Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Lovefest '07: #1. Nose Rub


Winona Ryder in Alien: Resurrection (1997)

The door is going to open.

After the most harrowing battle in Alien: Resurrection, the surviving band of space-adventure people are being winnowed away by the star-monster, as tends to happen in Alien pictures, and they've even lost the cool guy with dreadlocks and the scrappy space pirate girl. And now, the door is going to open.

The cast waits, sweat drops freezing on their skin. Every gun trains in the direction of the door, about to open.

The metal jaws part. The camera moves in low, staring up in anticipatory fear at what will come through the door, when the door opens, because it's going to open. The door opens.

And standing motionless in the doorway is Annalee Call, presumed recently dead, gut-shot and drowned. From this vantage, she looms over the frame like the Colossus of Rhodes, and we stare up at her with the cast, every eye amazed. The camera glides up and over her body, and stops at one of those patent Jean-Pierre Jeunet angles, just a hair too high over the subject not to look off-kilter. The lights flicker and strobe, unidentifiable machines release white puffs of smoke like heavenly nimbus. But she doesn't look mythic anymore. She doesn't dominate the frame, but looks lost and isolated and miserable. She looks like a 5'4" drowned rat.

There is a beat of stupefied awe... then Ryder sniffs and rubs her nose, embarrassed.

The only explanation in the Alien mythos for Call to be alive, is that she's a robot. And look, it's an Alien movie, so we know there's going to be a crazy robot-reveal scene, and, to be realistic, we probably know who the robot is. By giving the plot point a funny, adorable, humane twist, the formula requirements are cleverly fulfilled and mildly subverted. Nobody writes a Girl, Resurrected scene like Joss Whedon. If there were ever any doubt whose script this is, this scene is the clincher. I can't say if the move was scripted, requested or directed, but it's the performance moment I want to isolate. Ryder undercuts the reverence in the reveal of her return from a watery grave just by rubbing her nose. It's a tiny but pivotal choice, playing to Whedon's technique of cutting through genre formula with warm, humanist comedy; it reenforces Jeunet's bonker-brained mutation of Alien series storytelling and toying with audience expectations.

All Winona Ryder has to do is stand there and rub her nose.

1 comment:

johanna said...

"Ryder undercuts the reverence in the reveal of her return from a watery grave just by rubbing her nose. It's a tiny but pivotal choice, playing to Whedon's technique of cutting through genre formula with warm, humanist comedy; it reenforces Jeunet's bonker-brained mutation of Alien series storytelling and toying with audience expectations."

That's a terrific couple of observations. That moment bothered me the first time I saw it, but I hadn't thought about this film from quite the same standpoint (i.e., breaking away from laden, gothic tones) other than the fact that Jeunet did himself (and the film) a solid when he consciously decided not to try and replicate the feeling of the first two. I can appreciate that even though I still prefer the first two, and probably always will if for no other reason than nostalgia.