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From Ouroboros to Death: Decoding the Metaphysical Symbolism in Ridley Scott's 'Alien'

By MatTehCat | The Cat's Mewsings | 24 Jun 2023


"Death is the mother of all beauty." -- Wallace Stevens

 

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Throughout my life, I have been captivated by Ridley Scott's 1979 film, "Alien." The film's haunting soundscape -- horror music's epitome in my opinion -- and its visually striking aesthetic inspired by the mesmerizing and terrifying art of H.R. Giger, establish it as a keystone of American cinema. However, what has always intrigued me is the underlying essence that permeates the entire work. While much has been said about the tangible elements and well-crafted characters in Ridley Scott's Alien series, little attention has been given to the metaphysical and spiritual framework that breathes life into the film. In this article, I aim to delve into that stream by drawing upon the insights of Julius Evola.


Before I commence, I wish to address a potential criticism concerning my exploration of films through Evola's hermetic approach. One could argue that I am merely imposing Evola's ideas onto the films I've explored, such as "Saturday Night Fever" or "A Clockwork Orange," implying they lack the qualities I attribute to them. However, it is essential to understand that Julius Evola's alchemical and hermetic framework is inherently universalist. Although this universal interpretation of the hermetic tradition has faced criticism from figures like Rene Guenon, I believe such critiques suffer from a fundamental flaw. In his work "The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols and Teaching of the Royal Art," Evola presents us with a metathesis, which appears to come from the structuralist tradition. He extracts a meta-narrative from various cultural texts, which, although varying across different cultures and eras, produces similar or analogous effects, almost by necessity. Therefore, I must respond to the initial criticism by stating the following: my approach to films using the hermetic perspective does not involve projecting my psyche onto the film. Rather, it involves extracting the latent spirit and inherent themes present within a film or narrative. Without this omnipresent meta-narrative, the world would lack coherence for any living being or organism. Consequently, there must be a meta-narrative or structure inherent to the world and its analogous structures that produce varying narrative structures. Unless numerous narrative approaches do not exist that can produce different interpretations of the narratives in question and form a holistic understanding of the narrative's trajectory and meaning, then there must be multiple valid interpretations, each capable of elucidating the preceding and subsequent variations in a narrative's themes. If such interpretations do not exist — and I see no compelling evidence to suggest they do — then Evola has stumbled upon a universal metathesis.


With that said, I believe it's appropriate to begin my analysis of "Alien." The film's title implies that we will experience something that is (literally) beyond us, unknown to us, and distinct from us. The film opens with a pan from the vastness of space to a planet encircled by a ring and shrouded in darkness. This planet, reminiscent of the celestial body Saturn, signifies to the audience that they are about to witness a story revolving around death, dissolution, and destruction, and that is precisely what unfolds thereafter.


While it was challenging to find an exact definition of the word "Nostromo," the refinery ship that carries the film's main characters, totaling seven with an additional eighth, could be interpreted as "a remedy" or "our man." Consequently, the ship possesses a distinctly masculine quality, symbolizing a means of resolution or purification. Surprisingly, however, the ship's spirit is feminine, as indicated by the name given to its computer system, "Mother." The amalgamation of the ship's masculine form with its feminine essence implies that it encapsulates creative forces aimed at birthing a new entity—a masculine womb enlivened by a feminine germ. In this sense, the ship acts as an analog representation of an inverted Adam or an androgynous being. This inversion of spiritual essences necessitates the emergence not of a divine or ethereal soul, but rather a worldly soul—a soul or body composed of pure, dark matter akin to a telluric, demonic, or chthonic being.


After receiving a message from a nearby planet, Mother awakens the seven spacefarers from their slumber to investigate the signal. Unless the spacefarers wish to forfeit their earnings, they must explore the source of the signal on the nearby moon. Unwilling to abandon their hard-earned rewards, they decide to travel to the nearby moon and investigate the transmission's source.


The crew boards the Nostromo's shuttle ship, "Narcissus," to explore the nearby moon and the signal emanating from there. The shuttle's name alludes to Narcissus. Narcissus, captivated by his reflection in the feminine and abyssal waters, tragically succumbs to his fate and drowns. To land safely on the moon's surface, the shuttle ship must align itself with the moon, suggesting that the crew is merging with the celestial body's forces. When viewed from space, the moon appears with a distinctly yellowish hue, implying a fiery spirit -- a spirit (when unbound) that can cause destruction but also lead to purification. Regrettably, the crew faces landing difficulties, resulting in minor damage to the shuttle. This event foreshadows the moon's dangerous core. The moon's surface is desolate, rocky, yet filled with potential in the form of carbon, while its air is unbreathable. Violent windstorms constantly assail the moon, producing an eerie howl. The moon is noticeably primordial. The fusion of wind and earth symbolizes a threshold the crew must overcome to experience a rebirth or ensure their survival.


