Alien chestburster scene: a timeless portrayal of hidden FX fees
Around 55 minutes into exemplary 1979 sci-fi/horror film Alien, there is a scene which has been indelibly seared into the collective mind of the cinema-going public. It speaks to our fear of the unseen; of a lurking terror that remains hidden until it’s too late.
The crew of the USCSS Nostromo – an intergalactic freight vessel on its return journey to Earth – are tucking into a satisfying albeit underwhelming dinner, excited about heading home and in high spirits now that Kane (John Hurt) has recovered from a mysterious space creature becoming overly intimate with his face.
“More enjoyable food exists elsewhere in the galaxy; food they are unable to access.”
“I’ve eaten worse food than this,” says Parker (Yaphet Kotto), “but then I’ve tasted better, you know what I’m saying?” Indeed, the Nostromo crew do know what he’s saying. The food does not taste great, and they are well aware that more enjoyable food exists elsewhere in the galaxy; food which they are simply unable to access.
“You know what it’s made of,” says Kane, ominously alluding to their supper being synthetically reconstituted from less-than-desirable ingredients.
“I don’t want to talk about what it’s made of,” says Parker. “I’m eating this!” And it’s easy to understand Parker’s aversion to thinking about what he’s consuming; doing so would make everything much more complicated. What alternative does he have? To not eat the food he so desperately needs to survive? To painstakingly scour the Nostromo looking for tastier morsels than those already available to him, then spend days analysing them in the ship’s medical bay, trying to establish which items have the most nutritional value? Far too time-consuming, far too stressful.
“The gang swallow down their dinner, doing their best to ignore its inadequacies.”
So the gang swallow down their dinner, doing their best to ignore its inherent inadequacies. But something’s not right. Kane stops swallowing and starts coughing.
“UNNNNNNNNGGGGH” says Kane, leaping out of his chair, body upright and rigid like a confused planker. He executes a pained half-pirouette before rudely lying down on the dinner table as his colleagues crowd round him, wondering why the hell their good chum has so recklessly abandoned any sense of decorum.
It’s when he starts convulsively arching his back like a glitching yoga instructor that they realise Kane’s problems extend far beyond bad table manners. His abdomen begins to swell under the influence of some mysterious internal pressure, distending further and further until it explodes in a fountain of viscera and a slimy, snake-like creature launches itself out of his stomach before scuttling away through an obstacle course of crockery.
“The parasite’s crimes were hidden beneath complex layers of bone and flesh.”
Spattered with blood, the team stare dumbly at the punctured corpse of their friend, feeling like a bunch of prize chumps. In the same way that they chose to be oblivious to the contents of their dinner, they had also chosen to disregard how the Xenomorph that spent several days clamped to Kane’s head with its proboscis unfurled down his throat was most likely doing something unsavoury to him. The parasite’s crimes took place out of sight, hidden beneath complex, obfuscatory layers of bone and flesh, allowing the crew to assume everything would ultimately be fine.
You might think you’d have acted differently in their shoes, but if you’ve ever performed currency exchange with a bank or broker you have already basically subjected yourself to the ordeal of watching a phallic extraterrestrial erupt from your torso. You are well acquainted with the experience of everything seeming fine, until evidence of a grotesquely inflated hidden fee jumps out of your bank account, causing it to violently haemorrhage money. You are familiar with the sensation of swallowing down the gruel supplied to you by an opaque corporation, and trying to ignore how unpleasant it tastes.
The difference between you and the Nostromo crew is that you have access to an alternative.