A lot of the time in horror and Sci-Fi movies, a woman needs to take charge and defend herself, with no man to come to her rescue, because he’s usually dead or injured. In the original ‘Alien’ movie, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver),is portrayed as a strong woman who survives against the odds, all the while keeping her head.
A similar character is that of Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) in ‘Terminator’, although Sarah starts off in the original movie quite innocent and at times vulnerable, in the end, she has to defend herself and out do the villain, as did Ripley in ‘Alien.’
So what happened in the sequels? Most people, at first glance, would say that both characters are even stronger in the sequels, ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ and ‘Aliens.’ Sarah Conner certainly comes across as a stronger character, especially physically, but what are the characters true motivations as portrayed by the script?
Let’s take Ripley in ‘Aliens’, she’s lost her daughter after being drifting for years in hypersleep , after being found, she goes to LV-426, the planetoid where her crew first encountered the Alien eggs, after learning it is now home to a terraforming colony and full of families. There she meets a traumatized young girl nicknamed Newt (Carrie Henn), a bond is formed very quickly between the them. Newt has lost her entire family, including her mother, and Ripley has lost her daughter, who died when she was drifting for fifty seven years in hypersleep and so straight away a bond is formed between the two, a bond of maternal instinct on Ripley’s part. At the same time, the marines are asking themselves where all the aliens can possibly be coming from. If they hatch from eggs, then who's laying the eggs? It becomes clear that a confrontation between Ripley and the alien mother is inevitable, and to escape with Newt in tact, Ripley has to threaten the alien queen’s eggs. There is a very strong motherhood theme in ‘Aliens’, with even the ship in the two original movies being referred to as ‘mother’; and the birth of the Alien is a perverse form of the Caesarean method of birth-instead of the doctor cutting the child out, the child bursts through the body of its "mother" -in this case, Kane. Ash makes a startling comment when the Alien is loose on the ship, referring to it as "Kane's son."
There is also an inextricable link between Ripley and the Aliens, a theme which is first introduced in ‘Alien’, expanded on in ‘Aliens’ and finally culminating in ‘Alien3’ when Ripley and the Alien queen become one and the same.
For the most of ‘Aliens’, Ripley’s main drive is to get Newt off LV-426 and to wipe out the alien race. So what is director, James Cameron saying with his two huge movie sequels and their heroines? Why does the motherhood figure have to factor in both of these movies? In ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’, Sarah Conner gives up everything for her son, John Conner (Edward Furlong) risking her own life and everyone around them for his survival, okay so he’s the future saviour of the human race, but still – why does the drive in these movies have to be maternal? Why can’t Ripley simply want to go back to the LV-426 to wipe out the aliens, and that alone?
There is a distinct separation between Ripley and Lambert (Virginia Cartwright) in ‘Alien’, but because Lambert shows emotion in the movie, she is viewed as weak, why should this be the case? If analysed properly, an argument can be made that Ripley shows emotion in the original, feminising her, she goes back for Jonsey the cat for example (not only a female trait), she cries with fear, just as Lambert does. The only difference is Ripley keeps a cool head for most of the film, but she is not placed in Lamberts position; the only time Ripley's womanhood is “objectified” is when she changes at the end of the movie, and is shown wearing skimpy underwear.
As the heroine is, typically in the stalker/slasher film. "Although this lead character is most often represented as a woman, there is usually a certain ambiguity to her sexual identity. Since she is both like the killer in her ability to see and to use violence”, this can be said for the characters of Laurie Strode in ‘Halloween’ and Nancy in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, but the difference is femininity. Where as Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) hold onto their femininity, Ripley and Conner are stripped of theirs.
Ripley has always been praised for her sexual ambiguity, but is it necessarily a good thing that Ripley has to be stripped of femininity to become a hero? What message is that sending out to the audience? That a female has to act like a man (or have no sex), or as a mother figure, to be a hero, not a positive message in the long term for women.
Although of course, all of these female characters are superb horror heroines.