Another Reason to Love Aliens – It’s a Symmetrical Film

I’ve heard Aliens described as a “rollercoaster” because it’s such a thrilling ride. It turns out that that metaphor is true on an entirely new level. The first and second halves of that movie closely mirror each other, creating another example of Cinematic Chiasmus.

I’ll be using the Special Edition of Aliens (not the theatrical version) for this discussion because the Special Edition has a lot of amazing scenes that add to the story, and it’s the version that James Cameron intended for audiences to see.

So let’s go to a place in the universe you shouldn’t go alone and discover the symmetrical nature of the sci-fi/action classic Aliens.

The Chiasmus

Here is the film’s chiasmic structure. Each point in the first half gets repeated on the other side in reverse order. I’ll discuss all of them in depth further below.

A. Ellen Ripley and Jones are in hypersleep together

 B. Ripley has a horrifying nightmare involving an alien

  C. After awakening, Ripley tells Jones, “It’s over”

   D. Ripley learns that her daughter is dead

    E. She gets stripped of her title by the company

     F. Newt’s parents leave her in order to explore an alien ship

      G. Newt screams at the sight of a facehugger attached to her father

       H. Lt. Gorman guarantees Ripley’s safety on a rescue mission

        I. The Sulaco heads to LV-426 on a rescue mission

         J. At breakfast, Pvt. Hudson acts cowardly during Bishop’s knife trick

          K. Ripley is worried Bishop will betray her because he’s an android

           L. She briefs the colonial marines and shows her prowess in a power loader

            M. Hudson boasts about the weaponry they’ll use to protect Ripley

             N. Armed to the teeth, the marines search the colonists’ compound

              O. Ripley finds, and tries to comfort, Newt, the only surviving colonist

               P. The marines are forbidden from using their guns against the aliens

                Q. They find the colonists, who have been cocooned and killed

                 R. Ripley’s nightmare comes to life when a colonist is killed by a chestburster

                  S. With zero visibility, the marines get separated and picked off by attacking aliens

                   T. Ripley smashes through several barriers to rescue the surviving marines

                    U. The survivors discuss their options to continue the fight or retreat

                     V. Their dropship gets destroyed, stranding them on the planet

                     V. They salvage what they can from the dropship wreckage

                    U. They discuss their limited options of survival

                   T. Ripley organizes teams to build barricades to repel the inevitable alien attack

                  S. Cpl. Hicks gives Ripley a tracking device as a precaution

                 R. Newt tells Ripley about her scary dreams and they discuss monsters and pregnancy

                Q. Ripley, Bishop, and the marines talk about who is responsible for the eggs that killed the colonists

               P. The first set of sentry guns fail to stop the aliens (Note: P and O are out of order)

              O. Ripley confronts Carter Burke about his role in getting the colonists killed

             N. Weaponless, Bishop crawls through a tunnel to the uplink tower

            M. The second set of sentry guns prove effective in stopping the aliens

           L. Hicks trains Ripley on how to use the marines’ weapons

          K. Burke tries to get Ripley and Newt impregnated with aliens

         J. Under an onslaught of alien attackers, Hudson demonstrates his bravery

        I. Bishop tells Hicks a dropship is coming from the Sulaco to rescue them

       H. Gorman kills himself, making good on his promise to protect Ripley

      G. Newt screams when an alien grabs her

     F. Ripley flies into the aliens’ nest to find Newt

    E. Ripley takes charge and gives orders to Bishop

   D. Ripley destroys the Queen Alien’s eggs

  C. After escaping a nuclear explosion, Ripley tells Newt, “We made it”

 B. Ripley tells Newt they can both dream after finally facing their nightmares

A. Ripley and Newt go into hypersleep next to each other

Now let’s discuss each of these points in the chiasmus in greater detail.

A. Ripley and a Friend in Hypersleep

Ripley begins and ends the film Aliens in hypersleep with a fellow survivor.

The first time we see Ellen Ripley, she’s in hypersleep along with her cat, Jones. They’re the only two survivors of the first Alien film.

The last time we see Ripley, she’s in hypersleep alongside her surrogate daughter, Newt. Bishop and Cpl. Hicks also survived, but the final image is of Ripley and Newt side by side. They both survived similar ordeals that bonded them together.

