All fans know that science fiction has to do with fantasies about the body,
especially the reproductive body. Science fiction represents alternative systems of procreation and birth, ranging from the rather child-like image of babies born out of cauliflowers, to monstrous births through unmentionable orifices.- Rosi Braidotti
of the Womb: Alien Impregnation in Science Fiction Film
“How do they reproduce?” It seems like every time there’s an alien invasion, the first question asked is “how do they reproduce” … followed by “how do we kill them?” Even before inquiring about the alien species’ eating habits (do they eat people?), we want to know about breeding. Our fear of being outnumbered, of being invaded, is greater than our fear of being devoured. Why is reproduction such a prevalent theme in science fiction film? While we are surrounded by images of sex and reproduction in all forms of media and all types of film, the science fiction genre centers around procreation in particular. More than other genres the science fiction film deals with the understanding of life as a scientific concept. In alien movies specifically, we encounter foreign creatures that often defy or test what humans understand about life. The creators of fictional aliens have tremendous freedom in designing new beings; they may look, think, function, and behave practically any way one can imagine. And while the means and execution can vary in almost limitless ways, reproduction remains a constant principle in life. In fact, because science fiction does present us with strange and unknown creatures, the exploration of novel reproductive means is fundamental to the genre. The emphasis on alien reproduction reflects human fear in general and male anxiety about reproduction specifically. Alien reproduction represents the most primitive in all living things. As terrifying as the differences between alien and human can be, it is the similarities we can find most unsettling. In the face of an alien invasion, humans confront the most basic principles of life that connect us all: survival and procreation. Alien invasion embodies those principles. No matter how advanced the technology is that brings the two species together, the motivation for the technology is the same: survival and perpetuation of the species. Reproduction represents expansion, the only real reason for travel between worlds.
The impregnation of women by aliens in science fiction film is the manifestation of the deepest anxieties of men and women. Invasion of the womb represents the masculine fear of losing control by invasion, and the feminine fear of being victimized and violated.
Two films, Horror Planet and Progeny, deal with the issue of womb invasion in different ways. I chose these films because of their focus on the phenomena of womb invasion as a central theme and because they each present the concept with an emphasis on gender-specific perspective. The first film, Horror Planet, is female -centered, and Progeny is male-centered. This does not imply the value judgment of one movie being more feminist or pro-feminist than the other. Neither film could really be called feminist. Instead, the distinction of male-or-female-centered describes the how much emphasis the film places on the male or female characters.
Horror Planet (1981) focuses largely on the experience of the woman while still reflecting masculine anxieties. When a twelve-person crew (six women, six men) land on a seemingly abandoned planet, a member of the crew is impregnated by the planet’s last inhabitant.
The two scenes where the conception is shown take place while Judy lies on an examination table in the ship’s infirmary, reliving the experience. It is a disturbingly explicit image of rape. Sandy, played by Judy Geeson, lies naked on a table. Her nudity is completely un-sexy, and she resembles a corpse until she begins to scream and struggle against the alien looming over her. The scene is dream-like and fragmented.
What is interesting about the conception scenes is
Although Carl is a positive and even likeable figure in all other aspects of the film, his character represents the human side of the rape. He is the patriarch of the ship and has a great deal of power over the women in particular.
His source of power is his syringe (phallus), which he uses to control the women by injecting them. He controls
There is no question that
Progeny (1999) focuses on the masculine experience of womb invasion. Although it is his wife who has been impregnated, Craig Burton (
The film simultaneously violates and perpetuates traditional notions of gender roles. In ways, Craig, a doctor, views the situation as a scientist. The couple has been trying to have a baby, with no success, and conception occurred on September 20th. Craig is the rational male, citing his low sperm count and the date of conception as evidence of outside intervention. At the same time, the idea of alien abduction is irrational.
Sherry is the irrational mother, too preoccupied with her need to fulfill her biological destiny of motherhood to consider Craig’s protests. In the face of motherhood, she rejects what we know to be legitimate concerns about the origin of the fetus. That it is Craig and not Sherry who is most concerned with the pregnancy violates logic as well as conventional notions of gender specific characteristics.
