Hidden Meanings #1: Aliens (1986) is really a metaphor for Vietnam

alien7According to snooty college professors everywhere, Aliens by James Cameron is a metaphor for the war in Vietnam.  This is not your typical war film, but the science fiction elements help bring something different and unique to the screen.  The plot boils war down to its most essential elements, as the movie zips along at a good pace.  I like this movie.  I didn’t know it had hidden meanings, though.

There are MANY parallels to the Vietnam war in the movie, such as the use of booby traps, or the feeling of claustrophobia.  The dehumanization of soldiers and their violence is also a common theme in other Vietnam movies.  There are many other things of note, like incompetent leadership, but Aliens taps into our common knowledge about Vietnam and war itself to make its plot work.  It is not a deep exploration of any one theme, but does seem to emphasize the violence in war and the catastrophic nature of the war in Vietnam.

The poster for Aliens proclaims, “This time it’s war!”, and now I know it was trying to be literal.  The soldiers literally reenact the Vietnam tragedies, except on an alien planet, instead of a foreign country.  The environment betrays the soldiers, like it did to the US fighting in Vietnam.  The aliens are portrayed as very cunning and are a sneaky fighting force on more than one occasion.  

To contrast the movie’s main plot, we have the main character fighting a personal “war”, which is the only one worth fighting.  This is why Ripley really is a great, central character for this movie, not only for all those who want strong female characters, but also because her cause contrasts the movie’s real theme.  In a way, Ripley regains her humanity, while others lose theirs.