B. Ripley’s Nightmares

Ripley has a nightmare at the start, but by the end she doesn't have to worry about nightmares anymore.

Ripley has a disturbing dream in which she has an alien chestburster inside her that pops out of her chest just before she wakes up screaming.

At the film’s climax, the Alien Queen rips its tail through Bishop’s chest, and then Ripley defeats it in hand-to-claw combat. After the Queen is dead, Ripley tells Newt that they can both dream peaceful dreams.

C. Survivors

Ripley comforts Jones and Newt, telling them it's all over when it's really not.

Ripley wakes up from her nightmare and pulls Jones close to her. She kisses him and says, “It’s all right now. It’s over.” They had survived a huge explosion at the climax of Alien.

After they barely avoid getting incinerated in a nuclear explosion, Ripley holds Newt close and says, “We made it.” She then kisses her.

D. Dead Children

Ripley's daughter dies before she gets home, and she destroys the Alien Queen's eggs in retaliation.

Ripley learns that after being in hypersleep for 57 years, she has outlived her daughter. She’s completely alone.

After rescuing Newt from an alien cocoon, Ripley finds herself face to face with the Alien Queen. She destroys all of the Queen’s eggs and other full-grown alien “children.”

E. Ripley’s Authority Revoked and Restored

Ripley is stripped of her title by the company, but later she's the one giving orders.

The company officials don’t believe Ripley’s story about the alien, and they strip her of her title as Warrant Officer.

Bishop fears there isn’t enough time to save Newt, but Ripley forcefully commands him to stay put and wait for her.

F. Leaving and Going After Newt

Newt's parents leave her behind to enter the alien ship, but Ripley goes to find Newt inside the aliens' hive.

Newt’s parents discover the same ship from Alien. They leave Newt and her brother in their vehicle and go exploring the ship where a huge hive of eggs awaits them.

Ripley flies back into the atmosphere processor in search of Newt. She leaves the safety of her dropship and goes deep into the alien nest where numerous aliens and eggs are waiting.

G. Newt Screams

Newt is frightened by a facehugger on her father and an alien about to grab her.

Newt’s mother suddenly returns and shouts into a radio for help. When Newt sees the facehugger attached to her father’s head, she screams.

Ripley and Hicks find Newt under the floor. As they cut their way through to her, an alien suddenly jumps up behind her, and she screams once again.

H. Guaranteeing Ripley’s Safety

Lt. Gorman guarantees Ripley's safety on a rescue mission.

Carter Burke and Lt. Gorman go to Ripley’s apartment and try to convince her to join a rescue mission to find out what’s happened to the colony on LV-426. Gorman says, “I can guarantee your safety.”

Later, Burke gets killed while selfishly attempting to save himself and Gorman dies heroically to give Ripley a fighting chance at reaching safety. However, his actions also put Newt’s life in jeopardy.

I. The Sulaco

The Sulaco travels to LV-426 on a rescue mission and later a second shuttle comes down to rescue the marines.

The Sulaco travels toward LV-426 with its crew in hypersleep. They’re going to rescue the colonists.

Later, Bishop informs Hicks that he has been able to remotely pilot a dropship down from the Sulaco to rescue them from certain death.

J. Hudson’s Courage

Pvt. Hudson acts cowardly during Bishop's knife trick, but he proves his courage when it counts.

After awakening, the colonial marines eat breakfast together. Pvt. Hudson asks Bishop to do a knife trick, but he gets ambushed and Bishop winds up cutting all around Hudson’s fingers, making him scream in fear.

During an intense battle where Hudson is facing off with dozens of aliens, he proves that he’s not a coward after all. Even as he’s ambushed, he goes down firing his gun and shouting obscenities at his attackers.

K. Ripley’s Distrust of Bishop and Burke

Ripley is scared Bishop will try to kill her like Ash did, but Carter Burke turns out to be the traitor.

The moment that Ripley learns Bishop is an android she regards him with distrust. She thinks he’ll betray her and try to kill her just like Ash did in Alien in order to protect the alien and bring it back to Earth.

However, Burke turns out to be the traitor. He locks Ripley and Newt in a room with two facehuggers in the hope that they will get impregnated with chestbursters he can return to the company’s labs for study.

L. Ripley’s Training

Ripley shows her skill in a power loader, and later Hicks shows her how to use a pulse rifle.

