Joseph Conrad reference in Ridley Scott's [I]Alien[/I]

The ship in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror masterpeice is christened the Nostromo.

I have seen the film many times and read Conrad’s masterpeice twice, yet I don’t see what Scott (or screenwriters Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett if the credit lies there) are referencing.

I assume anyone who answers this question will be familar with both works, but for clarity’s sake, how can the story of a failed every-man hero corrupted by wealth and eventually killed at least partially as a result of it set against the backdrop of a revolution in a mythical (yet based upon Panama) South American country contain artistic or thematic parallels to Alien?

Anyone have any theory what Scott/O’Bannon/Shusett are saying? Or is it a case of, “well, we had to call it something.”

Since the movie says absolutely nothing (other than, a monster can have a field day if his opponents are utter morons), the reason for the name is obvious:

Scott/O’Bannon thought it sounded neat. They probably never read Conrad in their lives.

I haven’t read the Conrad, but here’s one critic’s speculation:

Well, I don’t really want to turn this thread into a debate, I was looking for theories, and I do accept yours.

But, I do think that Alien has something to say about corporate greed and the weapons industry. i would not place its literary worht on par with Conrad by any stretch, however I think it is just a bit more than a re-packaged slasher flic.

ArchiveGuy, thanks.

I had never read any critical review before. That does seem logical, I suppose I was hoping there was some “magic bullet” answer, but I guess it more vague, just a nod to the pessimism on regards to human nature in Nostromo and Conrad’s work in general, that is also present in Alien .

Anyone have anything more/different to add?

I’m no expert on Conrad (never even read anything by him) but here’s what I’ve put together. From what I hear about the Conrad story, I would say the reference is connected to Ash and the fact that the company sells out and betrays the whole crew, putting them on a sham mission just to get the alien. I think there are more Conrad references in the film, but can’t remember them right now. It also has H.P. Lovecraft vibes too.

I think Alien has deeper subtext than most horror movies, which is one of the things which makes it so great. Particularly, I’ve heard the film described as an allegory for rape which I agree, with all the violent sexual-psychological references: the impregnation; bloody childbirth to what basically looks like a penis with teeth, Ash’s white blood in what could be seen as an almost orgasmic death preluded by the magazine thing which Scott in the commentary said was about “as close to sex as a robot gets to”.

Yes, well, don’t tell URL=]Barbara Creed

Um, that should be ‘Barbara Creed.’ As a link. To And her book on the ‘monstrous feminine.’ Which goes on at great length about Alien.
That isall.

Thanks, DaPearl.

There’s no corporate double-crossing in Nostromo, unless you really want to stretch it with Gould’s blow with the winds of power loyalties. So I’m not really sure where Scott/O’Bannon get that from.

Your outline of the rape allegory is extremely interesting. Thank you for that as well, though it has been a year or more since I saw Alien and a quite few years since I last read Nostromo I can’t think of any other obvious Conrad references in the film. I fuzzily recall a rape in Nostromo, but I’m not entirely sure.

Anyone else got specific Conrad references from Alien to point out?

or, can remind me of the characters involved in the rape (if there was in fact one) in Nostromo, Nostromo? I remember Nostromo is shot by the father of his lover because he is mistaken for an unwanted suitor, btu I don’t recall that it was an attempt to thwart a mistaken rape.

I fuzzily recall a rape in Nostromo, but I’m not entirely sure.

You’re probably thinking of Ash’s attack on Ripley.

If the Conrad Nostromo was “corrupted by wealth,” I think that’s parallel enough.

The ship Nostromo is, after all, destroyed as a result of the Company’s greed.

The shuttle is named Narcissus, a reference to Conrad’s book The Nigger of the Narcissus. Continuing the theme, the marines’ ship in Aliens is named Sulaco, the town in Nostromo.

I’ve never attributed any specific meaning to these references. I always thought they helped convey the tone of the film – slow and ponderous.

How about this? (Caution: I’m makin’ it up, so don’t place any bar bets.)

The movie has more parallels with Heart of Darkness, another Conrad novel. That novel is about a trading ship, exploring “savage” regions of the Congo, what happens to the English colonists (scruffy explorers/loser treasurehunters/psycho-misfits) when they encounter uncilvilized barbarism (go partly native), and how a guy goes crazy on the ship voyage as a result of his encounter with “alien” (to him) ways of life. Discusses inferior/superior races (forms of life) and attitudes about the same.

The boat in Heart of Darkness either didn’t have a name (or else it was mentioned so seldom that I have forgotten it, which is possible). However, “Nostomo” is a really cool name, and is identified only with Conrad which, for me at least, gets me straight back to Heart of Darkness. YMMV.

Yup. “Nostomo.” I lent the “r” to the act like a pirate day people.

Before the film came out, they published pre-production sketches in the magazine Cinefantastique. IIRC, the ship in those pre-Giger sketches was called Snark. Naming the ship “Nostromo” seems like a relatively late decision, and probabvly not bound up with the plot at any deep level.

Oh yeah–the protagonist in Heart of Darkness is sent on his boat ride by “the company” to check up on its rogue employee.

thanks everyone. especially:

Number the ah ha! moment when you mentioned the shuttle Narcissus resulted in a literal forehead slap, that never occured to me before.

Cameron choosing to continue this little conceit in Aliens by use of Sulaco and CalMeacham’s post about the pre-production sketches lead me to beleive that it was Scott’s idea and that Cameron just picked up on it.

I would guess that Scott is the Conrad fan and saw the parallels of pessimism and wealth in the stories as lissener suggests, as oposed to parallels between the stories being planed from the start.

I would tend to disagree about some of the parallels with Heart of Darkness , you point out Humble Servant . I see some of your points, but I tend to disagree, but unless you or anyone else is interested I wont expand on that.

Don’t know if you’re aware of this (I assume its common knowledge, though perhaps not, but if so forgive me), but Coppola’s Apocalypse Now from Milius’ original screenplay on up was intended to be a modern updating of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and as such comes much closer to touching on the themes you mentioned (and others) from the original.

I guess, in retrospect, I was wondering if Aliens was intended in the same way Apocalypse Now was, directly and purposefully confessing its influences, though that didn’t occur to me at the time. I, personally am concluding that no, it wasn’t, that Scott as a fan of Conrad saw some thematic parallels with the script and grafted some references on.

p.s., damn, I just used the word parallels a lot, I need a thesaurus.

The obvious connection between Scott and Conrad is that the film he’d made immediately before, The Duellists, was based on a Conrad short story. It may be no more than a nod back to it.

crap. your so completely right bonzer , I have long told people that The Duelists is an under-rated classic, and a personal favorite. I knew it was based upon a Conrad short story, but again I never made made the connection.

Perhaps you are rigth, and Scott was doing nothing else but be self-referential. If that’s teh case I’m slightly disapointed.

OT but I just finished reading Heart of Darkness.

Amazing prose.