Ripley, the protagonist of Alien, is hard to separate from Ripley the protagonist of the Alien franchise. The character has changed with each new movie, but we're going to do our best to put away Ripley the pop culture icon and look at the character as if we were coming to this film for the first time. So, when we meet her for the first time, we meet her as just one of seven crew-members—one who's got a lot of acting to do before she proves herself to be the protagonist.
Ripley is the warrant officer aboard the Nostromo, making her third in command behind Dallas and Kane. Officer or not, she's still a woman a man's world—and this is a man's world circa 1979, not the 21st century's paradise of gender equality. (Snort.) (No, but seriously—things were different in 1979, even though it might not seem like a long time ago.)
What that means for Ripley is that she's always at risk of being undermined or talked over. As Roz Kaveney points out, "the film can be read as feminist … in its anxieties that a woman like Ripley, who passes as equal in a male-arranged world, will always be at risk of being betrayed or threatened" (source).
Take the scene when the away party returns. Dallas orders Ripley to let them on the ship, but Ripley refuses:
Ripley: What kind of thing. I need a clear definition.
Dallas: An organism. Open the hatch.
Ripley: Wait a minute. If we let it in the ship could be infected. You know quarantine procedure. 24 hours for decontamination.
Dallas: He could die in 24 hours. Open the hatch.
Ripley: Listen to me. If we break quarantine, we could all die.
Lambert: Would you open the goddamn hatch? We have to get him inside!
Ripley: No, I can't do that, and if you were in my position, you'd do the same. (Alien)
Here, Ripley is doing her job like a boss, making the right decision no matter how hard it is, and Dallas and Lambert are mansplaining their faces off, ignoring the fact that she's correctly following protocol.
In fact, Dallas has a pesky habit of disregarding Ripley. When the facehugger turns up dead, Ripley suggests to Dallas that they dump the thing, but Ash pushes for them to keep it for study. Dallas, of course, listens to Ash. When Ripley follows him, she has to shut a door in his way to get him to listen to her. She tells him about her misgivings over Ash, but Dallas remarks, "Standard procedure is to do what the hell [the Company] tell[s] you to do" (Alien).
Bet you wish you'd listened to her now, Dallas.
Dallas isn't the only one who doesn't like to listen to one of the only women on board, either. When Kane appears on the ship with the alien, Ash disobeys Ripley's order and admits the away team, saying later that he "forgot" that Ripley is the senior officer when Dallas and Kane are off-ship. Oops.
Okay, sure, Ash is ignoring her command because he has a secret mission requiring him to get the alien aboard, and maybe Dallas is just insecure about his own command. We grant you that it's possible to read these conflicts differently.
But what about Parker and Brett's harassment of Ripley when she comes to check on their work? And what about the fact that men are traditionally associated with roles of command? And what about the fact that, before Alien, women in science fiction were mostly relegated to being rescued in skimpy costumes? Given all this, Ripley's struggle to make her voice heard as a woman in a traditionally male dominated social structure is key to understanding her character—not to mention the fact that a certain murder-a-thon could have been prevented had she been listened to in the first place.
Once the alien kills Dallas, Ripley takes command … and starts taking names. Her first move is to gather everyone into a room and determine their next course of action. Parker wants to kill the alien like yesterday, Lambert wants to beat feet in the shuttle, and Ash is silent.
In her first act of command, Ripley manages to keep the obviously fragmenting group together. She soothes Lambert's frayed nerves and prevents Parker from acting irrationally, allowing her time to think.
Ripley: We'll go step by step and cut off every bulkhead and every vent until we have it cornered and then we'll blow it the f*** out into space. Is that acceptable to you?
Parker: If it means killing it.
Ripley: Obviously it means killing it, but we have to stick together. (Alien)
That last line is crucial, because it shows Ripley not only taking command but reminding the crew that they have to work as a group. Notice the cinematography in this scene. The framing splinters the crew, each distant from the others. Lambert never shares the frame with another character. Ash keeps his back turned to the others, not even turning when to speak with Ripley. Parker keeps his distance in the background. These visual hints tell us that the group is fragmented, and Ripley's position in the center of the group is the only thing keeping them together.