Stuck on the moon until necessary repairs are completed, some of the crew decide to explore the moon's surface in search of the precise source of the signal. As the crew members journey across the desolate, chaotic, bleak, and dark landscape, representing their descent into an underworld-like realm, they stumble upon a vast and enigmatic object resembling a ship. Upon finding an entrance, they encounter an unknown lifeform who seems to have fused with the chair he is seated in, his solar-plexus or thoracic bones bent outward as if he experienced an internal explosion. In this context, the ship becomes akin to a tomb, a deathly prison. Kane, one of the crew members, ventures deeper into the ship's core and discovers a distinctly warm room veiled in mist, where mysterious ovoid-like objects lie. Driven by his curiosity, similar to Narcissus, Kane succumbs to temptation and crosses the mist's boundary. Upon closer inspection, he realizes that the ovoid-like objects are eggs, and one of them exhibits signs of movement. After touching one of the objects, the egg opens, and a strange creature emerges, swiftly attaching itself to Kane's face.


While investigating the ship, the three crew members of the Nostromo successfully reveal it to be a tomb that contains a mysterious womb. Inside this womb, they discover enigmatic ouroboric eggs. Along with the presence of living or "organic" creatures. The eggs' presence symbolizes the unity of masculine and feminine mercurial elements. Effectively, Kane encounters a tangible manifestation of the ouroboros of death and dissolution. Overall, the crew has unintentionally stumbled upon a dangerous womb where its physical essence has become attached or transferred to the human form.


Despite Ripley's insistence that the crew adhere to protocol and prevent Kane from entering the Narcissus, Ash, whose name carries profound symbolism, allows the three crew members who explored the ship back on board. Ripley's commitment to following protocol aligns her with the concept of law, revealing her as a custodian of wisdom and justice. Conversely, Ash portrays himself as a pragmatist who is willing to disregard protocol to protect the crew, despite the potential dangers posed by Kane. The crew discovers that the alien lifeform has firmly attached itself to Kane's face, forming a distinct persona. As they attempt to remove the creature, they learn that its blood possesses "molecular acid" capable of corroding multiple layers of the ship's hull. The creature's blood emphasizes the creature's corrosive, destructive, and lethal nature, indicating its ability to dissolve impurities on the Nostromo and the Narcissus.


After the creature detaches itself from Kane's face, the crew plans to return to their sleep chambers, attempting to put the traumatic experience behind them and resume their journey back to Earth. However, at Kane's request, they decide to have a meal before departing. During the meal, Kane suddenly begins convulsing, and to their horror, a serpentine or draconic creature forcefully bursts out of his chest. Throughout this visceral ordeal, Kane is adorned in white attire. With the creature's emergence and the fusion of Kane's white clothing with the crimson of his blood, a symbolic convergence of two material and mercurial forces takes place, giving birth to the serpent entity through Kane's physical demise. Kane's soul becomes entwined with the serpent; embodied within its form. This scene signifies that Kane has brought forth Death itself. Referred to as "Kane's Son" by Ash, who engages in a play on words, this deathly soul represents the life force within matter. The dragon, known as the "All-in-Everything" in the alchemist's language (Evola, p. 113), embodies this concept.


Realizing that they are now confined on board the ship with the serpentine dragon, the crew becomes aware of the urgent need to capture and eliminate it, as it has already claimed the life of one of their own. During their search for the creature, Parker and Brett mistakenly identify Ripley's cat as the threat, but the feline manages to escape. To prevent any further disruptions caused by the cat and to continue their pursuit of the creature, Parker and Ripley assign Brett the task of locating the missing cat. While searching for the cat, Brett stumbles upon the dragon's shed skin. Shortly after, he is seized by the fully matured draconic entity, which symbolizes Death itself - the embodiment of darkness beyond measure (Evola, p. 105). Subsequently, the crew discovers that the creature has taken refuge within the ship's air duct system, indicating its escape from confinement and establishment within the ethereal realm. The creature's escape into the airy realm imposes a significant constraint on the spirits and souls of the crew members. They decide to ensnare the dragon and eliminate it using a flamethrower. The utilization of fire, coupled with the fact that the creature has nested within the air duct system, reinforces the notion that their souls are ensnared by the manifestation of Death that emerged from Kane's demise.


Regrettably, the crew faces a grim fate as Dallas attempts to eliminate and confine the creature but falls victim to its power. Before Dallas' demise or capture, we can observe through Ripley's interactions with him, that he embodied the crew's ego. His representation as Man's ego is reinforced by his refusal to heed Ripley's advice - his ego dominates her, indicating his excessively self-centered nature; furthermore, he is the ship's captain. With the loss of their captain, the remaining four crew members descend deeper into chaos and the abyss without the ego's light to guide them.


