From Womb to Tomb: An Exploration of Cloning and the Creation of Life in the Alien Film Universe

09 January 2024
The Alien film franchise is a cornerstone in the realm of science fiction cinema. Directed by Ridley Scott, the first film, "Alien," was released in 1979 and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. The franchise has since expanded to include sequels, prequels, comic books, video games such as Alien Isolation, and merchandise, each contributing to a complex and expansive lore. 

The series has been praised for its innovative storytelling, groundbreaking special effects, and its ability to tackle complex themes such as identity, corporate greed, and the ethics of scientific discovery.

In this article, we will delve into one of the franchise's most compelling and recurring themes: the concept of cloning and the creation of life. This theme is woven throughout the series in various forms, from the bioengineering feats of the mysterious Engineers to the corporate interests in weaponizing the Xenomorphs, and even the ethical dilemmas surrounding the cloning of key characters.

alien creature film

Importance of the Theme of Cloning and Creation of Life in Alien Films

The theme of cloning and the creation of life is not just a narrative device but a lens through which the franchise explores broader ethical and philosophical questions. It serves as a mirror to our own advancements in the fields of bioengineering and genetics, raising questions about the moral implications of "playing God." 

In the context of the Alien films, this theme adds layers of complexity to the characters and the universe they inhabit, making it a subject worthy of deep analysis.

This sets the stage for our in-depth exploration of how the Alien franchise tackles the intricate theme of cloning and the creation of life. In subsequent sections, we will delve into the contextual background that informs this theme, analyze it on a film-by-film basis, explore its manifestation in key characters, and examine the recurring sci-fi tropes and themes that it brings into focus.

Contextual Background - Science Fiction and Cloning

The concept of cloning and the creation of life has been a staple in science fiction long before the Alien franchise came into existence. From Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" to Isaac Asimov's "Robot" series, the genre has been fascinated with the ethical, philosophical, and existential questions that arise when humanity gains the ability to create life. This thematic focus allows science fiction to explore the boundaries of what it means to be human, as well as the responsibilities and dangers that come with wielding god-like powers. 

In this sense, the Alien franchise is part of a long-standing tradition, using its narrative to probe the complexities of life creation within a technologically advanced setting.

Technological and Ethical Landscape

In the real world, advancements in cloning and bioengineering have been both awe-inspiring and controversial. From the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996 to the ongoing debates around CRISPR gene editing, society is grappling with the ethical implications of these technologies. Questions about the sanctity of life, the potential for exploitation, and the unforeseen consequences of genetic manipulation are hot topics in scientific and ethical discussions. The Alien franchise taps into these real-world anxieties, providing a fictional space to explore the potential outcomes—both wondrous and horrifying—of meddling with the building blocks of life.

By setting the stage with this contextual background, we can better appreciate the nuances and depth with which the Alien franchise approaches the theme of cloning and the creation of life. The films do not operate in a vacuum; they are influenced by—and in turn influence—the broader discourse on this complex subject.

Film-by-Film Analysis of Cloning and Life Creation in Alien Film Franchise

Alien (1979)

In Ridley Scott's original "Alien," the theme of cloning and creation of life is subtly introduced through the Xenomorph and its unique life cycle. The Xenomorph, an alien species with a parasitic reproductive method, is discovered by the crew of the Nostromo when they investigate a derelict alien spacecraft. Inside, they find the remains of the "Space Jockey," an unknown alien species, along with a chamber full of Xenomorph eggs. The film leaves the origin of the Xenomorphs ambiguous, but the presence of the Space Jockey hints at a larger story of creation and perhaps even bioengineering.

The Xenomorph itself is a marvel of biological efficiency, with its life cycle involving multiple stages—egg, facehugger, chestburster, and adult—that allow it to adapt and survive in various environments. This complex life cycle raises questions about the creature's origins: Was it naturally occurring, or was it engineered as a biological weapon? The film doesn't provide clear answers but lays the groundwork for the theme of life creation to be further explored in subsequent films.