Ripley doesn't just lead by consensus, though. She's also willing to what Dallas isn't and use Mother to discover Ash's secret mission. After realizing that Ash is a robot and that they have no hope against the alien, Ripley decides on a new plan:
Ripley: We're going to blow up the ship. We'll take our chances in the shuttle.
Blow up the ship.
Parker: Good. (Alien)
Again, pay attention to the framing of this scene. Parker not only agrees with Ripley's plan, but they share the center of the frame, each looking at the other at eye level. The camera is telling us that Parker has finally accepted Ripley as the leader. He even tells her to take care of herself when she goes on her own to prep the shuttle. Nice guy!
These camera angles help tell us that Ripley hasn't just been given command due to her rank. She's earned command for being a strong leader who earns the respect of her crew. Well, the rest of the crew that's still alive, that is.
Okay, we know Ripley isn't a girl. What we're talking about here is the Final Girl Trope. Basically, the final girl is the last survivor of a horror movie. She's usually a teenage girl, and she's usually brunette—since slashers prefer blondes. Sorry, Lambert.
When Alien debuted, the Final Girl Trope was still in the process of becoming a staple of the genre. Halloween, Black Christmas, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all had final girls before Alien, and people have argued about whether Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho truly has a final girl (source). Either way, the trope was new enough when Ripley went against the alien that she survives for reasons beyond her brown hair and XX chromosomes. Martin Flanagan tells us why:
Only Ripley, who is prepared initially to sacrifice Kane to ensure the safety of the entire crew, and who shows the greatest command of the situation when the alien begins its genetically programmed killing spree, is entirely without blemish. In the logic of a horror film, this ensures her survival. (source)
As viewers, we're outsiders who can see her good qualities right away. We know Ripley is right when it comes to not admitting Kane; we know she's right to question the Company and Ash. Unfortunately for Ripley's crew members, they don't listen to her until it's too late.
Flanagan also tells us that "those who die in Alien seem to do so as punishment for some deviant or unsatisfactory facet of their personality—another recognizable trait of the horror film" (ibid). By that logic, Ripley survives because she doesn't have those flaws. Let's get totally judgmental and consider her crew-mates and their faults for a second:
Ripley's character provides counterbalance to the faults of her crew. Unlike Dallas, she makes the correct decision when it comes to Kane and in not trusting Ash. Unlike Lambert, Ripley never lets her emotions override her ability to act. Unlike Parker, she balances her domineering personality with the ability to think before acting. Unlike Ash, Ripley considers the needs and lives of others when determining her motivations and morality.
And unlike Jonesy, Ripley is not a cat.
Only Ripley combines everyone's good qualities in a mix potent enough to go toe-to-toe with the alien. She's the very best that humanity has to offer. When she faces the alien in the shuttle, all of Ripley's best characteristics come into play. She stays calm under pressure, uses her intelligence to devise a plan, courageously straps herself into the chair, acts when it is necessary all while not being a cat.
The end result is one dead alien.
At least, we think it's dead. Maybe it's just floating around in space being super, super cheesed about being shot out of an engine into the vacuum of space. (Given that there are innumerable sequels and spin-offs, we're going to go out on a limb and say that it's not really over.)
Ash is the science officer aboard the Nostromo, and he ticks all the right boxes for a movie scientist. Humorless? Check. Intelligent? Double-check. Able to science any science regardless of field of study? You bet. In fact, Ash seems to embody the science fiction trope fans of the genre have lovingly called The Spock.
According to TVTropes.org, the Spock is "a character who will always think before acting [and] is an archetype that can be loosely summed up as the tendency to apply rules, reason and the greater good to all his/her decisions." While characters around him will operate with a normal range of human feelings and emotions, the Spock will out stoic the most stoic of Stoics (source).
