I didn’t come up with this Cinematic Chiasmus. It is the brainchild of Max Collins, who emailed me about it back in October 2020. He said he was inspired by my Aliens Cinematic Chiasmus article to see for himself whether or not its predecessor and follow-up fall into that category as well. And they certainly do.
It took me a while to finally turn this into an article with his permission, so I’m grateful for his patience. The amazing thing about this isn’t just that a fan came up with this breakdown of these two films, but that they turn the first three Alien films into one big chiasmus! Alien, Aliens, and Alien3 join the ranks of the Back to the Future Trilogy, the Dark Knight Trilogy, and the Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy as being three films that create beautiful symmetry.
Aliens was one of the first films I discovered to be a chiasmus, and back then I wasn’t bold enough to think in terms of trilogies. It’s gratifying to learn that, even though I was too timid to connect the dots of the films surrounding it, someone else picked up where I left off and completed the task I didn’t even know could be done.
As is customary, I will begin by listing the entire chiasmus. Bear in mind that these are not my words. I’m just the messenger this time.
A. Incoming transmission received by the Nostromo, sealing its fate
B. Lights turn on and doors open aboard the Nostromo (starts with cryopods)
C. Crew awakens and gathers to the mess
D. Mother relays secret company directions for the crew about an alien
E. Parker reasons that crew is not suited for a rescue mission, in a meeting
F. Ash gives an ultimatum stating all shares are forfeit without rescue
G. Foreboding sunset preludes descent
H. Nostromo descends to planetoid
I. Nostromo gets damaged in a rough landing, and the fires are immediately extinguished
J. Brett smokes a cigarette while making repairs to the Nostromo
K. Kane is suddenly attacked in the head by a facehugger alien
L. Kane is stuck with the facehugger but alive in the infirmary, foreshadowing the embryo
M. Ash makes an incision to remove the facehugger from Kane, spilling acid blood
N. Ripley is summoned to the infirmary by Dallas to check on a comatose Kane
O. Ripley argues with Dallas in a corridor about dealing with the facehugger. Dallas dismisses her argument because they ultimately must obey the company
P. The crew gather in the infirmary to assess Kane’s disoriented condition
Q. Kane dies in the mess, losing a lot of blood, and the alien runs away
R. Ripley, Brett, and Parker are dispatched to locate the alien with lights
S. Dallas goes into a ventilation shaft and encounters slime, only to suddenly get attacked by the alien and die
T. Ripley finds out the crew is expendable and the alien is top priority, and she suffers an emotional shock
U. Ripley reactivates Ash to extract information about the company plans
V. Ripley ends up alone in her underwear adrift in space in an escape shuttle
W. Ripley blasts the alien out into space
X. Ripley sends a distress call and goes into hypersleep
X. Ripley is in hypersleep when a fire alarm goes off onboard the Sulaco
W. Ripley is launched on an Emergency Escape Vehicle (EEV) out into space
V. Ripley washes up on shore alone in her underwear from the EEV adrift in the ocean
U. Ripley reactivates Bishop to extract information about the company plans (Note: This is out of order. It actually appears in-between Q and P)
T. Ripley finds out Hicks and Newt died in the crash and an alien may have been in the EEV with them, and she suffers an emotional shock
S. Murphy goes into a ventilation shaft and encounters slime, only to suddenly get attacked by the alien and die
R. Boggs, Rains, and Golic are dispatched to survey sections of the facility tunnels with torches
Q. Boggs and Rains die in the tunnels, losing a lot of blood at the hands of the alien, and Golic runs away
P. Ripley and the head staff gather in the infirmary to assess Golic’s disoriented condition
O. Ripley argues with Andrews in his office about killing the alien. Andrews dismisses her argument because they ultimately must obey the company
N. Ripley is quarantined in the infirmary by Andrews with a restrained Golic
M. Clemens makes a sedative injection for Ripley, and the alien attacks Clemens, spilling his blood
L. Ripley encounters the alien but remains alive in the infirmary, foreshadowing the embryo
K. The alien suddenly grabs Andrews by his head in the cafeteria and kills him
J. Jude tries to smoke a cigarette while preparing quinitricetyline, but Aaron stops him
I. Prison sustains damage after a series of explosions, and the fires are immediately extinguished
H. A Weyland-Yutani rescue ship approaches Fiorina 161
G. New sunrise ushers in resolution (Note: This is out of order. It actually appears in-between D and C)
F. Dillon gives an ultimatum stating lives will be lost regardless
E. Aaron quietly refuses to join the others in attempting to kill the alien
D. Bishop pleads company goals for Ripley and the alien inside her
C. Soldiers escort the sole survivor to the exit. Shot of empty cafeteria
B. Ripley’s old distress call replayed over a shot of her empty cryopod in the EEV
A. Final transmission summarizes the fate of Fiorina 161
The following words will be mine as I delve a little deeper to further explain each of these points.