With Dallas gone, Ripley takes charge and gains access to the ship's computer, Mother, through whom she discovers their true orders. She learns that the company they were working for intends to use them to retrieve the alien lifeform, prioritizing it over their lives. The only other crew member aware of this was Ash. However, Ash, unwilling to let Ripley interfere with the mission, attacks her. As Ash is about to suffocate her, Parker comes to Ripley's rescue. During this ordeal, they realize Ash is an android. Symbolically, Ash embodies a hardened and elusive figure. His pale, milky blood signifies his connection to the lunar and mercurial realm. Ash's true nature is further revealed by his fascination with the dragon, which he admires for its "purity." He states, "I admire its purity. A survivor...unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality." Ash is possessed by the creature's remorselessness and amorality, which reveals its purely intellectual and materialistic nature. Being both man and machine, one can infer that Ash admires the demon because he grapples with his conflicting nature. As a product of human intellect, he struggles with his emotional and empathetic side, which (due to his non-human nature) remains alien to him. After deactivating Ash, the remaining three crew members choose to destroy the ship.


While preparing for the ship's destruction, two more crew members fall victim to the draconic creature. As Ripley sets the ship to self-destruct, she encounters the demon, obstructing her path. She attempts to halt the self-destruct sequence but realizes it is too late. Surrounded by chaos, she finds herself trapped within the Nostromo as it begins to shut down. Understanding that her only way out is to confront the impending danger, she boards the Narcissus. Just in time, she jettisons from the Nostromo, narrowly escaping its imminent self-destruction. Three brilliant flashes of white light symbolize purification as the Nostromo is obliterated.


Ripley proceeds to undress, symbolizing an initiation through dissolution. However, she soon realizes she is not alone on the Narcissus. Trapped with her is the demonic dragon, its abyssal-black color contrasting with her white undergarments. She dons a white space suit, further highlighting the contrast between herself and the draconic serpent. Strapping herself into a chair on the Narcissus, she opens the ship's airlock and launches the creature into space with a harpoon shot. With the demon destroyed, she is finally ready to return to sleep and Earth.


Interestingly, this final scene serves as the film's climactic resolution and represents the refined Man seeking wisdom and his impure aspects' dissolution. We can infer that each character who dies in the film (including the dragon), symbolizes impurities within the human soul and body. For instance, Kane represents a man easily influenced by his surroundings, Ash (whose name is a reference to Saturn) symbolizes the conflicting nature of human sympathy and rationality, and Dallas represents the ego when it becomes inflamed. Additionally, Brett represents ignorance and laziness, Parker symbolizes impatience, and Lambert symbolizes the struggle against immobilizing fear.


Purged of these six impure states, symbolizing six of the seven bodies in the alchemical tradition, she produces a purified ego, united with lunar or intellectual wisdom, and driven by proper passions. Ripley then confronts the consolidated form of impure states transferred through dissolution into the serpentine dragon, i.e., the alien; the seventh and final amalgamated impurity -- Death. The Narcissus functions as a hermetic chamber where the two states of Man—the earthly tomb, darker than dark, and the essential soul, the luminous being—separate and hypostasize.


After Ripley removes the congealed form of death, symbolized by the dragon, and proceeds to sleep, she reintroduces herself to Lethe's waters. She plans to forget the events aboard the Nostromo and return to Earth. However, the audience (and I often experience this while watching "Alien") should feel a lingering unease, as if something isn't quite complete. This feeling arises because the dragon lurking in the deep abyss of space, capable of profound destruction, is a being that resides within all of us as material beings. It represents the living tomb within, which can only be overcome when we unite with it in a purer state.


If the Nostromo had carried out its mission and returned to Earth, disregarding the desires of its crew members and the cost of their lives, the creature and its origins would have been revealed. Instead, in the film "Aliens," humanity returns to the moon where the dragon emerged initially, which produces more draconic beings and causes further destruction and dissolution. Only in the third film of the series does Ripley's character merge with the draconic being, ultimately destroying her material body and the serpent by the film's end. As a result, she is reborn in "Alien: Resurrection" as a combination of herself and the dragon, forming a Novus Homo—a New Man.


The "Alien" series shows us that destruction is an inherent aspect of existence. While becoming, as a metaphysical concept, undoubtedly brings about conflict, chaos, destruction, and death, it can also serve as a tool for humanity, existence itself, or even the divine. The "Alien" series challenges us to confront this dissolution with fervor, evoking a fear that ignites the ego and engenders a new sense of self. This impending fear is the spirit that moves through the film. Through its transformative effects, the dragon empowers Ripley to shed the limitations holding her back and fully actualize her soul.


Instead of succumbing to the nigredo, i.e., the black serpent, the film implies that we, like Ripley, can overcome it by utilizing the power of becoming. Effectively, one can use death to transcend the limits of mortality and achieve victory by undergoing a transformative process of transfiguration. In the face of destruction's embrace, our souls can ascend beyond the veil of mortality, undergoing metamorphosis fueled by fear, passion, and the alchemical process of becoming, ultimately conquering even the most profound abyss.

 

 

 

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References; 

Evola, Julius. The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols and Teachings of the Royal Art. Inner Traditions International, 1995.

 

 

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MatTehCat
MatTehCat

Writer, Blogger and Vlogger creating stories, rhetorical arguments, and editorials on philosophy, psychology, religion and art.


The Cat's Mewsings
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