Name: Ellen Ripley
Book/Film/TV Show: She’s the main character in the ‘Alien’ film franchise.
Personality: A tough, yet vulnerable woman who probably would have lived a normal, unremarkable life if she hadn’t encountered Alien.
Why They’re a Great Character: The interesting thing about Ripley, if you watch the first Alien movie, is she’s actually a bit unsympathetic to start with. A jobsworth who wants to follow procedure above saving a mans life (well, it turned out she was right when that man incubated an Alien that then went on to kill the entire crew, but hey, first impressions weren’t great) she seems like a background character among other more charismatic and likeable individuals that crew the Nostromo.
Throughout the film that first impression is overturned, as Ripley proves herself to be brave and resourceful against the Alien. But I’m not going to talk about Alien too much, because Ripley’s origins are actually much less interesting, in terms of character development, than her second outing in Aliens. Plus, I’ve only seen Alien a couple of times and Aliens I’ve seen loads of times because it’s a better film, despite Cameron’s love affair with big cheesy ideas. (No, it absolutely doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Michael Biehn is in Aliens. No. Well, maybe a little.)
The start of Aliens sees Ripley woken from hypersleep some 60 odd years after the events of the previous film. She has to answer for the destruction of the Nostromo, and try to adjust to life in the future. Cameron invented a daughter who had died in the intervening time between Alien and Aliens in an attempt to create sympathy for Ripley, but really she didn’t need it. A character out of time, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress has plenty that the audience can sympathise with.
And then Ripley is asked to accompany a trip to the planet where Alien was discovered, because they’ve lost all contact, and fear there might be some truth in the crazy stories Ripley told about the Nostromo. The best thing? She says no.
I love this. She’s a strong, kick-ass character, no doubt. It was established in the first film loud and clear. But given the opportunity to go back and kick-ass all over again and save some lives, she actually says ‘no thank you, I’d rather carry on with my new menial labour job.’
Things like that you could be forgiven for thinking make characters weaker, but I would argue it’s quite the opposite. Who would willingly put themselves back in the way of Alien? Ripley wanted to put it all behind her and forget about it, so the fact that she then can’t – nightmares plaguing her every night – and decides to face up to her fear makes her even stronger. It’s like when the Boyfriend and I did our Aerial Adventure. He whizzed round the course without batting an eyelid, quite used to the height from his fire service training. I was terrified the whole way round but still made it to the end. Who was braver? Who achieved more? I’m not being big headed when I say it was me.
A character who is afraid but does the job anyway is much much more interesting than the character who shows no fear at all. I think it’s probably because we all like to think we would be that brave in a similar situation, that we would master our fears and be capable, resourceful individuals. We can only imagine we would be like that if we relate to the characters in the first place. Impossibly brave characters are just better than us, we can’t be like that. But we can imagine we’d be like the guy who’s scared, admits he’s scared, but keeps going regardless.
And who doesn’t want to believe they could be as badass as Ripley when she takes on the Alien Queen with her duct taped flamethrowers and that expression that says so clearly: ‘I will toast your offspring if you come near me. Bitch.’