Popular culture is sending mixed messages about female representation and objectivity in film. Films starring women and about women are too few and far between, and while men dominate behind the production of film, weak, dependent, confused, sexy, and crazy are still going to be the most definable features of the feminine protagonist in cinema. Despite this tradition, certain films have deviated from this projection of women, and rebelled against the typical stereotypes that are familiar to female representation.
Through this deviation, there is an empowerment of women, a presentation of gender equality creating the ideal of feminism; an ideal which the audience may identify with as these new images and portrayals of women have created a new defining identity of a female character. There is a strong relationship between image and identity, not only in film but in the real world as well. We all “judge a book by its cover” even though cliched advice tells us not to. Women in film are usually judged as being weak, manipulative, sexual and sensitive, because that is the way they are portrayed.
Such films however that bring forth a reconstruction of the female image have created new identites, identities that dispel the negative qualities of previous conceptions of women in film and strongly support the ideal of feminism; the ability of women to achieve power in a man’s world without necessarily surrendering their femininity. Such films that have constructed this new feminine image are seen in Alien and Aliens with the Ripley character (for the sake of argument, the later Alien films are ignored due to their departure from the character arc of Ripley), and Erin Brockovich with the title character. Ellen Ripley, played by the amazon Sigourney Weaver is a strong, willful and formidable survivor.
She achieves heroic status in the Alien series, a status traditionally reserved for men in such genre films, due to her strong character traits, such as her ability in leadership, in warfare and her caring maternal instincts. In Ridley Scott’s Alien, Ripley is the sole survivor (excluding Jonesy the cat) of the Nostromos, as an alien creature wipes out the rest of the crew. She devises a plan to escape the ship and in the end cunningly kills the alien creature. In her second confrontation with the alien creatures in James Cameron’s Aliens, Ripley leads a group of combat marines to wipe out these creatures that have infested a colony, or so she is led to believe by “The Company. ”
Cameron’s Aliens has stronger feminist overtones, as there is more display of Ripley’s feminism along with her heroic nature. In Alien there is no real distinction of gender in the crew, other than the fact that we know biologically who is male and who is female. The crew is almost asexual in the way they dress and interact. The only strong feminist display is through the constrast between the two female characters. Lambert, the ship navigator, is the typical movie female response to fear; she is high strung, constantly sobbing, and hysterical.