Have You Seen the Subliminal Foreshadowing in 'Alien'?

Alien is a deep movie filled with a lot of imagery, but is the whole plot contained in the opening frames? 

Ridley Scott was a seasoned director when he made his way into features. He had already commanded respect in the commercial game and knew when he got to do a feature, the only way to fully gather respect was to knock it out of the park. 

And he did when he made Alien. This 1979 sci-fi horror flick has been talked about, written about, and analyzed for decades, but we are still finding gems within it that adds to the film's mystery and intrigue... especially knowing that Scott was in total control of what went on the screen, and he had a limited budget so he had to rely on his imagination primarily.

So, what are these mysterious, intriguing gems? Well, this video from Collative Learning proposes that Scott hid subliminal messages and imagery in Alien that foreshadows the tragedy that is about to befall Ripley and the rest of the gang.

Have You Seen This Subliminal Foreshadowing in Alien?

We all know the story of Alien, a crew on their way home encounters a lost ship, and after stopping to check things out, they bring aboard a face-hugging alien that lays an egg in a crew member's throat. Later, the alien, all nice and grown up, bursts out and terrorizes the crew, killing everyone one by one. Only Ripley escapes. 

But what if I told you some key points of the plot were told in the very opening series of images in the movie? 

As the video above stated, the shots roaming around the Nostromo open the movie. We see computers, hallways, and an empty ship. Finally, we come to rest on the space helmet, facing the main computers.

This sequence is hypnotic. It is the embodiment of "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

The whole crew is in hypersleep and the world continues without them. 

We end the sequence on this helmet...which has something peculiar over the mouth. 

This mouth protrusion seems to be a foreshadowing of the facehugger, to solidify this point, this is also the helmet of the ship's pilot, who is the victim of the attack from the facehugger. 

In any other movie, I would maybe lean toward this being a coincidence, but we know Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger collaborated on all the designs of everything on the ship. So, he would have had input here and liked to add subtly to the design and story, along with Scott. 

Here's the other thing...

When the computer on the Nostromo springs to life, the computer turns on and emits a harsh sound, lighting up the helmet. This is a jump scare, and the noise that is emitted mirrors the sound of the facehugger's attack! 

There's the same buildup music in both scenes as well. 

So, I think it's safe to say that this is all done purposefully. There's even an elephant keychain on the computer that mirrors the facehugger, in the shape of an elephant. 

What are some of your favorite touches in Alien that really make the movie deeper and entertaining? 

Let us know in the comments! 

So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.     

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5 Comments

Ok Jason, I know i give you crap about some of your articles but, this one is good and make me want to watch the movie again.
Thanks!

August 25, 2020 at 2:21PM

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Ripley confronting Ash in the medical lab has cinematic foreshadowing. Look at all the space to the right of Ripley. Not a standard conversation composition. It foreshadows unknown danger and vulnerability.

August 27, 2020 at 8:17AM

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I'm not saying that some of what's laid here isn't at all what Scott was attempting to do but: I think everyone needs to look closer at the helmet in question: Technically this is a "helmet OVER another helmet" like a protective covering. The "thing covering the mouth" (I don't think it covers the mouth area either; more like the nose but whatever) is a release catch to lift up this protector to allow access to the real helmet underneath. It's like the lever that you use to open up the covering to a fire alarm. The alarm is inside/under it.

Personally I'm more impressed that set design took the time to even think this kind thing through! Check out the scene when Ripley's "talking" to Mother. that room with the thousands of lights? Those are all individually labeled (and lit) buttons! As if you could directly access all this particular commands physically...

August 27, 2020 at 1:42PM

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Douglas Bowker
Animation, Video, Motion-Graphics
502

When Ripley is searching the science lab for the facehugger she is again framed with empty space behind her. This is where the facehugger drops in. It had been foreshadowed earlier when she was talking to Ash.
"Yeah Parker, you'll both get what's coming to you." After RIpley said this I knew something bad was going to happen to them. I hadn't thought of the helmet as foreshadowing as of yet, but the red puck did have an oral sense to it. When the helmet lit up, it WAS the first scary moment in the story.

August 27, 2020 at 5:52PM

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When Ripley is searching the science lab for the facehugger she is again framed with empty space behind her. This is where the facehugger drops in. We knew it was coming from the empty space framed behind. I hadn't thought of the helmet as foreshadowing as of yet, but when the lights went out it was dark and mysterious as before the signal interface. Think to the Space Jockey when Dallas and his helmet light are shinning on its face. When he leaves the camera stays on the darkened skeleton and gives us scary shadows. That was a powerful image and visual storytelling factor involved in this film. "Yeah Parker, you'll both get what's coming to you." After Ripley said this I knew something bad was going to happen to them. I don't see any links between the helmet scene and the egg. At this point it was a stupid, careless astronaut poking around in a scary, gooey environment.

August 27, 2020 at 6:04PM, Edited August 27, 6:27PM

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