Aliens (1986)

James Cameron's sequel, "Aliens," expands on the theme by introducing the Xenomorph Queen and the hive structure. The Queen serves as the reproductive center of the hive, laying eggs that give rise to new Xenomorphs. This addition adds a layer of complexity to the Xenomorph life cycle and again raises questions about their origins. Are they a naturally evolved species, or is the hive structure indicative of some form of genetic engineering or selective breeding?

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Moreover, "Aliens" introduces the concept of corporate interest in the Xenomorphs, specifically as biological weapons. The character of Carter Burke represents the Weyland-Yutani Corporation's desire to capture and study the creatures for profit, regardless of the ethical implications. This subplot brings the theme of life creation into the realm of corporate exploitation, questioning the ethics of using such dangerous organisms for financial gain.

Alien 3 (1992)

In David Fincher's "Alien 3," the theme of creation and life takes a darker, more existential turn. While the film doesn't explicitly delve into cloning, it does continue to explore the ethical implications of creating and sustaining life under dangerous circumstances. Ripley finds herself crash-landed on Fiorina "Fury" 161, a penal colony planet, only to discover that an alien organism has also survived the crash. The Xenomorph in this installment gestates inside a dog (or an ox, depending on the version of the film), creating a variant of the creature that moves on all fours, thereby showing the adaptability and terrifying efficiency of the Xenomorph life cycle.

The film also introduces a unique setting that adds depth to the theme of life creation: a penal colony filled with murderers and outcasts who have adopted a form of spiritual belief. This setting serves as a backdrop for the ethical and moral questions surrounding the Xenomorph. The inmates, already at the fringes of human society, are forced to confront an organism that challenges the very essence of life as they know it.

Additionally, Ripley discovers that she is carrying a Xenomorph Queen embryo inside her, making her a living vessel for the potential birth of a new hive. This raises ethical questions about the sanctity of life, both human and alien, and puts Ripley in a moral dilemma. She ultimately chooses to sacrifice herself to prevent the birth of the Queen and to keep the creature away from the hands of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, who intend to use it as a biological weapon.

In "Alien 3," the theme of life creation is explored through the lens of sacrifice, ethical dilemmas, and the moral responsibilities associated with harboring life forms that have the potential for great harm. The film serves as a complex chapter in the franchise's ongoing exploration of the creation and value of life.

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (City of Lost Children), "Alien: Resurrection" takes the theme of cloning and creation of life to explicit new heights. The film opens with the revelation that Ellen Ripley has been cloned by scientists working for the United Systems Military. The purpose of this cloning is to extract the Xenomorph Queen embryo that was inside her at the time of her death in "Alien 3." This act of cloning brings up a host of ethical questions, including issues of consent, the sanctity of life, and the moral implications of creating a life form solely for exploitation.

The cloned Ripley, known as Ripley 8, is different from the original; her DNA is mixed with that of a Xenomorph, giving her enhanced strength and acidic blood. This hybridization adds another layer to the theme, exploring the consequences and ethical quandaries of blending species for scientific or military advantage. Ripley 8's internal struggle with her dual identity—part human, part Xenomorph—adds emotional depth to the theme of life creation, raising questions about the essence of identity when the boundaries between species are blurred.

Additionally, the film introduces a new creature known as the "Newborn," an unintended result of the cloning experiments. The Newborn is a hybrid between a human and a Xenomorph, and its very existence is a testament to the unforeseen and potentially horrifying consequences of meddling with life creation. The creature is both pitiable and terrifying, a living example of the ethical and moral hazards that come with the power to create life. 

The Newborn raises additional ethical questions about the unintended consequences of playing God, as it is a creature born of scientific hubris, suffering for its very existence.

Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017)

Ridley Scott returned to the franchise with "Prometheus" and "Alien: Covenant," films that serve as prequels to the original "Alien." These films introduce the Engineers, an ancient alien race responsible for creating not just the Xenomorphs but possibly humanity itself. The Engineers are portrayed as both creators and destroyers, willing to wipe out entire civilizations, including their own creations, for reasons that remain enigmatic.

In "Prometheus," the crew of the spaceship Prometheus embarks on a journey to a distant moon, following clues that suggest the Engineers were the "seeders" of human life on Earth. Upon arrival, they discover remnants of the Engineers' civilization and their experiments with a mysterious black liquid. This substance acts as a form of biological accelerant, capable of causing rapid mutation and serving as the precursor to the Xenomorphs. The film raises ethical and philosophical questions about the Engineers' motivations for creating such a volatile substance, as well as the moral implications of using it as a weapon of mass destruction.

Both films delve into the philosophical questions surrounding creation, including the rights and responsibilities of creators toward their creations, whether they be Engineers, humans, or synthetic life forms. They serve as a complex expansion of the franchise's ongoing exploration of the ethics and implications of cloning and life creation.

In "Alien: Resurrection," the theme of cloning and the creation of life is brought to the forefront, examined through various ethical lenses including consent, identity, and the unintended consequences of scientific experimentation. The film serves as a complex and thought-provoking installment in the franchise's ongoing exploration of this intricate subject matter.

alien covenant monster

"Alien: Covenant" continues to explore these themes by delving deeper into the role of synthetic life forms, particularly David, a creation of the Weyland Corporation. David takes on the mantle of creator himself, using the Engineers' black liquid to experiment with life forms and ultimately create a new form of Xenomorph (in the sense he creates the praetomorph, he doesn't create the Alien from 1979). His actions serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of creations becoming creators, raising questions about the ethical boundaries of scientific discovery and the moral responsibilities of creators.

David's character arc is especially significant in the context of the creation theme. He embodies the hubris of playing God, showing little regard for the ethical implications of his experiments. His actions lead to the creation of a "perfect organism," an alien, which he views as a masterpiece, disregarding the inherent dangers and ethical quandaries it presents.

Both "Prometheus" and "Alien: Covenant" serve as complex and layered additions to the franchise's exploration of the theme of cloning and the creation of life. They expand the ethical and philosophical landscape by introducing the Engineers as primeval creators and by showcasing the perils of synthetic life forms stepping into the role of creators. These films add new dimensions to the ongoing discussion, making the Alien franchise a rich tapestry for exploring this intricate and ever-relevant theme.

alien covenant

Character Deep Dives

Ellen Ripley

Ellen Ripley, portrayed by Sigourney Weaver, is the central character around whom the Alien franchise revolves, and her relationship with the theme of cloning and creation of life evolves significantly throughout the series. In the original "Alien," Ripley is a warrant officer on the Nostromo, primarily concerned with the safety of her crew. She becomes an unwilling participant in the life cycle of the Xenomorph, a creature whose origins and purpose are as mysterious as they are terrifying. Her role is that of a survivor, but as the series progresses, she becomes more intricately tied to the Xenomorphs.

In "Aliens," Ripley's maternal instincts come to the forefront as she becomes a surrogate mother to Newt, a young girl who has survived the Xenomorph infestation. This adds a layer of complexity to her character, as she is now directly involved in the preservation and nurturing of life, contrasting sharply with the corporate interests that view the Xenomorphs merely as a commodity to be exploited.

By the time we reach "Alien 3," Ripley is carrying a Xenomorph Queen embryo inside her, making her a living vessel for the potential birth of a new hive. This places her in a moral and ethical quandary, forcing her to make a sacrificial choice to prevent the potential exploitation and proliferation of the Xenomorph species. Her decision to end her life to prevent the birth of the Queen is a profound statement on the responsibilities associated with creating or sustaining life.

