Ripley Van Winkle.
In 1986, seven years after I first noticed that real was the most beautiful, another film came along and turned real into breathtaking.
You can't look at this and say otherwise.
Aliens is a movie about aliens, sure. But to my 18 year old eyes (and mind and body and emotions) it was first and foremost a movie about a solitary woman and her nightmarish awakening to a new and tragic world where everyone she knew and loved, including her dear daughter, are gone.
Her nightmares continue, the trauma of her new reality both filling her with fear and rendering her an emotionless, hollow Nobody.
I understood, as best a young man can, that she was completely devastated. Imagine going through all the previous Hell aboard the Nostromo, then going to sleep, and as far as you are concerned the very next morning you find out your children and everyone else you knew are dead, and by the way you have no job or home and no one believes what happened, from your point of view, the very night before.
Yet this rare woman, now herself a kind of alien, refuses to let go of life. It may seem a dull and meaningless existence to others, but it's hers and she's not about to kill herself, not after surviving the Nostromo.
Not after losing her only child.
And this becomes, then, a film about mothers.
Yes, a bunch of bad muthas, indeed. But Aliens is truly an ode to the unstoppable, uncontrollable, eternal force of The Maternal Instinct.
And in Ellen Ripley, that instinct is so blindingly strong that she virtually glows with it by the time she (and we) find Newt in the air ducts of LV426.
Of course, what little peace they share is brief and once again Ripley has to become the Warrior, and we realize that the truest, strongest, pull-no-punches warrior, the fighter who will die for you without thinking, the champion who takes all fire before you even know it's headed your way, is absolutely MOTHER.
For all its incredible visuals, dazzling weaponry and kick-ass technology on continuous display, every meaningful moment in Aliens boils down to the same simple truths -- selfish choices will ruin you, just like Mom always told you; a mother's protection of their loved ones is instinctive and unstoppable; and Ellen Ripley is the Ultimate Mother.
She is a thousand times more alive, emotional, incandescent in this film than in the remarkable previous film. She radiates power, fear, strength, she is defined by her own wisdom, her own actions and needs, and not by her relation to the men around her. She doesn't stand out from the rest because of her gender, but because of her spirit.
And she becomes a magnificent hero just by being completely human.
In Aliens, we finally get a full, deep treatment of a character we already loved, and find that we knew nothing about her until now.
If I had forgotten about my original epiphanic love from 1979 (and trust me, I had not), it came back in a blue fury, an added tidal wave of my own experiences informing my eyes and heart, my Muse a whirl of sweat, grey cotton and deep brown eyes. Watching this refuse-to-break woman become a hero just by doing what is right took my breath away. It does every time I view it.
What can be more beautiful?
Alien brought her to life.
Aliens seared her, nailed her, ironed her to my soul.
-- SIGNING OFF --