Saturday, November 2, 2013

Alien Part 1: The Dream of Reason

The film, Alien (1979) is a true masterpiece of modern cinema. The whole film is punctuated with that terrible uncanny claustrophobic sense of otherness at the heart of the modern rationalistic project of science and commerce. Firstly there is the irony that the crew are surrounded with nothing but dead space in the middle of nowhere instead of their home, they were perhaps dreaming of when they are awoken by "Mother" from their deep hyper-sleep. After awaking  everyone looks dead, nobody wants to be here, but they must respond to an unknown signal because they'll get no money if they don't go............The ship is grimy, greasy, vast, there is nothing shiny about this craft, the crew are likewise "ordinary" there is nothing sophisticated or even vaguely heroic about any of them.  Mother encased within ever fibre of the  Nostromo speaks not like a human nor not quite like a machine, she too is something other, something near the edge of some malformed consciousness. The Nostromo that estranged  corpulent manifestation   she finds herself housed within and throughout must surely seem as Alien as the awakening inhabitants she monitors deep within something not of her own making.  

The film progresses, the errie score kicks in, still after 30 minutes no real Alien is to been seen (almost unimaginable in a current film). They land on an Alien unchartered world- Ash, Dallas and Lambert look at a print out of the atmosphere on a monitor- coal well below the line- Three of them set off towards the beacon- Ash the robotic synthetic humanoid monitors coolly-the Alien landscape- the Alien frequencies- the Alien mindscape as one truly Alienated from everything both human and otherwise around Him/IT. What must he think? Ripley the antithesis of everything heroic deciphers part of the signal which seems more like a warning. Ash dismisses her concerns, how can he not? He's not programmed to be anything else or is he, his status is unclear, truly Alien to any rational or irrational impulse, He just is? The others  catch their first sight of the form most cinema viewers immediately believe to be the ALIEN itself...but it's not. It's some type of Alien craft. The ship seems strangely insectile in its malformed presence, the wind ceases to howl as they approach it, the silence becomes more menacing as they enter the husk, of course they cannot hear it-  for like mother they too are removed in their space suits from the visceral feeling of everything that surrounds them- they too are likewise in turn alienated as they enter something totally and utterly other than anything they've ever experienced or known. What passes through their minds... Is it something akin to the fine line between a mystical and an alien experience- or is it simply a matter of physicality, it's absence or malformation and the reference points we try despite our best efforts to find after awakening from a dream in a Alien world?

Like all those mythical tales about dark places off the forest paths, they enter a dark, humid alien world deformed within its own structures and strictures. It resembles the inside cranium of an alien being's gigantic brain- except here they discover when they see a half melted Alien form in a giant seat, that what ever this Alien was- it no longer is- what was Alien too has come to an uncanny end- "the bones are pushed out, like it exploded from the inside out". The mystery deepens. Nevertheless, that same sense of mortality cuts across what is most Alien to all living organisms, namely death, no matter how  utterly different and remote they are from each other. Like Jonah encased in the belly of the whale, Kane (John Hurt) leads the other onwards ("we simply must go on") further and further, they descend, when clearly   there is no logical reason to continue progressing into an abyss where there is greater danger and uncertainty, where the threat to their own mortality could not be greater.  Despite the empirical scientific approach to reality as evidenced in these characters, their behaviour is a complete rejection of everything certain and sure- of the whole Cartesian scientific world of modernity- and it can only be described as being akin to the dark descend into the irrational world of diminished light- of the excluded, the dammed, the unhoused, of the preconscious world-  with beings so utterly different in their primordial forms await them, as they await all unsuspecting explorers.  

Ash monitors. Ash, the perfectly constructed epitome of self-serving detached rationalism, constructed to execute his master's task without choice or morality is a non-being in the truest possible sense. He is the purest example the computational mentality that many progressive philosophers and scientists hoped, even dreamed, one day would run the messy world of human affairs along strictly  logical and dispassionate lines of enquiry detached from the emotions and desires of humanity. Nevertheless, later in the film elements of irrationalism shatter the progressive philosophers' dreams  through his actions the gems  of an evil being are born with purpose and mature into another form no scientist could of ever programmed, but for now he just watches waits.....and crucially monitors, the latter the defining note  to so much evil during the 20th century that disguised itself behind that objective façade called reason.