The Alien quadrilogy has presented the world with iconic characters and creatures, unique and influential story-telling devices, and four films that have divided the opinions of audiences and critics alike from 1979 to 1997. The fourth film in the franchise, Alien: Resurrection, was met with a largely negative critical reception at the time of its release; renowned film critic Roger Ebert said in his 1997 review that “there is not a single shot in the movie to fill one with wonder” [Ebert 1997]. However, while the film as whole was reviled, elements of its plot are worthy of philosophical discussion, namely the ethics of human cloning, genetic experimentation, and euthanasia.
Ellen Ripley, the heroine from the first three films, has been cloned for the sole purpose of growing a new alien queen inside her to begin the xenomorph life cycle once more in a “controlled” environment; a process known as instrumentalisation; using individuals as a means to the purposes of others [Harris 1997].The chief scientist instructs the surgeon to “Sew her back up” when asked what to do with the living host, as though she is not a living human being with human rights but just an experiment with which to use until no longer of use.
As an objection to human cloning, Axel Kahn’s philosophy on the basic human principle of dignity argues that “The creation of human clones solely for spare cell lines would, from a philosophical point of view, be in obvious contradiction to the principle…of human dignity…Creating human life for the sole purpose of preparing therapeutic material would clearly not be for the dignity of the life created” [Harris 1997].We then see the clone of Ellen Ripley alive and conscious; the chief scientist asks “How is our #8 doing today?”, indicating that the scientists believe that the clone of Ellen Ripley is their property, and that they have not given her a name even thought they are entirely aware of who she is/was. When not referred to as #8, Ellen Ripley is referred to as “it” by the scientists and military officers.
As the film progresses, Ripley happens upon a door marked ‘1-7’; remembering she is clone #8, she opens the door and much to her horror discovers the failed attempts to clone her from the original Ellen Ripley’s DNA through genetic experimentations. Each failed attempt is more horrific than the last, yet they are all deceased. #8 finds clone #7 being kept alive, suffering from its own unnatural existence. #7 pleas to #8, “Kill…me” over and over again until #8 takes pity on the clone and takes a flamethrower to the amorphous figure, effectively euthanising her kin. Human cloning, as interpreted by The Ethics of Human Cloning, is unacceptable: “Mass-scale cloning of the same individual makes the point vividly; but the violation of human equality, freedom, and dignity is present even in a single planned clone” [Kass and Wilson 1998 p.39].
Ebert, R. (1997). Alien Resurrection. Retrieved June 2, 2012, from http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19971126/REVIEWS/711260301/1023
Harris, J. (1997). “Goodbye Dolly?”: The ethics of human cloning. Journal of Medical Ethics 1997; 23: 353-360
Kass, L.R., Wilson, J. Q. (1998). The Ethics of Human Cloning – p.39. AEI Press: La Vergne.