Gender Roles in Space: How Alien: Covenant Breathes a New Life into an Old Story

By Andrew Schwartz
As it relates to the decades-old, genre-defining film-franchise, Alien: Covenant serves one true purpose: to explain the origin of the film’s legendary Xenomorph. Supported by an excellent cast, beautifully haunting sequences and a narrative fit for the top-earning franchise, Covenant has something for newcomers and old fans alike. The film holds its own as a solid follow-up to Sir Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012), as well as an interesting exploration of man’s (or android’s) inherent need to create, to love and to explore the unknown.
“Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair,” echoes Michael Fassbender’s reprised role of the synthetic android, David, when explaining his diabolical plan to create the world’s most perfect being, the Xenomorph — and despair we will! Covenant returns to the basics with call backs to Alien (1979) as the film’s straight-forward storytelling shocks, disgusts and engages the viewer in a satisfyingly gory way that builds up to a dramatic conclusion reminiscent of the originals. 
In the age of rapid climate change, the concept of interplanetary colonization seems more and more plausible by the day. On a colonization mission to a distant planet, Origae-6, the crew of the spaceship Covenant finds themselves taking a gamble on a newly discovered planet after they intercept the transmission of a woman’s mournful rendition of John Denver’s, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Obviously, once there they find the apparent paradise isn’t at all that they had hoped for. 
As much as the performances of the crew entice, intrigue and entertain — especially those of Danny McBride, Billy Crudup and Katherine Waterston — the masterful centerpiece of this narrative comes from Michael Fassbender’s interpretation of David and his fellow android, Walter. The sequences involving these two are quite engaging and reveal much about the film’s thematic devices. Carried by the undertones of homosexuality, the interactions between these two highlight the duality of the struggle on the final frontier: choosing between love or duty. Walter’s duty is to serve his crew, even if it means forgoing the underlying attraction he has for Daniels, while David’s own hubris — his self-imposed entitlement to create a flawless organism — leads him down a dark and treacherous road. It’s the love he has for himself and his kind that pushes his drive to essentially spread his seed throughout the universe.


What has always stood out in the Alien films is the ability for women to separate emotion from duty. In the original, Ripley is the only member onboard Nostromo who displays her reluctance to break quarantine protocol despite risking a fellow crew member’s life. In Covenant, the Ripley here is Daniels who maintains that legacy by being the only person reluctant to abandon the original colonization mission. Oram (Crudup) is ultimately the one responsible for diverting the Covenant in hopes of shortening their trip to a habitable planet. Like David, he finds a sense of entitlement in being a leader of man: it is his duty to bring those he loves to a safe place, just like it is David’s will to rule over his own kingdom. It is these devices that ultimately bring about the fall of man, but as David is not actually a man at all, we’ll have to see how his newly found status plays out in the next installment, which will undoubtedly follow his journey.
Alien: Covenant — while often reaching at more than it can successfully grasp on to — will surely offer an engaging two-hour foray through the final frontier. For locked-in fans of the originals, Covenant will definitely appease those wanting a return to original form from director Ridley Scott. For people just discovering the world of sci-fi, Covenant — and its prequel — are great places to start. Expertly crafted sequences and powerful performances from familiar faces offer a fresh start to the 2017 summer movie season.

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2 Responses to “Gender Roles in Space: How Alien: Covenant Breathes a New Life into an Old Story”

  1. Rob Clarke Says:

    May 22nd, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    Nice review, Andrew. I really dug the movie.

  2. Jorge Silva Says:

    June 9th, 2017 at 9:43 am

    Sincerely I found myself disappointed in the end of the movie. The sequences are ok, the interpretations are excellent, but from the director of a masterpiece (the first alien movie) we expected an unforgettable story and complex characters. That didn´t happen, except with the obsession of the android with his creation. Even the tense on the aproach to the contamination, a mark of the alien movies, is abrupt (when they arrive to that planet) and without progression. There´s no horror tension… I’m sorry, this is not a perfect cake, this is a cake with predictable elements and expected results. There´s no magic in this movie…

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