I’m pleased to be taking part in Matt Killeen’s blog tour, in which he shares with us his female heroes, both real and fictional. Matt is the author of Orphan Monster Spy, which I reviewed here.
Rebecca “Newt” Jorden from Aliens
James Cameron’s Aliens dominated my adolescence and remains one of my favourite movies, a terrifying roller-coaster piece of action that is almost perfect in its execution. To say it has influenced me would be an understatement – I spent a year or more making a living role-playing a character that crossed Apone and Full Metal Jacket’s drill-sergeant. While it did not invent the strong heroine trope, it is probably the piece of media that made it most famous. Watching Ripley turn to the opening lift doors, armed to the teeth and ready for action with a look of determined terror in her eyes, is one of cinema’s great moments. However, there are several aspects and subtexts that make Ripley a problematic figure, in a film that struggles with its feminist identity. For example, the faithless mother seeking redemption, becomes the soldier that the marines were not. It’s all very kick-ass but in a symbolically male fashion.
Therefore, my feminist heroine of choice here is Newt, the six-year-old lone survivor of the doomed colony of LV-426. Her family and community became victims of a powerful horror and it transpires, a terrible crime. This has happened for reasons entirely beyond her responsibility, yet she has not allowed herself to join them as a victim.
When she is found by Ripley and the marines, she has evaded some 150 aliens by using the ventilation shafts for many weeks, a constantly defensive and non-violent tactic that relied on her own cunning and intelligence. Newt’s resilience is astounding. While clearly traumatised and damaged by her experiences, she remained and remains functional while other adults cannot. She has simply refused to give up.
She also has maintained her humanity as best she can. In addition to the necessary rations, she has gathered pretty things to decorate her ventilation shaft home, presumably at some risk. Clinging to her awards for service to the colony that no longer exists, because they are part of her identity, she also holds onto her humour, saluting Hudson and reminding Ripley that her doll is really just a piece of plastic. Most remarkable is her willingness to remain vulnerable. She takes a chance on Ripley, when her rational mind warns her otherwise, because she is brave enough to gamble on a normal life. Her only wish is sleep without nightmares.
Newt is, like most great women, also correct about pretty much everything. The soldiers did not make any difference, there are monsters and they mostly come out at night. Mostly.
The actress, Carrie Henn, was untrained, inexperienced and barely ten years old when she played Newt, coached to a stunning performance of great precocity by Cynthia Scott, who played Corporal Dietrich alongside her. Like her on-screen self, Carrie took a path of self-preservation by walking away from what would have been an instant career in Hollywood to forge a life entirely on her own terms. She reminds us that personal choice is an essential feminist act.
Thanks for sharing, Matt!