We see this side of Ash several times during the first half of the film. When the unknown signal is discovered, he reminds everyone that they're contractually obligated to investigate. He's also the voice of reason in several scenes, as when Ripley reads part of the deciphered signal:
Ripley: Ash, that transmission, Mother's deciphered part of it. It doesn't look like an S.O.S.
Ash: What is it?
Ripley: It looks like a warning. I'm going to go out after them.
Ash: What's the point? I mean, by the time it takes to get there they'll know if it is a warning or not. Yes? (Alien)
Fair enough. Ripley may be worried about her crew members, but going out after them wouldn't actually help. You can almost hear Ripley think, "Why you green-blooded, inhuman, Vulcan!"
Unfortunately for fandoms everywhere, Ash starts doing some very un-Spock things as the story progresses. When the crew returns to the ship with Kane covered in unknown alien, Ash doesn't follow Ripley's orders despite the fact that she is senior officer on board and despite the fact that she's following very explicit protocol. In fact, he willingly breaks quarantine law and admits the away team.
So, did he forget the science division's basic quarantine law? According to him, no. Ash tells Ripley that Kane's only chance for survival was to get him aboard the ship and adds, "You do your job and let me do mine. Yes?" (ibid)
Hm, something seems a bit off with this logic. Ash's job is to follow the rules of the science division, like the quarantine law, right? And wasn't he the guy quoting the rule book to Parker when it came to investigating the unknown signal? As Mr. Spock would say, something here is "Highly illogical."
Of course, we eventually find out that Ash is a robot—okay, android—but first let's consider Ian Holm's performance. When you re-watch Alien, you can see that Holm gives us some sneaky little hits that all is not quite right with Ash.
Like his weird twitchy moments. Before sitting in his communications seat to monitor the away team, we see Ash run in place for no apparent reason. He also makes these odd mouth movements, right before he and Ripley have their talk about his admitting Kane and the others onto the ship. You can spy it right before he looks into the microscope.
These tiny little movements make Ash look uncomfortable in his skin, like it just doesn't fit right on him. (You could say they're like glitches in the matrix, if you didn't mind about being anachronistic.) In fact, in the follow-up flick Aliens, the android Bishop shouts out to this quality of Holm's performance, noting "The A2s always were a bit twitchy" (source).
Then there are subtle signs that Ash never quite fits in with the rest of the crew. In the opening breakfast scene, he is initially filmed away from the group before joining, and during Kane's last supper, he sits on the opposite side of the table from the rest of the crew. At another point in the film, he sits in Parker's seat and Parker asks him to move in a way that suggests, duh, he should have known better than to park his mechanical butt in Parker's precious seat. (Or whatever. We aren't Parker's biggest fans, okay?)
After Dallas's death, Ripley unlocks the mystery to Ash's subtle weirdness: the Company has provided Ash the secret mission of protecting the alien at all costs. One this secret is out, Ash attempts to murder Ripley in a suitably weird way: by choking her to death with a rolled-up porno magazine. When Parker and Lambert stop him, the struggle knocks his head off and reveals him to be an android.
This reveal is playing on the science fiction trope of the Spock. In classic science fiction, the scientist character will use reason and the power of science to provide a solution to the problems faced by the characters. Here, the science officer is part of the problem and, as per Jack P. Rawlins, "our defense against the nightmare proves to be another nightmare" (source)
And that nightmare is the rule of reason. According to Rawlins, "last desperate hope that the rule of reason will triumph is dashed when [Ash] tries to stuff a rolled magazine down Ripley's (Sigourney Weaver's) throat and is revealed to be a machine, indifferent to human survival" (source).
Does that sound like someone—or something—that you know? By the end of his character arc, Ash begins to take on several qualities that mirror the alien. The rolled up magazine he attempts to choke Ripley with looks an awful lot like the alien's deadly phallic mouth. After Parker hits him, Ash emits a milky substance from his mouth, which looks a lot like the substance in the alien's.
Finally, the qualities that Ash admires in the alien—that it is "unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality" (Alien)—are apparently traits Ash himself contains. In the end, Ash is a nightmare version of human ruthlessness and reason in the same way the alien is.