The Nostromo receives a transmission of unknown origin that eventually leads to the destruction of the ship and most of its crew.
The final moments of Alien3 hearken back to the end of the first Alien film by having a written message explain the fate of Fiorina 161 followed by the words “End of Transmission.”
The lights on the Nostromo turn on, and a door opens showing the crew being awakened out of hypersleep.
A faint recording of Ripley’s account of the fate of the Nostromo plays over the image of her empty cyropod where she started the film.
C. Greeting and Farewell
The seven crewmembers (and Jones the cat) gather in the mess hall (which we previously saw uninhabited) for breakfast before resuming their duties for the company.
Soldiers representing the company escort the sole survivor of the encounter with the alien to the exit amid a shot of the empty cafeteria and other previously inhabited areas.
D. Company Orders
After walking through a corridor and performing a series of complex security checks, Dallas enters a light-filled room to receive orders from Mother. He doesn’t know that Ash is an android in disguise, and he is concurrently receiving secret company orders to capture an alien.
After a long process of leading the alien through corridors and finally killing it, Ripley is confronted by someone who looks like her deactivated android friend Bishop. Bishop II tries to convince Ripley to have the Alien Queen inside her removed in order to save her life. But she knows they want to use it for their own nefarious purposes, so she kills herself to stop them.
E. Not Up to It?
The Nostromo crew is ordered to investigate a beacon of unknown origin, but Parker notes that they are not qualified to conduct such a dangerous mission.
While the inmates prepare to lure the alien into a trap, company-man Aaron chickens out and hides, not wanting to risk his life on a seemingly doomed operation.
Dallas doesn’t allow Parker to derail the meeting. He loudly demands he listen to Ash, who makes it clear that if they don’t obey the company’s orders, they will forfeit all their shares. They have to risk their lives if they want to receive the money that is owed to them for this mission.
Morse tells a gathering of surviving inmates that they don’t stand a chance of destroying the alien because they don’t have the tools or knowledge to do it. But Dillon inspires the men to stand up and fight the alien against company orders because they are most likely going to lose their lives no matter what they do.
G. Sunrise, Sunset
A sun slowly sets over the alien planet as the Nostromo approaches, signaling the doom of most of the characters.
A sun rises on Fiorina 161, symbolizing the sacrifice Ripley made to save countless lives on Earth.
H. Spaceship Arrives
The Nostromo makes its way down onto the alien planet to investigate the alien beacon.
The Weyland-Yutani rescue ship makes its approach to Fiorina 161 to get the alien that’s inside Ripley.
I. Heavy Damage
The Nostromo’s landing doesn’t go smoothly, resulting in a lot of damage to the ship. Fires erupt on the bridge and are quickly put out.
The inmates’ first attempt to capture and kill the alien doesn’t go according to plan. It surprise-attacks them, producing a lot of damage and fires that are quickly put out.