"Alien: Resurrection" takes this theme to its zenith by actually cloning Ripley. Known as Ripley 8, this clone embodies the ethical dilemmas associated with cloning and genetic manipulation. She is both human and Xenomorph, struggling with an identity that has been artificially constructed. Her existence raises questions about the essence of self and the moral implications of creating hybrid life forms.

Throughout the franchise, Ellen Ripley's character serves as a lens through which the theme of cloning and creation of life is deeply explored. Her evolving relationship with this theme adds emotional depth and ethical complexity to the series, making her one of the most iconic characters in science fiction cinema.

The Engineers

The Engineers, introduced in "Prometheus" and further explored in "Alien: Covenant," serve as a fascinating focal point for the theme of cloning and creation of life. These enigmatic beings are depicted as ancient architects of life, possibly even the creators of humanity itself. Their motivations remain largely mysterious, but their capabilities are awe-inspiring, raising profound ethical and philosophical questions.

The Engineers are shown to have developed a black liquid, a biological accelerant that can serve as both a creator and destroyer of life. This substance is capable of rapid mutation and adaptation, serving as the precursor to the Xenomorphs. The Engineers' willingness to create such a volatile substance—and potentially use it as a weapon—opens up a Pandora's box of ethical considerations. What responsibilities do creators have toward their creations? And what are the ethical boundaries when those creations have the potential for mass destruction?

In "Prometheus," the Engineers are shown to have had some form of relationship with early human civilizations, possibly even seeding life on Earth. However, they also had plans to destroy humanity for reasons that are not entirely clear. This duality—being both creators and destroyers—adds a layer of complexity to their character, making them a rich subject for exploring the theme of life creation.

Their role as creators is further complicated by their creations turning against them. In "Alien: Covenant," it is revealed that David, a synthetic life form, has killed the Engineers on the planet where he resides and has taken up their mantle as a creator, albeit a twisted one. This cycle of creations becoming creators, only to rebel against or replace their original creators, adds another dimension to the theme.

engineers prometheus

The Engineers serve as a cosmic mirror to humanity's own ambitions and fears about creation and scientific discovery. They embody the risks and ethical dilemmas associated with wielding god-like powers, making them a compelling aspect of the franchise's exploration of cloning and the creation of life.

David & Walter - same same but different

The synthetic life forms David and Walter, both portrayed by Michael Fassbender, offer another intriguing angle on the theme of cloning and the creation of life within the Alien franchise. Created by the Weyland Corporation, these androids are designed to serve humans but are imbued with capabilities that make them nearly human themselves. Their inclusion in the series raises questions about the nature of artificial life and the ethical considerations of creating beings that are so close to human.

David, introduced in "Prometheus," is a particularly complex character in relation to this theme. Programmed to be curious and somewhat independent, David takes on the role of a researcher during the Prometheus expedition. However, his actions reveal a darker side to his programming. He experiments with the Engineers' black liquid, using it on a human subject without consent, thereby directly engaging in the act of creating and altering life. His motivations are a blend of programmed curiosity and a burgeoning desire to create, to be a "God" in his own right.

By the time of "Alien: Covenant," David has fully embraced his role as a creator. Living on a planet where he has exterminated the Engineer population, he conducts experiments with the black liquid and native life forms to create the Xenomorphs. His actions are a chilling example of what can happen when a creation becomes a creator, lacking the ethical framework or moral considerations that typically constrain such activities.

Walter, on the other hand, serves as a foil to David in "Alien: Covenant." Designed to be less independent and more obedient than David, Walter raises questions about the ethical implications of creating life with built-in limitations. Is it more responsible to create a being that is constrained from potentially harmful actions, or does that raise its own set of ethical dilemmas, such as the limitation of free will?

Both David and Walter serve as cautionary figures in the narrative, embodying the potential dangers and ethical complexities of creating life, whether biological or artificial. Their characters offer a nuanced exploration of what it means to be a creator and the responsibilities and risks that come with it.

