgamation of psychoanalysis and Marxism. This is particularly realised through the gendered representation of the alien: the psychoanalytic castrating Mother and as the terrorising Marxist Company man.

One of the chief psychoanalytic elements of Alien is the portrayal of the primal scene. The primal scene is represented in many different forms, for example, the primal representation during the film’s opening shots and when Kane fatally gives birth to the alien. The first instance of the primal scene is where the mother’s inner body is symbolically indicated by the cinematography during the film’s opening sequence. The camera slowly pans across the insides of the ‘Mother’ ship, creating a sensual atmosphere. This inevitably results in an appropriately long tracking shot of a vaginal corridor. The corridor leads to a womb-like chamber, where the Nostromo crew members are hyper-sleeping (Creed, 1993: 18).

        ‘Mother’ awakens the crew by turning on the lights and opening up the glass pods. Their eventual awakening from hyper-sleep is indicative of the primal scene, depicted in a hospitalised, antiseptic and clean manner. Thus, unlike real child births, the crew’s (re)birth is free of blood, pain, agony and is well regulated. Thus, this representation of the primal scene conforms to Creed’s theory, signified as an idealised vision of the primal phantasy. This phantasy is where the human is fully developed at birth and intercourse has been completely avoided (Creed, 1993: 18), perhaps as a religious modern materialisation of the Immaculate Conception (Koloft, 2002). This scene also epitomises the image of the archaic mother, where the father is metaphorically absent and mother takes full control as the provider of all life on earth and primary parent (Creed, 1993: 18).

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The alien ship is where another manifestation of the primal scene occurs. When the three crew members are approaching the ostensibly derelict and enigmatic spaceship, they tread through a vaginal-like entrance; metaphorically like two long legs spread wide open (Creed, 1993: 18), resembling a fantasised imaginary vision of the ‘Mother’ alien (Carveth and Gold, 1999). Kane, one of the crew members, is lowered into a huge womb-like chamber. He immediately notices copious amounts of eggs, devoid of any sense of fecundity. However, when he touches one of the eggs, the process of fertility begins. It opens and reveals an amalgam ...

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This conclusion does not really resolve the conflict between the two analytical approaches, but is otherwise very detailed and insightful. The resolution, by the way, is very simple: the apparent conflict between the two viewpoints dissolves if we acknowledge that the film is not a particularly Marxist film despite the way it portrays class warfare. Upon closer inspection, the aesthetic (affective) and ideological (intellectual) values that it promotes are none other than those that underpin the self-image of the affluent middle-class of late capitalism. This is true right down to the subtle sexism of the now standard representations of "empowered women" by which contemporary western society likes to fool itself that it has become ever so enlightened, fair and tolerant :) On the whole, an excellent essay for a 2nd year, easily meriting a solid 1st. 5 stars