Resilience and Abjection: An Analysis of the Character Arc of Ellen Ripley in the Alien Franchise

Conference: The Asian Conference on Media, Communication & Film (MediAsia2022)
Title: Resilience and Abjection: An Analysis of the Character Arc of Ellen Ripley in the Alien Franchise
Stream: Film Criticism and Theory
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Kanon Nomura, Aichi Shukutoku University, Japan


The Alien franchise has spanned over four decades and created some of the most iconic moments in cinema history as well as one of its most iconic heroes, Ellen Ripley. The movies’ dark musings on the themes of survival and existence have led to numerous analyses from different theoretical standpoints, including those of Sigmund Freud, Judith Butler, and Julia Kristeva. Kristeva’s concept of the abject, those things which cause violent and visceral repulsion in those who view them, has been applied often to the Xenomorph aliens of the series with their slimy violations of human bodies. But as Kristeva explained in Powers of Horror, the abject is not evoked simply by physical disgust: "It is. . . not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order". That is, the emotional horror of abjection comes from things that violate or straddle the boundaries between categories: living and dead, male and female, human and inhuman. This paper examines the ways in which these boundaries are violated in the first four Alien movies: Alien, Aliens, Alien3, and Alien: Resurrection, focusing more specifically on the ways that existing in the gray areas of the abject makes Ellen Ripley an increasingly complex and resilient character. Ripley overcomes massive challenges, trauma, and even death itself through her encounters with different forms of the abject and her own increasingly abject nature on the borderlines between male and female, dead and living, human and inhuman.

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