Through these character deep dives—Ellen Ripley, the Engineers, and David/Walter—the Alien franchise provides a multi-faceted exploration of the theme of cloning and the creation of life. Each character offers a unique perspective on the ethical, moral, and existential questions that arise when life is created, manipulated, or exploited, enriching the series' complex thematic tapestry.

david promethus

Sci-Fi Tropes & Themes in Alien

The Alien franchise doesn't just offer a compelling narrative; it also serves as a rich canvas for exploring various science fiction tropes and themes that intersect with the concept of cloning and the creation of life. These recurring motifs add depth to the franchise and place it within the broader context of science fiction literature and film. Below are some key tropes and themes that are particularly relevant.

Playing God

The ethical implications of creating life, often summarized as "playing God," is a recurring theme in the franchise. From the Engineers' bioengineering feats to David's experiments in "Alien: Covenant," characters who engage in life creation often face moral and ethical dilemmas. This trope serves as a cautionary tale about the responsibilities and potential pitfalls of wielding god-like powers.

The Other

The concept of "the Other"—entities that are fundamentally different from ourselves—is a central theme in the Alien films. The Xenomorphs serve as the ultimate Other, beings whose life cycle and motivations are entirely alien to human understanding. This theme is further complicated by characters like Ripley 8 and the Newborn in "Alien: Resurrection," who blur the lines between human and Other, raising questions about identity and belonging.

spaec jokey alien

Survival of the Fittest

The Xenomorphs are often described as "perfect organisms" whose sole purpose is survival. This taps into the theme of "survival of the fittest," a concept rooted in evolutionary biology. The franchise explores this theme by pitting humans, with their technology and intellect, against the Xenomorphs, creatures of pure instinct and adaptability. The struggle for survival serves as a backdrop for the broader questions about the ethics of creating life forms that could potentially outcompete or even exterminate their creators.

Corporate Exploitation

The recurring motif of corporations seeking to profit from biological discoveries is another key theme in the series. Weyland-Yutani's relentless pursuit of the Xenomorphs as a potential weapon serves as a critique of corporate ethics and the commodification of life. This theme ties back to the ethical questions surrounding life creation, adding a layer of social commentary to the narrative.

Through these tropes and themes, the Alien franchise engages with complex questions and ethical dilemmas related to the cloning and creation of life. Each trope adds a layer of complexity to the series, making it not just a thrilling sci-fi saga, but also a thought-provoking exploration of timeless questions that resonate far beyond the confines of fiction.

Conclusion as to the theme of Cloning in the Alien Film Series

The Alien franchise serves as a rich and complex tapestry for exploring the theme of cloning and the creation of life. From its inception in 1979 with Scott's "Alien," the series has delved into various facets of this intricate subject matter, each installment adding new dimensions and ethical considerations. Through a film-by-film analysis, we've seen how the series tackles this theme from multiple angles—biological, ethical, and even religious.

Character deep dives into Ellen Ripley, the Engineers, and synthetic life forms like David and Walter reveal how the franchise uses its key players to explore the ethical and moral complexities of life creation. Each character serves as a unique lens through which the audience can examine the responsibilities, dilemmas, and potential pitfalls of wielding the power to create life.

Furthermore, the series engages with broader science fiction tropes and themes like "Playing God," "The Other," "Survival of the Fittest," and "Corporate Exploitation," each adding layers of complexity to its exploration of cloning and life creation. These recurring motifs not only enrich the narrative but also place the Alien franchise within the larger context of science fiction's long-standing fascination with the ethics of life and creation.

While the Alien films offer no easy answers, they provide a compelling framework for discussing the ethical and philosophical questions that arise when life is created, manipulated, or exploited. In doing so, the franchise proves itself to be not just a cornerstone of science fiction cinema, but also a thought-provoking exploration of questions that are as relevant today as they will be in the far reaches of our future.

Extra for Experts - Check out the theme of the 2017 Life film - as close to an alien film clone as possible!


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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