Released in 1979, director Ridley Scott and writer Dan O’Bannon’s sci-fi flick Alien presents a cynical vision of the future. In the film, a crew of space truckers employed by an unnamed Company and traveling on a commercial spaceship named the Nostromo must defend themselves when a rescue-mission-gone-wrong results in a homicidal alien stowaway. The major twist of the film comes when the film’s protagonist, Ripley, discovers that the Company had ordered the ship’s android science officer to bring the Alien back alive at the expense of the ship’s crew. By the end of the film, Ripley remains the ship’s lone survivor as she escapes in a shuttle, rigging the Nostromo to self-destruct and banishing the Alien to the depths of space. In addition to being the film’s primary antagonist, the Alien acts as the physical embodiment of the Company’s corporate greed. The abuse of the film’s working class at the behest of their employers, whether they struggle against the Alien or struggle to make a decent living, is a parable to the dangers of corporate greed in the name of financial profit. In this essay, I explore how the film’s anti-bourgeoisie theme manifests in scenes of leisure and disruption centered around food.
Both in unorthodox and traditional forms, food recurs throughout the film as symbols of the relationship between the Company and its workers. Scenes centered around communal eating, such as dinner, are disturbed by the Company, which has no interest in maintaining worker satisfaction. Instead, the Alien preys on the Company’s workers, who have now been reduced to food. This lack of care on the Company’s part is one example of the films many demonstrations of corporate greed. Alien uses food to demonstrate many dangers of corporate greed: the Company’s dehumanization of the proletariats for financial gain, the lack of care the Company pays to its employees, and the Company’s infringement on the worker’s personal life to maintain steady profits.
The beginning of the film’s third act best solidifies the Alien’s symbolic parallel to the Company’s dehumanization of its own workers. As Ripley gains access to the Nostromo’s central computers, she learns that the Company has given Ash, resident science officer, the task of delivering the Alien upon the ship’s return. Part of this task explicitly mentions that the lives of the crew are not essential. This one command reveals the company’s priorities: financial over human capital. In his article “Whose Future? Star Wars, Alien, and Blade Runner,” Peter Lev discusses this very scene: “These orders are based on the commercial and military potential of the alien creature. The Company responds to profit, and puts little value on human life” (4). When a company focuses only on boosting its finances, its workers become expendable and collateral for ensuring that profits are made. The theme this scene captures is presented throughout the entire movie, including its depictions of food.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘food’ as “[a]ny nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink in order to maintain life and growth.” With this in mind, the most critical depiction of food in Alien comes in the form of Kane. Kane, one of the Nostromo’s crew, quickly becomes the Alien’s first victim: a Facehugger takes a particular attachment to Kane’s body. Once brought back onboard the ship, analysis reveals that the creature lying on his face has turned Kane into an incubator. Incapacitating him, the Facehugger keeps Kane alive to grow an Alien creature inside his body; the Alien is feeding off of Kane as a method of maintaining life and growth. Continuing with the idea that the Alien is both a metaphor of the Company and capitalism, Kane reflects the working class under capitalism. As the bourgeoisie devalues workers’ lives to maximize profit, the worker becomes a tool. Kane, the worker, is dehumanized and reduced to a physical body to maintain the Alien’s life, demonstrating how the working class is used to support the ruling class’s growth. In an article titled “Curious Case of Influence: Nostromo and Alien(s),” Ted Billy writes, “the characters in Alien are victimized by monsters symbolizing the cannibalistic corporate greed of the nameless ‘Company’ […] to reap financial profit” (2). This corporate idea is demonstrated literally between the Facehugger and Kane.
The lack of care the Company pays to its employees is seen in many places throughout the film: the run-down, dirty spaceship and the uncertainty that the engineers on board are getting their fair share of payment are some examples. The use of food as an example of inadequate care is especially important considering the crew needs food to survive. When the Facehugger finally detaches itself from Kane, he promptly returns to consciousness. In celebration, the full crew decides to reunite for dinner. Almost immediately, the conversation turns to food. Kane says, “First thing I’m gonna do when I get back is to get some decent food” (0:54:58). From here, the crewmates discuss the less-than-pleasant quality of the food, with one of the engineers stating, “I’d rather be eating something else” (0:55:09). The food itself is not special: the containers on the table are filled with indistinguishable grains, noodles, and indistinct fluids (as seen in fig. 3). The quality of the food demonstrates how little the Company attempts to please its workers, despite forcing them to work taxing assignments and, in this specific instance, putting them through a suicidal mission. The Company opts for lower quality food that barely succeeds at fulfilling the crew’s physical needs, focusing more on corporate success than worker satisfaction. Alone, the worker’s poor conditions solely speak to mistreatment. However, the Alien’s role speaks directly to the Company’s willingness to destroy the worker’s livelihood if it means the Company can substantially profit.
The only instances in which the audience sees the Nostromo’s crew relax generally involve food and include breakfast at the beginning of the film and this dinner scene. These two instances are the clearest instances of the crew enjoying their own personal lives, and the Company disrupts both. Breakfast was cut short as the crew received a distress signal leading them to the planet carrying the Aliens. The dinner the crewmates have together is violently thrown into disorder as the Alien makes itself known. Kane, unknowingly carrying the Alien inside of his body, begins to feel strange. On cue, the Alien bursts out of his chest. In the process, Kane is thrust backward as the Alien dashes across the food-covered table. The Alien represents the Company and is symbolic of corporate greed. By destroying the dinner scene, the Alien demonstrates the disruption of the working class’s personal life. This infringement of the worker’s personal life allows the Company to gain control and increase worker efficiency, maintaining a steady profit. The film’s message on corporate greed extends to understanding the bourgeoise’s control over the working class.
Ridley Scott, the film’s director, meticulously crafted the film to deliver a clear thematic message, making sure that every detail, including the film’s food, carried some significance. Behind its science fiction and horror story, Alien provides a commentary on the evils of corporate capitalism and the effects that it can have on workers. The eponymous antagonist, the Alien, serves as a symbol for the Company and corporate greed. In fact, the Alien’s rampage reflects the bourgeois destruction of the workers’ personal life in the name of profit. Beyond this extraterrestrial symbolism, Scott uses food to show how even the mundane, subtle details of the worker’s life revolve around their relationship to their employer. The food featured in the film, both traditional and unorthodox, help emphasize the parasitic relationship of the bourgeoisie towards the working class.
Alien. Directed by Ridley Scott, performances by Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, 20th Century Fox, 1979.
Billy, Ted. “A Curious Case Of Influence: ‘Nostromo’ and ‘Alien(s)’.” Conradiana, vol. 21, no. 2, 1989, pp. 147–157.
Lev, Peter. “Whose Future? ‘Star Wars’, ‘Alien’, and ‘Blade Runner.’” Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 1, 1998, pp. 30–37.
Ryman, Geoff. “The Science Fiction Dream.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol. 18, no. 2 (70), 2007, pp. 232–246.