The Monstrosity of Materialism in the Alien Film Series
By Ryan Häcker
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Abstract: In the Alien Film Series, the cosmos is dominated by the personification Materialism in the interstellar corporation. Materialism understands matter to be both intrinsically self-enclosed and extrinsically other-caused. This dual relation results in the paradox of Materialism, in which matter is both enclosed within itself and caused by what is other than itself. The paradox of Materialism is concretely embodied in the alien monster, which is the monstrosity of Materialism. The greatest of all monsters is that which profanes the sacred order of the cosmos by threatening to disintegrate its absolute self-identity. The disclosure of the monstrosity of Materialism causes consciousness to become alienated from and opposed to itself. The violent battle with the alien is thus a spiritual conflict for the absolute identity of self-conscious mind. The alien terrifies audiences because it threatens to negate, falsify, and annul this idea of an essential identity between man and God.
The most acute horror that penetrates into the hidden vaults of our psyches is the disquieting sense of the uncanny before a power which may disintegrate, annul, and radically profane that which we hold sacred in the cosmos. In horror films, the uncanny is often externalized and concretized in a monster which may destroy ourselves and even annihilate all things. Since a guilty conscience is more dreadful than an injured body, the most terrible of all monsters must be an abomination which evinces our greatest guilt by threatening the innermost sanctum and self-identity of our conscious minds. The Alien film series terrifies audiences in this way by the alienation of the mind from itself and from the Absolute, so that mortal fear of the alien becomes an immortal theological horror.
In Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien, the crew of the commercial salvage ship the Nostromo is directed by the Weyland Corporation to investigate a distress signal on an uninhabited world whereupon they discover a mysterious derelict craft of extraterrestrial origin. The cargo chamber of the wreckage contains thousands of mysterious leathery eggs. Each egg appears to hatch a spidery-limbed "face-hugger" that envelopes human faces, penetrates their oral cavities, and implants an alien zygote which, after a brief period of natal gestation, violently bursts forth from within the bodies of their unwilling hosts. The infant alien which emerges from within a human host rapidly matures into a murderous beast which indiscriminately assails, assimilates, and annihilates all advanced living organisms within its surrounding biosphere.
In James Cameron's 1986 sequel Aliens, the aliens are collectively shown to operate from and within insectile hives commanded by an alien queen. The alien queen is the mistress of the hive through whose matriarchal governance the aliens are gendered as a horrific representation of the monstrous-feminine. Alien hives are organized into castes of workers, warriors and queens: queens lay the eggs; workers retrieve the living bodies of human hosts to be sacrificed to produce new aliens; and warriors kill all enemies of the hive. The 'life-cycle' of alien un-life towards the annihilation of all life vitally depends upon the sacrificial death of a host. It is a viral parasitical contaminant upon life without any essential limit upon its potential for expansion.
In David Fincher's 1992 film Alien³, the alien is smuggled by the survivors of the events of Aliens aboard an escape pod to crash-land upon on the isolated penal colony Fiorina 161. The meteoric arrival of the alien within their midst leads them, in faith and ignorance, to understand the beast as an omen of the forthcoming apocalypse. Through the collective activity of the alien hive, the alien monstrosity assumes the overriding purpose to exponentially expand to contaminate, corrupt, and consume all life in an endless entropy of self-annihilation.
The alien monster assimilates the appearance of man without his essential reason: it shares a human figure yet expresses neither pity nor remorse. In the alien man's physiology and technology become indiscriminately conjoined. The alien appears as a vicarious embodiment of the technical constructed-ness of human nature. Through this indissoluble fusion of man’s naturality and artificiality, the violent exterior battle with the alien dramatizes an interior conflict over the essential nature of man between the opposed notions of necessarily inherited naturality with contingently produced artificiality. Yet the conclusion of the Alien film series appears to leave this conflict unresolved in a dramatic aporia. Neither the nature of man, nor the alien, nor even the relation of man and alien are conclusively elucidated. The alien thus haunts our essential self-understanding as a monstrous living paradox that symbolically dismembers the integral coherency of life, nature, and the human spirit.
In Ridley Scott’s 2012 prequel film Prometheus, the science-vessel Prometheus is dispatched by the company to a distant world to investigate the signs of extra-terrestrial visitations to Earth that have been uncovered in ancient archaeological remains. The crew of the Prometheus discovers that the aliens have been created as genocidal weapons by an extraterrestrial race of humanoid Engineers - "a superior species no doubt." This discovery situates human self-understanding within a hierarchy of creatures halfway between superhuman engineers and the subhuman aliens. The Engineers are thus established, within this hierarchy of species, as the Lovecraftian "lesser gods" and proximate creators of mankind.  Like the benevolent titan Prometheus, the Engineers have stolen the fire of creation and gifted it to man by seeding the primordial Earth with human DNA prior to the earliest origins of the human race. Sir Peter Weyland, the founder of the Weyland Corporation, recounts:
"The Titan Prometheus wanted to give man equal footing with the gods. For this purpose he was cast out of Olympus. Well, my friends, the time has finally come for his return."
The expedition of the eponymously named space-ship Prometheus embodies this same mythic quest to wrest forbidden knowledge from what is absolutely other-than mankind. The events which transpire prior to human history have important consequences for the relationship between man and aliens, as the seeding of the Earth by the Engineers announces a wholly new relation between this alien race of supermen and man that, once discovered, transforms our collective idea of human nature, the essence of life on Earth, and the ultimate purpose of human life.
In our space-faring future, we discover a sub-human alien contagion that attaches to a human host, assimilates the essence of man, and is birthed with the cancerous potential to destroy all life. In the pre-historical past, the natures of man and alien have been designed by the superhuman Engineers. The continuity and coherence of human nature is thus doubly threatened by negation at both its original beginning and its final end: the essence of man is designed as a monstrous material artifact, just as man's future purpose is consumed by material monsters. The beginning and end of man is thus altogether enveloped in matter and determined by Materialism. Materialism suppresses form within matter, and then negatively individuates material atoms from one another and within themselves. The consequence is the paradox of Materialism in which all beings are thought to be negated, divided, and annulled. The furthermost negativity of this paradox terminates in the absolute annihilation of being and the logic of nihilism. The horror of the alien is the result of this furthermost alienation of the human nature from itself through the absolute negation of its original nature and final purpose.
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 "The Uncanny is the name for everything that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light." Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Von. and Victor C. Hayes. Schelling's Philosophy of Mythology and Revelation: Three of Seven Books. 28th Lesson, SW II, 2, 649.
 "[Horror films allow us to] participate in the fantasy of living one's own death and more the death of cities, the destruction of humanity itself." Sontag, Susan. “Imagination of Disaster”, in Against Interpretation, and Other Essays. New York, N.Y.: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966: 212.
 Cf. Socrates’ characterization of the pitiful tyrant in Plato’s Gorgias, 475e.
 Creed, Barbara. “Alien and the Monstrous-Feminine,” Screen, Vol. 27, No. 1, 1986.
 "Though Prometheus’ title and central metaphor points towards Greek myth, it also parallels, perhaps even more strongly, the work of Lovecraft." The Engineer Mythos." Strange Shapes. Accessed September 15, 2014. http://alienseries.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/the-engineer-mythos/comment-page-1/