J. Repair and Prepare
Parker doesn’t mind Brett smoking a cigarette while they both work on repairing their ship to get away from the alien planet.
Aaron objects to Jude trying to smoke a cigarette while working with a highly flammable substance as part of their trap for the alien.
K. Alien Attacks the Head
Kane is the most eager crewmember to lead the expedition to investigate the source of the beacon. Ripley tries to warn him once she deciphers the beacon’s message to be a warning, but he’s out of range. Kane goes headlong into danger as he descends into a giant cavern full of alien eggs. One opens up, and he gets attacked by the facehugger inside, which attaches to his face.
Andrews is the head of the prison on Fiorina 161, and he doesn’t believe Ripley’s claims about an alien that might be running loose in the prison. Ripley interrupts a meeting of the inmates to try to warn him once more of the danger, but he’s out of reach of her words. Before he can send her away, an alien reaches down from the ceiling and pulls the superintendent up by his head and kills him.
L. Close Encounter with an Alien
A comatose Kane is brought to the infirmary where Ash and Dallas scan him and the facehugger. They discover it has put something down his throat, which they don’t realize means that it is planting an alien that will eventually burst out of his chest.
Ripley is paralyzed with fear when she gets cornered by an alien in the infirmary. It looks like it’s going to kill her, but it just puts its two mouths close to her head and then leaves without harming her. She later learns that the reason it let her live is because she’s carrying an Alien Queen in her body.
M. Spilling Blood
Ash attempts to remove the facehugger from Kane by cutting one of its legs. However, this reveals that it has acid blood, which makes it impossible to kill without also killing Kane and maybe even critically damaging the ship.
Clemens prepares a sedative for Ripley. As he injects her with it in the arm, he gets suddenly attacked by the alien. It brutally kills him, splattering his blood all over the infirmary.
N. Quarantined in the Infirmary
Dallas asks Ripley to accompany him to the infirmary where they discover that the facehugger is no longer attached to Kane’s face. It’s vanished, and Kane is still unconscious. They hunt around for the facehugger, and it falls from the ceiling onto Ripley. Dallas rushes to her defense, but they learn it is actually dead.
Andrews confines Ripley to the infirmary where she speaks candidly with Golic and Clemens. Golic tells her she’s going to die. She ignores him and pries into Clemens’ past, wanting to know why he has a prison ID on the back of his head. He tells her his sad story of accidentally killing several patients, but she is quick to trust and forgive him.
O. Leaders Don’t Follow Ripley
Ripley confronts Dallas in a corridor to talk about his dealings with Ash and the facehugger. Dallas says they should just follow company orders. She notes that some of the ship’s systems are still offline, but Dallas insists on taking off immediately because those aren’t essential to the ship’s functions.
Ripley confronts Andrews in his office to warn him about a possible alien that may be putting them all in danger. Andrews refuses to listen to her and tells her that they are to follow company orders. She is dumbfounded to learn that they don’t have any weapons in their prison that they could use to protect themselves and kill the alien.
P. Dazed and Confused
When Kane wakes up, the rest of the crew gathers in the infirmary to check on him. He’s disoriented and can’t remember much about what happened, and Ash doesn’t let on that he might know what’s really going on.
Ripley is in the infirmary when Andrews and other high-ranking inmates arrive with Golic, who is disoriented and terrified after his encounter with an alien. She realizes what’s going on and asks to talk with Andrews about it.
Q. Messy Death
A chestburster erupts from Kane’s body, spraying blood everywhere. The resulting alien runs away, leaving the rest of the crew in shock and fear.
An alien attacks two inmates, Boggs and Rains, in a tunnel, spraying their blood all over. A third inmate, Golic, witnesses the bloody affair and runs away in terror.
R. Search Party
Two teams of three are sent to hunt for the newborn alien. Ripley, Brett, and Parker go in one direction, and they accidentally hunt Jones the cat. Unfortunately, the innocent mistake leads to Brett’s death at the hands of the fully grown alien.