Ash's final words to the crew are: "I can't lie to you about your chances but you have my sympathies" (ibid). First of all, lol. The machine can't possible compute the idea of sympathy, and his wry smile right before Ripley unplugs him suggests that he considers the very idea of sympathy a joke. That's some seriously dark humor.
From Ash's point of view, admiring the creature—and refusing to help the crew—makes sense. From a rational point of view, they don't stand a chance. He's calculated the odds and they're way, way stacked against the pitiful little humans.
But like most machines who have calculated the odds against humanity, Ash can't science the human spirit and its willingness to adapt and survive. Ripley ultimately and awesomely proves him wrong.
Dallas is the captain of the Nostromo and might as well be the poster boy for awesome science fiction captain. He's brave, intelligent, and he's handsome in that late-70s manly kind of way. The actor that played him, Tom Skerritt, even got top billing. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a protagonist!
Record scratch. Alien isn't your typical science fiction movie, and there's more (or less) to this character than the sum of his individual traits.
Let's take a moment to compare Dallas to some other famous starship captains. Like Kirk, he's brave and ready to act. Like Picard, he is intelligent and listens to classical music—specifically, Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik or "a little night music." And like both captains, he is willing to take responsibility for his crew and ship.
But this isn't a feel-good adventure in post-scarcity liberal tolerance; this is Alien. In this context, Dallas's traits have some terminal downsides.
For example, when the facehugger latches itself onto Kane, Dallas attempts to get him aboard the ship. The hallmark of all good captains is that they never leave a man behind, right? Well, maybe they should—as this confrontation with Ripley, who is following quarantine laws, shows:
Dallas: Ripley, this is an order. You open that hatch right now, do you hear me?
Dallas: Ripley, this is an order! Do you hear me?
Ripley: Yes, I read you. The answer is negative. (Alien)
Dallas may be a brave, loyal captain, but he's not exactly thinking rationally here. When he disregards Ripley's warnings, he acts in the heat of the moment, thinking only about Kane and not the further-reaching consequences—which turn out to be pretty dire.
Even his later heroics can't make up for this lapse in judgment. Once the alien becomes a threat, Dallas devises the plan to force the alien out an airlock by forcing through the ventilation system and even does the courageous, captain-like thing by going in after the creature himself. But unlike Kirk versus the Gorn, it doesn't end too well for him.
Lesson learned: sometimes you do have to leave a man behind—especially when that man comes attached to prime, grade-A alien.
Dallas's other big mistake is putting his faith in the company. When company contract says to go to an unknown planet and explore an unknown signal from an unknown origin, Dallas says they go. When the company replaces Ash with Dallas's regular science officer and gives Ash complete control over all things related to the science division, Dallas accepts it. Plus, Dallas has access to Mother for most of the film and could easily have dug into Ash and his mission if he'd taken a few minutes to ponder why so many weird things kept happening.
His explanation for all this is simple: "It happens because that's what the Company wants to happen" and "Standard procedure is to do what the hell they tell you to do" (Alien). But this trust has deadly consequences—and it shows us the dark side of obedience.
(Pro tip: if you ever find yourself in a sci-fi movie, never trust any organization that calls itself "The Company." You can thank us later.)
Honestly, we didn't give Lambert much thought the first time we watched Alien. She was whiny and cried a lot. Her death could only have been more inevitable if she had come with a tattoo on her forehead that read "Victim." The only thing that surprised us was that she lasted as long as she did. But on a re-watch, Lambert starts to look a little more important and a little less useless.
Also, let's face it: In this type of situation, most of us are Lamberts.
Lambert's main characteristic is that she is the most emotional and empathetic of the characters. On the one hand, this is not a characteristic you want in a crew-mate, since her emotions tend to control her. On the other hand, she's probably going to be the first one to look out for you in a tight spot.
For example, after Brett's death, everyone gathers again to discuss a new plan of attack, and Lambert has the following exchange with Ripley:
Lambert: Could he want Brett alive?
