Plot: Degenerate civilized people go into the tall grass because the rules told them to and encounter the dragon of chaos pokemon. They retreat to civilization but the dragon also enters and turns it into the jungle like where he came from. (The visuals do an excellent job of making it feel like they’re in Vietnam.) This is an interesting spin on both the St. George and barbarian myth stories. I expect this movie is crack for people who are into both horror and sound production. As far as sci-fi goes, there really isn’t any. It’s 100% a fantasy story. So in the end it’s the story of the end stage of imperial collapse. I think it’s not a mistake that the ship’s computer is called “Mother” (i.e. this dying civilization engages in matriarchal goddess worship). The barbarian myth would describe a stage after that, where one of the barbarian tribes that populates the jungle temple ruins achieves a high-energy explanatory style and dispels the low-trust baggage it inherited from the degenerate culture.
It would be helpful if we could describe this with a set of images…the elements would be the walled garden of civilization, the primordial jungle/ocean/whatever, the serpent of chaos, the knight character, and the princess. In the case of Alien, St. George has let himself become degenerated (there’s a morality tale about trust and taking responsibility throughout the movie). St. George goes outside the walls into the jungle and encounters the serpent. He flees but the serpent follows him inside the walls. More precisely, everyone except Ripley demands the serpent be allowed into civilization out of a misguided sense of care/harm in a moment of passion. The walled garden then turns into a jungle where all the industrial pipes and tubes start to look more like vines and tree roots in the dim emergency lights.
In the end, Ripley escapes in a shuttle and causes the larger ship to self-destruct. This would represent accelerationism and a breakaway society of some high-trust, honorable remnant (interestingly, she reverts to decelerationism but is unable to stop the countdown). However, the alien snuck onboard the shuttle before the larger ship was destroyed, so Ripley has to face it in close quarters and eject it into space. I think this final scene represents a really profound morality tale that I’ll explain in a minute. Edenists will find in particular that this movie is very appealing to female owl melons.
Earlier in the movie, there’s a scene where the captain makes a really stupid call on the grounds that he’s “just following orders”.
Ripley: How can you leave that decision to him?
Dallas: I just run the ship. Anything scientific, Ash has the final word.
Ripley: How does that happen?
Dallas: That’s what the company wants.
Ripley: Since when is that standard procedure?
Dallas: Standard procedure is to do what they say. Besides, I only know about flying… I haul cargo for a living.
Ripley: Did you ship out with Ash before.
Dallas: First time. I went five hauls with another science man. Then two days before we left Thedus, they replaced him with Ash.
*Ripley looks at him sardonically.*
Dallas: So what. They replaced my warrant officer with you.
Ripley: I don’t trust him.
Dallas: I don’t trust anybody.
This scene between Ripley and Captain Dallas is basically the thesis of the movie: “Low-trust elites invite chaos by abdicating their responsibility to the group interest.”
I complained about this in the recent podcast with Boneflour, where I described the attitude of universalist individualism leading to elites believing they’re only responsible for themselves, just like any other working Joe. This is, of course, completely missing the point of leadership. But when your followers are too shitty to deserve your sacrifices and your motives are materialistic, the temptation to disavow them for your own sanity is at least understandable. The trouble is that there are no moral gray areas at the top when it comes to ends. When it comes to the means, sure, everybody knows you have to make hard choices you regret but wouldn’t change. But not when it comes to the ends, because the only truly unforgivable sin in a leader is incompetence. It’s the opposite situation the closer you get to the dregs of society, where people are so powerless that anything they do really only counts as a form of self-expression. So they don’t have to think about ends as much because they’ll never move the needle, but the WAY they do things matters a lot.
Worth mentioning, though possibly meaningless, are a couple of garden of Eden parallels. The serpent is invited in by weak men, rather than Eve (who in this story is the strong and honorable hero). The initial facehugger recalls the theory of Eden as a story of miscegenation. Probably nothing there, but it does add a bit of spice to the story.
Anyway, the profundity of the final battle is the idea of the breakaway civilization having to face the fact that even though they’re relatively better than the others, they’ve absorbed the spiteful, low-trust value system of the degenerate civilization. Rather than being an entirely different species or culture than the people they left behind, they still have to face the Shadow of the collective unconscious. They’re not categorically different but just the right side of the same bell curve, made of the same stuff, merely in different proportions. And carrying the same malaise as baggage, literally in the movie. That’s why I like the final scene so much. There are a lot of fun details, like Ripley being scared halfway out of her wits as she approaches the creature (whispering “lucky, lucky, lucky” to herself over and over). And the way she retreated to an inner sanctum just before the fight where she comes to terms with what she has to do. Symbolically, the movie is really on point throughout.
Prefc (aiaslives) sent me a great meme expressing this idea of carrying the same baggage as the “degenerates” (i.e. people only slightly more degenerate than me in the final analysis):
In keeping with the earlier scene between Ripley and Dallas, the spiteful idea which caught a ride with Ripley in the escape shuttle is the moral law of the jungle: the strong prey upon the weak. As I said before, there are no gray areas for elites when it comes to moral ends. You’re either for your people or against them. If you’re just looking out for yourself, it will always come at their expense because human interests can never be entirely aligned. On average, something entirely aligned with my interests creates a competitive disadvantage for everyone else. A cynic might say the difference is between those that would shear the sheep and those that would slaughter them. If there are people looking to me for guidance, whether they be children, workers, servants, fans, or even critics to some extent, then my choices have spillover cultural consequences.
Owl chimes in here:
That sounds good
“One-nation conservatism (also known as one-nationism, or Tory democracy) is a form of British political conservatism that views society as organic and values paternalism and pragmatism. The phrase “One-nation Tory” originated with Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881), who served as the chief Conservative spokesman and became Conservative Prime Minister in February 1868. He devised it to appeal to working class men as a solution to worsening divisions in society.
As a political philosophy, one-nation conservatism reflects the belief that societies exist and develop organically, and that members within them have obligations towards each other. There is particular emphasis on the paternalistic obligation of the upper classes to those classes below them.”
Nowadays the term has taken on a somewhat different meaning, but the original Disraelian sense aligns pretty close to what we’re talking about
There’s no real American equivalent because our social norms around acknowledgment of class are different than the Brits
Any conscious american equivalent would start there
it would be an interesting project, actually
Ref: Paul Fussell and Alain de Botton regarding the esoteric but extremely simple nature of the American status hierarchy.
The reason this is important is that any elite which is not paternalistic will be predatory, even if only incidentally by pursuing its own interests. This is especially true because the masses will always tend to imitate the elite in their pursuit of happiness, because for good or ill elites form a society’s sense of what it means to live an ideal life. The masses look up to them, and progressively act more like them. If the elites “don’t trust anybody”, a sentiment shared by drug dealers, sex slavers, and lowlives the world over, then over time no one in that society will trust anyone and the walled garden will become the jungle. The morality tale of the movie then is “Dallas should have trusted Ripley and not Ash, rather than abdicating his responsibility as a leader to make sound judgments.”