Boggs, Rains, and Golic are sent into the prison’s tunnels to survey the sections and see if they need to be repaired. They don’t realize what they are actually going to find is an alien, which will cost two of them their lives.
S. Ventilation Shaft
Dallas tries to hunt down the alien in a ventilation shaft, but his plan backfires when the alien disappears and starts hunting him down. He finds slime where the alien was recently before being surprised and disappears without leaving a trace of blood.
Murphy goes into a ventilation shaft with a giant fan at one end of it to clean it. He doesn’t realize until it’s too late that there is an alien in there with him. He finds some of its slime and is so surprised to find the alien that he accidentally falls into the fan and spills all of his blood and guts.
T. Shocking Revelations
Now in command, Ripley forces Mother to divulge the company’s secret orders that made her crew expendable. The top priority is retrieving the alien. She breaks down into sorrow and fury at this revelation.
Now on her own, Ripley learns that her fellow survivors from the previous film, Hicks and Newt, died when they crashed onto Fiorina 161. She also suspects that an alien was with them in the EEV. She is sad but demands an autopsy on Newt and that the bodies be cremated.
U. Reactivating the Android
Ash attacks Ripley and gets taken apart by Parker and Lambert after they learn he’s an android. They reactivate Ash’s head to try to get information about the company’s orders and how to kill the alien. Ash isn’t much help, and they angrily disconnect him and burn what’s left of him.
Ripley digs Bishop’s remains out of a garbage heap. She gets attacked by some inmates but is rescued by Dillon. She reactivates what’s left of the android and asks him what happened aboard the Sulaco and the EEV. He helpfully repeats the general alarm and tells her that there was an alien egg onboard and what the company is planning.
V. Is Ripley Alone?
Parker and Lambert get killed by the alien, leaving Ripley alone. She manages to escape in a shuttle before the Nostromo self-destructs. Thinking she’s alone, she strips down to her underwear and is surprised when she discovers the alien snuck into the shuttle with her.
The sole survivor of the Sulaco, Ripley washes up on shore after being ejected from the EEV when it crashed on Fiorina 161. She is once again in her underwear, and she is not yet aware of the fact that an alien egg was onboard with her and she is carrying an Alien Queen inside her.
Ripley shoots the alien out of the shuttle with a harpoon gun and then blasts it with the ship’s engines when it tries to crawl back inside through one of them.
The EEV, containing Ripley and her fellow survivors of the film Aliens, is ejected from the Sulaco.
X. Ripley Asleep
Ripley records a final message, giving an account of what happened to her crew and her hope of being rescued, before going back into hypersleep.
Ripley is in hypersleep when a facehugger emerges from a hidden egg and a fire alarm erupts on the Sulaco.
Alien3 famously had a troubled production. The producers went through numerous scripts before settling on the one they ended up with, which wasn’t even completed before filming began. First-time director David Fincher was micromanaged and wasn’t able to make the movie he wanted because of all of the restrictions placed on him. So it’s quite surprising to find that out of that chaos came something even remotely close to mirroring the first Alien.
After going through this chiasmus with a fine-tooth comb, I have to admit it’s not perfect. As you can see, there are two moments in the chiasmus that don’t match up exactly. I also noticed that there are a number of moments that are glossed over in Alien, such as Ripley’s discussion with Ash about the matter of her authority and quarantine protocols, Kane’s funeral, and Ripley’s attempt to stop the self-destruct sequence. In Alien3, there’s the birth of the alien, Ripley shaving her head, the inmates’ assault on Ripley, her first suicide attempt, and her second attempt with Dillon.
It’s an interesting chiasmus, but there are some things that prevent it from being precisely what I would want it to be. I guess that’s an appropriate summation of Alien3, truth be told. I’d like to thank Max Collins once more for giving me permission to publish his work here.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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