Lambert: Could Brett be alive?
Ripley: No. I mean, I don't think so. (Alien)
Of all the crew, only Lambert considers the idea that Brett could be alive; Ripley's befuddled response shows that she hadn't even considered the possibility. In a slightly creepier interpretation, you could also say that Lambert is even able to empathize with the alien, wondering what it might want beyond simple murder and mayhem.
We see Lambert's empathy even earlier in the film when she is aboard the derelict alien spaceship. Dallas and Kane's dialogue in this scene is analytical and scientific—for example, Dallas's quickie autopsy of the alien corpse or Kane's description of the cave filled with the eggs. Lambert, in contrast, gets all touchy-feeling, saying "I wonder what happened to the rest of the crew" (ibid).
That's Lambert for you: great if you want a shoulder to cry on, but maybe not so great if you want to survive an alien invasion.
Lambert's excessive emotions makes her a foil to two other characters, Ash and Ripley.
Let's start with Ash. Ash is a robot, meaning he's entirely inhuman, he cares for no one, and he never considers the pain, harm, or fear that others might suffer as a result of his (or anyone else's) actions. Major contrast to Lambert, who seems incapable of turning it off. So, it's a nice piece of poetic justice that Lambert is the one to ultimately finish off Ash. After pulling Ripley out of harm's way, Lambert cattle prods Ash, permanently neutralizing him. Grrl power!
On the human side of the equation is Ripley. Like Lambert, Ripley does care about others (including cats). We see this when Ripley discovers the message might be a warning, and she instantly wants to go after Dallas and the others to warn them. We also witness Ripley save Jonesy despite the dangers of leaving the shuttle.
The difference between Lambert and Ripley is that Ripley can turn it off and act while Lambert's emotions and fear get the better of her, ultimately crippling her ability to do what is necessary.
Ultimately, Lambert's emotions lead to her death. When the alien confronts her, Lambert is paralyzed with fear. As Ripley hears over the intercom:
Parker: Get out of the way!
Lambert: I can't!
Parker: Get out of the way! It's going to kill us!
Lambert: No, I can't! (Alien)
The way the film is shot leaves it ambiguous as to whether Lambert could have moved out of the way—providing Parker a clean shot at the creature—or if the alien truly had her cornered. Either way, though, we know that that watching Parker's death left her traumatized and emotionally paralyzed. Unable to move, she's the next one down.
Look, no one ever said that a blockbuster sci-fi spectacular had to be subtle. Even without any other clues from the filmmakers, we can tell a lot about Lambert from her name. You know, lamb. Lambs are herd animals that survive by sticking together. They also tend to be timid and need a shepherd to protect them, lest they get gobbled up by a wolf or alien predator.
And look at Lambert: she's timid and needy and prone to freezing at precisely the wrong moment. Ultimately, she's a herd animal, too attuned to the needs of the group to save herself.
Parker is the chief engineer aboard the Nostromo, and he's the type of guy who will tell you how he feels—and then back it up with his fists. Even before the alien shows up, we can tell that Parker is a man who won't shy away from confrontation, whether it's with his crewmates or a freaky alien visitor.
In the opening scene, Parker can hardly wait for the breakfast banter to die down before bringing up the totally unfair bonus situation. Brett may be the one who reminds Parker to bring up the situation, but Parker actually engages Dallas in the argument while Brett follows up with his passive, "Right."
Got it: we know who the alpha male is in this duo.
Dallas tells Parker, "You get what you're contracted for just like everybody else" (Alien), but Parker can't let it go. He brings it up again when Ripley comes down to check on the repairs, and shows a similar persistence when, say, deciding whether to abandon his crew-mates. When Kane arrives on the scene with his face-loving pal, Parker immediately goes to the nuclear option: freezing him. After they lift off from the planet, Parker brings it up again, telling Dallas, "I think we should freeze him. If he's got a disease, stop it where it is" (ibid).
Way to escalate things, Parker. Even Ripley just wanted to quarantine him for a few hours.
