14. Aliens

This movie changed my life when I watched it as a kid, on a black-and-white TV, late at night during a sleepover at Chris Havener’s house. I’d never seen anything rated R. I truly didn’t know there could be a movie where monsters fought commandos and the battle was taken so seriously. (Now every movie is like that.)

I remember everything from that viewing, but the scene that stands out is Burke’s death – possibly because it’s a cutaway kill, so the TV station didn’t have to edit anything out; possibly because I dislike The Man.

A college professor told me Alien (1979) is about the period in American history (around Reagan’s election) when working-class people realized their bosses didn’t care about them. The Weyland Corporation is fine if its grunt employees die, it just wants the alien because it’s worth a fortune.

That spirit lives on in Aliens (1986), James Cameron’s everything-bigger action sequel. Cameron’s film trumpets themes of war and motherhood, but it also splatters profit-first villainy.

“I work for the company,” says Burke (Paul Reiser!), after he brings Ripley her cat, “but don’t let that fool you. I’m really an OK guy.” Burke acknowledges there that company men are considered bad people. He, though, is different.

Except we’ll learn later that he’s not different; he’s totally evil. He looses facehuggers on a child, and he hatches a plan to kill everyone else onboard so he can sell the monster to Weyland’s “weapons sciences division.”

“I don’t know which species is worse,” Ripley tells Burke. “You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.”

A notoriously satisfying director, Cameron of course gives us Burke’s reckoning. Fleeing a fire fight, Burke comes face-to-face with one of the creatures he hoped to bring back. It shakes, hisses, and opens long mouths of dripping teeth. We don’t see what happens next, but Burke is either dead right then, or off to be bound and impregnated with a creature that will kill him as it hatches from his ribs.

He should not have prioritized profits above people. May others know same.

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