Ripley tells the marines all that she knows about the alien threat they’re facing. She then proves she’s a force to be reckoned with as she dons a power loader suit and shows Hicks and Sgt. Apone what she can do.

Later, she and Hicks talk about what to do if the aliens overpower them. Hicks then shows her how to use a pulse rifle, and she catches on quickly. When he expresses reservations over showing her how to use the grenade launcher, she says, “Show me everything. I can handle myself.” Hicks replies, “Yeah, I noticed.”

M. Superior Firepower

Hudson brags about the marines' weaponry, which just barely manages to keep the aliens at bay later.

During the descent to the planet, Hudson loudly boasts to Ripley about all of the advanced weaponry they have on hand to protect her and eliminate any threat.

When a second set of sentry guns are used against hordes of incoming aliens, they barely manage to stop them.

N. Entering Enemy Territory

The marines enter the colony armed to the teeth, but Bishop refuses to take even a handgun as he goes to the uplink tower.

About a dozen marines enter the colonists’ compound. They bring all sorts of weapons and are ready for a fight, but they find the place almost completely deserted.

Later, Bishop crawls through a pipe from one end of the compound to the other to reach an uplink tower near the aliens’ hive. Pvt. Vasquez offers him a simple handgun, but he refuses to take it. Luckily, he doesn’t run into any aliens while he’s out there.

O. Comforting Newt and Confronting Burke

Ripley comforts Newt and angrily confronts Burke about his actions that made Newt an orphan.

Newt is the only surviving colonist who managed to avoid getting caught by the aliens. Ripley attempts to soothe her by telling her everything will be all right, but Newt knows it won’t be.

After discovering the truth about what happened, Ripley confronts Burke and accuses him of being responsible for all of the other colonists’ deaths. He denies it at first, but she nails him with irrefutable evidence and tells him that she’s going to make sure he pays for his crimes. He has other plans, though.

P. Guns Fail

The marines have to surrender their ammunition before a firefight, and the first sentry guns fail to stop the aliens' advance.

As the marines make their way underneath the atmosphere processor, they are ordered not to use their pulse rifles for fear that they could trigger a nuclear explosion. The flamethrowers prove less than effective against the aliens.

As the aliens travel through a corridor toward the compound, the first set of sentry guns fail to stop their advance.

Q. Colonists and Eggs

The colonists are killed by facehuggers from eggs, and later the marines discuss where the eggs came from.

The marines are shocked to find all of the colonists cocooned together with empty alien eggs nearby. Almost all of them have their chests ripped out from the inside.

Later, Ripley, Bishop, Hudson, and Vasquez discuss what they saw and speculate about where all of the eggs came from.

R. Ripley and Newt

Ripley's worst nightmare comes true, and Newt is afraid of going to sleep because of her own nightmares.

The marines find one colonist who’s still alive. But they’re too late to save her as a chestburster rips out of her chest. Ripley is visibly shaken by seeing her nightmare come to life so viscerally.

Later, Newt says she doesn’t want to sleep because she has scary dreams. Ripley puts on a brave face and tries to allay her fears, talking about the existence of monsters and the difference between chestbursters and babies. In the end, Ripley’s solution to Newt’s problem is to not dream while she sleeps.

S. The Locator

The marines get separated by the smoke, and Hicks later gives Ripley a locator to prevent that from happening again.

After burning the chestburster, the marines find themselves blinded by all the smoke. The aliens easily pick off several of them one at a time while they’re disoriented.

Recognizing the strength of sticking together, Hicks gives Ripley a locator so he can find her if they ever get separated.

T. Smashing and Building Barricades

Ripley smashes through barriers to save the marines, and then she has them build barriers to protect themselves.

Gorman freezes up during the initial alien attack on his men. So Ripley takes charge and saves everyone by driving the APC straight through a wall built by the aliens and then through a metal door leading out of the atmosphere processor.

Later, while everyone else is panicking or struggling to come up with a plan, Ripley tells them all what to do. They build and repair several barricades around the compound to insulate themselves from the alien attacks they know are coming.

U. Discussing Options

The survivors discuss their next move after suffering two devastating defeats by the aliens.

After they make it out, the survivors of the first fight with the aliens talk about their next move. Some would prefer to stay and fight while others want to leave. They finally settle on leaving immediately but also nuking the site from orbit to finally be rid of the aliens once and for all.

