Crew Expendable: The Consequences Of Empathy In ALIEN

It doesn't pay to be nice on the Nostromo.

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In Science Officer Ash’s assessment of the Xenomorph, he calls it “the perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility." Throughout the Alien series, the Xenomorphs, in every variation, are only concerned with ensuring their own survival, killing anyone who stands in their way. This is where the strength of the Xenomorph lies, unhindered by a sense of duty towards others.

As the crew of the Nostromo is summoned to a small planetoid to investigate a strange signal, Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt) commits a single sin: curiosity. When he leans in for a better look at a newly-discovered egg, the creature inside leaps out and attaches itself to his helmet. It is at this point that the horror story could have ended before it began. As the crew members attempt to bring Kane back onto the Nostromo for treatment, Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) refuses to allow entry, citing quarantine protocol. If Ash hadn’t disregarded Ripley’s decision and opened the inner airlock, Kane would have undergone 24 hour decontamination and likely suffered the same fate as he does later, but from a safer distance. The rest of the crew would have never been exposed, a fact that Ripley later points out to Ash. 

Ash has other motivations, however, and the crew’s regard for Kane ultimately leads to their collective demise. After Kane succumbs to his “condition”, the newborn alien escapes and the crew is tasked to locate it. Chief Engineer Parker (Yaphet Kotto), Engineering Technician Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), and Ripley investigate a lower deck, following a tracking signal to a small cupboard. They pounce with a net only to discover that it is the crew's cat, Jones. 

That damn cat.

Eventually Brett catches up with Jones, and meets the now-grown Xenomorph. His death is quick and brutal but Ripley and Parker catch a glimpse of the creature as Brett’s bloody body is dragged into an air shaft. The crew decides to drive the alien into the airlock where they can blow it out into space. Ripley volunteers, but Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) dutifully insists on going. This selflessness leads to his own demise at the hands of the Xenomorph in one of the most intense scenes of the film. Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) deserves a special assist for this death, as Captain Dallas only moves right in front of the Xenomorph at her panicked, misguided urging. Had he stayed put, it’s entirely possible Dallas would have figured out the creature’s location and used the flamethrower to complete his mission and eliminate the threat.

Captain Dallas is not the only death Lambert is partially responsible for, either. Upon encountering the creature in a supply room, Parker and Lambert don’t notice until the alien has Lambert cornered against a wall. Parker can’t engage his flamethrower at the alien without engulfing Lambert as well. She is rooted to the spot, crying in terror and oblivious to his pleas for her to move. Had Parker adapted the alien’s methods and kept his own survival in mind, it would have been a simple decision to set the alien on fire, even if it put his crew mate in grave danger. But despite his vocal concerns about bonus pay earlier in the film, Parker has more than money on his mind. He opts to charge at the Xenomorph, which ends poorly for him. This would have been Lambert’s chance to escape but she stays frozen in place, even as the creature’s tail slowly curls around her own leg. When Ripley rushes to the supply room, all she finds are the bloodied bodies of her fellow crewmembers - the gruesome result of sticking together. 

In the end, the last surviving crew member of the Nostromo is the same person whose cold adherence to quarantine rules could have saved everyone but Kane, if only her warnings were heeded. The alien’s survival rendered the lives of the crew to be a low priority in the eyes of the Company. Likewise, the crew’s regard for each other and their responsibilities toward one another held dire repercussions for them all. Then and now, Ridley Scott’s Alien remains an unforgiving endorsement of survival at all costs.

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