Once the alien starts chowing down on his crew-mates, Parker drops the whole bonus thing, but his aggressive attitude sticks around. If anything, he takes it to the next level once he's got an actual enemy to fight.
As the alien becomes a clear(er) threat to the crew, Parker's nature as a man of action really shines. Forethought? Strategy? Not this guy. When planning the alien hunt, Dallas even has to remind him, "Parker, I don't want any heroics out of you, all right?" (ibid).
After Dallas's death, Parker just can't even with all the talking and thinking. The crew gathers to think about what to do next, and Parker exclaims, "How come nobody's saying nothing around this place?" As if that weren't enough to tell us that he's ready to get this done, he grabs the flamethrower and starts checking it, as though he's itching to use it. And then when Lambert talks about drawing straws to determine who will go on the shuttle, Parker says, "I'm not for drawing straws. I'm for killing that god damn thing right now" (ibid).
Annoying, maybe. But Parker's act-first-think-later (if you're not dead) does have its benefits. Parker is the one who knocks out Ash, revealing him to be a robot; Parker is the one who launches himself at the creature attacking Lambert when he can't get a clear shot.
Oh, sure, the heroic action just ends up getting them both dead, but still. It's the thought (and deed) that counts, right?
Parker, Lambert, and Ripley are the final three survivors for a good reason: all three play foils to one another. Parker's action-man mentality provides a direct opposite for Lambert's passive, emotional nature, and with Ripley somewhere in the middle: sensitive, but with a kick-butt core.
Parker-the-action-man seems to be okay with Lambert, because he can play protecting hero to her. Ripley, though, gets on his nerves a bit: not weak enough to need him, but not strong enough (in his eyes) to lead the ship. When Ripley says she's coming down to engineering to check on his work, he bellyaches, "I'd like to see what she'll do" (ibid). (Notice the "do": again, for Parker, all that matters is action.) Later, he pushes her action enough that she shouts, "Listen to me, Parker! Shut up!"
By the end of the film, these two do eventually see eye-to-eye. Literally. After Ash is killed and Ripley decides to blow up the ship. Parker responds, "Good." In this scene, the camera frames the two characters dead center, suggesting that they've come together and set aside their differences. Parker even tells her to take care of herself when she goes to prep the rocket, something earlier Parker wouldn't have done.
While Parker never learns to think before he acts, he eventually learns to respect Ripley and her role as a leader. Unfortunately, he only has a short time to bask in his character growth before becoming alien chow.
Kane's dominant character trait is his curiosity and willingness to boldly go where no one has gone before. Unfortunately for Kane, it turns out he's more Redshirt than Captain Kirk's crew.
When the Nostromo lands on the unknown and inhospitable planetoid, Ash learns the mysterious signal they have been tracking is within walking distance. Before Dallas can even put an away team together, Kane's hand shoots up: "I'll volunteer to be in the first group to go out," to which Dallas replies, "Yeah, that figures" (Alien).
As the away mission into the heart of darkness progresses, Kane's curiosity keeps getting the better of him. When Lambert suggests they turn back from the brutal atmosphere of the planetoid, Kane says, "We've come this far. We must go on. We have to go on" (Alien). He's the one who climbs the wall to discover the dead alien in the derelict ship. He's the one to venture into the cave-ish room to find the alien eggs, and we're guessing it's not because he lost the round of rock-paper-scissors.
The downside (oh yeah, there's a downside) is that Kane doesn't know when to not mess with an alien egg that contains an unknown organism that looks foreboding and dangerous.
Seriously, did he not hear his mother's voice in the back of his head screaming, "Kane, drop that filthy thing!"?
As payback for his curiosity, Kane suffers one of the most literally gut-wrenching deaths in cinematic history. The facehugger inseminates him with another alien, and Kane gestates it before the creature pops out of his chest during dinner in a horrific scene of bloody, violent birth.
