Ellen Ripley has come to symbolise the ultimate female character for me, the one by which I measure all others across film, literature, and video games. She undertakes a transition across four films that promotes the maternal instinct, intelligence, bravery and an ability to adapt and survive in ways which are almost exclusively reserved for male characters, whilst the films also confront issues of rape, sexual threat, and the loss of a child, and Ripley is developed enough to make mistakes, miscalculate a situation, and react impulsively. This incredibly strong character is important to me not only as a landmark in film and gender history, but also because I've grown to really like her. She is endlessly entertaining; whether she is being funny and ballsy, or is terrified and fighting for her and others’ lives. What’s more I can really relate to her struggles, and that’s something that’s very important considering I'm a young male viewer in his early twenties.
Although Ripley has a handful of romantic connections to other characters, even if some of these are barely hinted at or are left on the cutting room floor, she does not suffer as a character from these relationships. She is never constructed through these male figures, and miraculously she passes through the hands of multiple screenwriters and directors, without ever once becoming the besotted and helpless female archetype. Yes, she is portrayed as an object of sexual desire, and by that I mean both for humans and aliens, but she isn't defined by that attribute unlike many female characters. Her sexual appeal is considerably more relevant to the series’ concerns with sexual fear, rape, abortion, childbirth and the male psychological fear of impregnation, than it is relevant to her character traits.
When I watched Alien, Ripley was one of the first empowered female roles that I had experienced. I use the term empowered carefully as I think it is quite troublesome, and I certainly do not believe that a well written female character needs to take on ‘male attributes’, i.e. picking up a gun and being able to kill, this technique often backfires anyway. Ripley is empowered because she is fully fleshed out as a character; she’s alternatively weak and strong in different situations, she is conflicted, she makes mistakes, but she also learns from them - look to the supporting character Lambert to see the female role that Ripley has evolved from. I knew that I had found something here that strongly affected me. Ever since I re-watched this film I have had a very strong interest in female roles, they now are normally the characters which interest me most when I read/watch/write something, and this part of my personality, I've come to realise through writing this post, is largely tied into the character of Ripley.
Ellen Ripley has few real rivals in terms of female film characters; Sarah Connor is perhaps her only true challenger, but you could also consider Louise (Thelma and Louise), Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill), Raimunda (Volver), or say Marge Gunderson (Fargo). The reason for me that she rises above these other great characters is simply that none of those have such a rich and developed character, one that has been built-up over time and multiple films into being a strong female role model – a woman that doesn't rely on her sexuality, but is both believable and relatable.