The tagline for Alien is "In Space No One Can Hear You Scream," which is funny because there's a whole lot of screaming.
Even before the alien boards the Nostromo for his intergalactic-sized game of cat and mice, the crew is nearly smothered by an atmosphere of classic apprehension: fear of the unknown. And we're along for the ride. When the crew of the Nostromo ventures to the mysterious, unnamed planet, we're biting our fingernails to know what they'll find there. When the alien comes aboard the ship sans instruction manual, we're holding our breath to discover more about this unknown entity—and feeling very glad that we're safely at home clutching our popcorn.
Questions About Fear
What qualities of the alien are designed to elicit a response of fear? What do these qualities suggest to you about the nature of fear both in the film and in general?
Pick a character other than Ripley. How does that character deal with his or her fear? How is this similar and different from how Ripley deals with hers? Does the film suggest one response is more acceptable than the other? More useful or desirable? What does this suggest to you about the nature of fear?
Do you think Ash fears anything? If so, what do you think he is afraid of and why. If not, why not?
Let's be honest here: Did the movie scare you? If yes, why aspects of the movie scared you? If not, why not? What does this tell you about the idea of using movies to elicit responses of fear?
Chew on This
Although the alien is a killer, it is possible to read its actions as those of fear. It is born into a strange environment with strange threatening creatures attempting to trap and kill it. We see the human's actions as perfectly normal, but they are unknown and terrifying to the alien.
The Company also represents the fear of the unknown. Although the crew is employed by the Company, ultimately they know nothing about it: its desires, needs, morality, etc. For this reason, the crew should fear the Company as much as the alien and it is an irony of the story that they don't until it is too late.