Kane helps us see how Alien plays against our expectations by blending the horror and science fiction genres. In science fiction, curiosity is often rewarded. Think characters like Luke Skywalker and Captain Kirk. Luke Skywalker is intrigued by a mysterious message; he learns to be a Jedi and master the universe. Captain Kirk explores strange new places and civilizations; he gets to have high flying adventures and seduce green-skinned alien vixens. It's pretty much win-win for these guys.
In horror, though curiosity is a punishable offense. Exploring an ancient tomb is likely to awaken an evil spirit or to get one possessed by some nefarious demon. Exploring your sexuality is going to make the nearest axe murderer feel all stabby. Even exploring your family tree is likely to rustle up something unpleasant.
And that leads us to Kane. On the one hand, Kane is the perfect science fiction hero; on the other hand, he's horror movie fodder. Going in, we might expect Kane to be the hero of the film if we are expecting the movie to play towards its science fiction roots. But once Kane dies, we know which conventions we'll be following.
Kane—as in Cain—is a name you might remember from your Sunday (or Saturday) School class. If not, here's a refresher: Cain is a Biblical character and one part of the not-so-dynamic duo Cain and Abel from Genesis. Abel garners more of God's favor because his sacrifices are more pleasing to the Lord. Jealous, Cain kills his brother by way of a big old rock. Congrats, Cain: according to the Bible, this is the very first murder in human history.
It gets better. In some extra-biblical mythology, Cain takes his wife to the Land of Nod and there produce monstrous offspring. According to Dr. J. Michael Stitt:
Cain's descendants, by a medieval and Christian view, were monsters, marked by Cain's original sin, either mentally, in their violence, or physically, in a deformity. In the Christian and medieval world, monsters were human beings with an unnatural birth or a birth deformity. (Source)
Kane's son certainly had an unnatural birth and is mentally violent and physically deformed—by human standards at least. After Brett's death, Parker reports that the creature was "like a man" but big, and then Ash mutters sotto voce, "Kane's son" (Alien). Trust a robot to know.
Brett is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Nostromo crew—the man gets no respect, no respect at all.
As an engineer, he's a member of the Nostromo's "lower class" along with Parker, meaning he gets paid less than the rest of the crew. He is also Parker's lackey. Although the two men are friendly co-workers, Parker is the alpha to Brett's beta. We see Brett's pushover attitude (or easygoing, depending on your perspective) in his very first scene, when Brett reminds Parker about the bonus situation only to have Parker actually confront Dallas and the others. Even Ripley gets on his case for agreeing with whatever anyone else says:
RIPLEY: Whenever [Parker] says anything, you say, "Right," Brett. You know that?
BRETT: Right. (Alien)
Unfortunately for Brett, this passive nature doesn't let him avoid conflict the way he'd prefer, and he becomes a victim of the fully grown alien.
When the crew are tracking the alien—still thinking it is a wee baby beastie—they accidentally pick up Jonesy on the tracker and fail to catch him. Parker says they have to get the cat to prevent picking it up on the motion tracker again. Brett replies, "I'll—I'll," and Parker finishes his thought for him, ordering, "Go and get it, man" (Alien).
Too passive to make his own decisions, Parker makes Brett's for him and the result is that Brett goes off on his own into a dark room. Need we say more?
In keeping with a long tradition of ship's cats, Jonesy is the Nostromo's cat—a ginger tom to be precisely precise—and he lives his life by the words of one of the great philosophers of our day, Gloria Gaynor.
Yes, this little guy is a survivor. Other than Ripley, Jonesy is the only member of the crew to live through the alien's kill-a-thon, but why? He comes face-to-maw with the alien twice that we know about. During the last encounter, the alien has the cat cornered in a storage box and still leaves him alone.
Does the alien simply not perceive Jonesy as a threat? Does it see the cat as compatible with its natural order, whereas it views the human crew as an invasive species? Maybe it's just saving Jonesy for a snack once it has finished the main course? Depending on how you answer this question, it could lead you to some interesting ideas on the alien and the theme of man and the natural world.
Whatever the case, Jonesy lives! Huzzah!