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Parker's Blues (Part II of Alien and the Nemesis)

by Kendall Defoe 2 months ago in pop culture
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Why do I still watch; why do I still care...

Yaphet Kotto on a break

The mention of personality, which is not the same as talent, must not overrule one central fact of the film: the casting is excellent. One simple measurement of their talent can be found in the ability to see these actors in work beyond monster-hunting in space. Tom Skeritt would go on to do work in other films and on television (notably Nash Bridges); Harry Dean Stanton, who was already a veteran on the Hollywood scene, is still one of America’s best character actors (we look for him even as he disappears into his role); John Hurt and Ian Holm were bred and trained under the British system of acting and can be relied on to surprise and attract an audience in any role; And then there is Sigourney Weaver, our Ripley, in her first important film role (she had a brief out-of-focus cameo in Annie Hall). Nothing earlier in the film leads us to believe that she will be the one to avoid the alien’s appetite and survive three sequels. It was truly her breakout role. Yaphet Kotto was also a veteran of the Hollywood scene. At that point, he had appeared in Across 110th Street, Live and Let Die and numerous other films. He would also appear on television on Homicide: Life on the Streets, earning an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of a police chief. In Alien, he is Parker, an engineer and a member of the repair crew responsible for keeping the ship running. He is also very self-involved and knows that he should be getting a better deal in regard to the “bonus situation”. This is the first sign - apart from the cigarettes - that this film has a cynical hole in its heart (Han Solo’s demands for payment is quickly resolved when he helps blow up the bad guys; Parker and Brett never get their fair share despite their work to get the ship running when the so-called skilled crew makes one of the worst ship landings in sci-fi film history). He speaks for all the working stiffs who help out behind the scenes when things are not going well; all guts and no glory.

Parker also seems to be forewarned of events about to take place. “Ifs” abound in this film and can be traced to his behaviour: If they had listened to him in regards to the mission, they would never have picked up the face-hugging alien; if they had listened to his idea of freezing Kane when he was attached to the creature, the thing about to burst out of his chest would have been someone else’s problem and several crew members would have lived if they had understood what it is he meant by saying that the “son-of-a-bitch is huge” instead of trying to chase it with flamethrowers in a narrow air shaft with faulty tracking equipment. The only possible hole in this theory is the death of Brett, the first member of the crew to succumb to the now full-grown monster. Parker, Ripley and Brett thought that they had the creature cornered. Instead, they almost snare Ripley’s cat, Jones. At Parker’s urging, and because it is his fault, Brett is sent off to find the cat and is killed. I would argue that if Brett were a little bit sharper, he would have survived. Why didn't he ask for backup when he discovered the sloughed skin in the grate? And would anyone sensible still go on to look for a cat after seeing Kane’s gastrointestinal problems in the dining area? Brett’s death is his own stupid fault.

There are other dumb deaths in this film (Dallas’ end in a piece of duct work as he tries to hunt down the creature; Lambert’s frozen stance as she is being seduced to death), and it is necessary to include the punishment meted out to Parker. It is clear that Ridley Scott felt that he had given too much to Mr. Kotto as the film progressed and needed to have him die in a death scene that can still make one cringe every time one sees it or thinks about it.

Remember the scene: Lambert, Parker, and Ripley are the last survivors on the Nostromo and they have decided to fly off on the ship’s shuttle after setting the automatic self-destruct command on the ship. Lambert and Parker, while collecting extra canisters of oxygen for their journey, confront the beast. I mentioned Lambert being “seduced to death” and it is hard to argue with this theory. Consider how slowly the creature approaches her as she is rolling canisters across one of the decks. It is also significant that this is the first time the audience gets to see the top half of the creature’s body for longer than just a few frames. After chomping down on all of those men, a little bit of newly-acquired female flesh seems to be on the menu as Lambert is too paralyzed with fear to follow Parker’s command to move to the side as he prepares to barbecue it. But of course, this is just a trick to get Parker killed. The alien is fully aware that he is there and will do something to protect the one he loves (remember Ash’s fondness for the creature’s “purity” in its hostility, intelligence and lack of conscience). It is a relationship that Parker is trying to save, not just a crew member. Clearly, she and Parker have been involved with each other in some manner. It is just a question of piecing together what few clues there are to the relationships in the film. For instance, where are those two while Ripley discovers Ash’s true role as science officer? Out for a little stroll while a monster is hunting them down on board? Not likely. Parker’s lecherous comment that he’d “rather be eating something else” when Lambert’s scolds him for his dining habits displays something almost too subliminal: they were an item before any sort of mission to respond to a “distress signal” led to their deaths. She is trapped between two characters that both respond to her as a sex object and victim and Lambert and Parker both die in close quarters, the only time this occurs in the film. Also, Parker is the only one on the crew who engages with the monster in a one-on-one physical fight before his death. Yes, Ripley does manage to take it on once she is in a space suit and in close proximity to the air lock. But Parker is in a bare knuckle brawl with it, all the while trying to coax Lambert away from the scene for her own good. It would be worth applauding his efforts if it did not play up to the worst sort of stereotypes about black actors being killed off for the sake of their more “innocent” white compatriots. This is not necessary in a film that many have claimed to have broken new ground in the science-fiction/horror genre.

One to collect...

Mr. Yaphet Kotto (1939 - 2021), son of a Cameroonian crown prince and inspiration for at least one metal band, would not be saddled with this role as his only famous role (see earlier references to his other television and film work); this clearly shows how a talent can rise above the need to stereotype and pigeonhole actors in parts that limited them to a set of moods and responses. Still, it would have been nice if he had been given a better ending than just one as another black performer taking one for the team. Dennis Monroe Parker - chief engineer of the Nostromo (2080 - 2122) - deserved better than that.

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About the author

Kendall Defoe

Teacher, reader, writer, dreamer... I am a college instructor who cannot stop letting his thoughts end up on the page. Very grateful to have found this other opportunity to expose things to the light.

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