After their means of escape is gone, they once again discuss their next move. All they can do is hole up inside the compound and hope to be rescued in the next 17 days. They don’t know if they can last that long, though.

V. Shuttle Scuttled

The shuttle crashes and destroys most of the marines' equipment, but they manage to salvage some things.

As the dropship approaches to pick up the survivors, the pilots are both killed by an alien stowaway. The dropship then crashes in a fiery explosion, dashing Ripley’s and the others’ hopes of a quick end to their problem.

They return to the compound and take stock of all the equipment and weapons they managed to salvage from the wreckage of the APC, which was destroyed in the wake of the dropship’s crash.

This Time There’s More

There are a lot of reasons to love Aliens. Now you’ve got one more. Not only is this one of the best sequels and action films ever made, but it’s also extremely intelligently crafted. James Cameron truly made a masterpiece with Aliens.

Go watch this movie again through this new perspective of its symmetrical nature, and get ready for the ultimate rollercoaster ride because this time there’s a whole lot more to it!

This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.

All images are the copyright of their copyright owners.

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About Robert Lockard, the Deja Reviewer

Robert Lockard has been a lover of writing since he was very young. He studied public relations in college, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in 2006. His skills and knowledge have helped him to become a sought-after copywriter in the business world. He has written blogs, articles, and Web content on subjects such as real estate, online marketing and inventory management. His talent for making even boring topics interesting to read about has come in handy. But what he really loves to write about is movies. His favorite movies include: Fiddler on the Roof, Superman: The Movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Back to the Future, Beauty and the Beast, The Fugitive, The Incredibles, and The Dark Knight. Check out his website: Deja Reviewer. Robert lives in Utah with his wife and three children. He loves running, biking, reading, and watching movies with his family.
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18 Responses to Another Reason to Love Aliens – It’s a Symmetrical Film

  1. Your name here says:

    I LOVE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like

  2. Ian says:

    Just re-watched Aliens for the 10th time last night (My absolute favourite film), and had the pleasure of finding this awesome article today. Thank you for putting this together!

    Like

  3. Matt Keil says:

    Well spotted and well written. Analyzing the construction of classic films that still work well today is key to pulling away from the thoughtless scripts that plague mainstream blockbusters today.

    Like

    • You are very kind. I totally agree. I’m not sure if this year’s summer blockbusters were more formulaic than ones in previous years, but it certainly seems like people stayed away because they’ve learned their lesson about what passes for quality entertainment.

      I don’t want Hollywood resurrecting old franchises all the time, but I would love to see a return to great storytelling.

      Like

  4. Antonio Pedreira says:

    Is it true Cameron wrote the script from scratch in a handful of weeks?

    Like

    • You’re close. He did write a treatment extraordinarily fast in 1983 while waiting to direct The Terminator. It took him a while longer to write the full screenplay because he was also writing Rambo: First Blood Part II at the same time. He had a busy and amazing start to his career.

      Like

  5. johnbijl says:

    Excellent write-up. Like most of us here, I adore Aliens as an action film… and respect it as a character analysis. As real science fiction should be. For example: one of my favorite moments in de the film is a piece of dialogue between Ripley and Newt:

    Newt: ‘Why do parents tell their children there are no monsters?’
    Ripley: ‘Because most of the time it’s true.’

    Your article adresses more of these pivotal arches of character growth for Ripley in B (being controlled by fear – controlling fear), E (beaten down – taking charge) and L (veighned conference – real confidence through vulnerability). And what about J for Hudson, who came from chicken-with-bravado and rose to the occasion? Or G for Newt, which book-end her catatonic state.

    As I said, I adore this film.

    And oh: James Horner’s score is kick-ass.

    Like

    • Thank you. It’s amazing that James Horner had to rush to get the score for Aliens done in just a few weeks because it took so long to get the final edit of the film put together. He did an incredible job, like always.

      I love how this movie focuses on characters just as much as action, too. It’s the perfect action movie. I’m happy I could show how the emotional arc of the story is crafted in such an interesting way. It was a mistake for the studio to require a trimmed-down version of this film because the scenes about Ripley’s daughter and Newt’s family provide the emotional core of the story.

      Like

  6. This is absolutely amazing!

    Like

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