Sherry is less disturbed by the incident than Craig, even though she went through a more invasive and traumatizing ordeal than Craig. His memory is clearer (either because he is a doctor or because he is a man) than hers, and his need to recover the memory is greater (again, either because of his sex or his scientific mind). Also, it is her body that is violated, and the evidence of that is within her womb. She should feel the physical results of that unnaturalness earlier than she does. Her failure to recall the incident makes some sense because it was more traumatic and her mind represents the memory more deeply than Craig’s.
But the fact that Craig senses a problem when Sherry doesn’t violate one of the most common beliefs our society holds true about women and feminine intuition. Women are thought to be far more intuitive than men, especially where their children are concerned. Maternal instinct should tell Sherry there is something wrong. However, maternal instinct could be the very reason why she doesn’t. Again, her need to produce a child is too great to be dissuaded by the thought of what that child could be.
In many ways, Sherry is a secondary character in the film. The movie focuses on a father's fears. Craig is not a misogynist, but his concerns about the pregnancy are largely selfish. His fear is less about how his wife’s body was violated and more about his wife being pregnant by someone who is not him. His role as father and master of his wife’s body is violated. When an obnoxious coworker makes jokes about an office pool on who really fathered Sherry’s child, Craig explodes, pushing him across the room. He explains to a hospital administrator, “I didn’t like the way he said it.” But as much as the interaction with Duke (the obnoxious coworker) triggers Craig’s emotional stress about the pregnancy, it offends his male ego. Before Duke’s “postman joke”, he calls Craig’s masculinity into question. “I know why it took you so long to conceive”, he says, “You don’t eat enough red meat, hmm…?” Good macho food, put lead in your pencil. You know, people around here are wondering how you finally did the deed?” Sherry’s pregnancy is a badge of Craig’s failure as a man. An alien monster succeeds at something he was desperate to do, to fulfill his duty as a husband.
The invasion of the womb has different consequences for male and female characters, and reflects different fears and anxieties. Alien impregnation is such a common occurrence in science fiction as to be cliché, but the significance of a film lies in its treatment of the concept. These particular films exemplify the way that different perspectives can change the way that we view womb invasion.
on Sources: Although the
concept of artificial and alien impregnation is common throughout science
fiction film, there are few resources that deal with it specifically. Other than locating the origin of the
phrase “monstrous feminine”, I did not allocate any outside sources in my
analysis of the two films. However,
the following are links to the best resources that I found in doing research for
Braidotti, Rosi. "Cyberfeminism with a Difference". New Formations, no. 29. Fall, 1996, pp. 9-25.
This article discusses themes of technology, postmodernity, and embodiment. It contains a section about the reproductive women in science fiction and discusses the theme of reproduction in the genre and its significance. It also addresses how alternative reproduction manipulates male anxiety.
Carvalho, Marcos and Conlon, Deirdre. "Spaces of Motherhood". Reconstruction, Winter 2003: Volume 3, Number 1 ISSN: 1547-4348
Examines the depiction of motherhood in popular media, including science fiction cinema.
Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. Routledge, November, 1993. Purchase at: amazon.com
Franklin, Sarah. "Postmodern Procreation: A Cultural Account of Assisted Reproduction". Conceiving the
Article about reproductive politics. Focuses on reproductive technology and what it means for the feminist movement. Only a short (one sentence) mention of science fiction film.
George, Susan A. “Not Exactly "Of Woman Born": Procreation and Creation in Recent Science Fiction Films (Critical Essay)" Journal of Popular Film and Television. Heldref Publications. Winter, 2001. Quarterly ISSN 0195-6051
This article examines three films with procreation as a theme: Gattaca, Species, and Mimic. The author discusses how each film reflects society's anxiety about reproductive technology and masculine fear of women's reproductive ability.
Graham, Paula. "Warrior Women and the Horror of Feminism". Version of MA Thesis:
An analysis of lesbian sub-text in pop culture. Chapters 2 ("The Horror of Feminism") and 3 ("Science-Fiction and Feminism") deal specifically with the female body in science fiction, as well as the concept of monstrous motherhood.
Horror Planet. Dir. Norman J. Warren. Perf. Jennifer Ashley, Judy Geeson, Barry Houghton.1981. VHS, Jupiter Films, 1983.Horror Planet IMBD page
Progeny. Dir. Brian Yuzna. Perf. Lindsay Crouse, Jillian McWhorter,
Stonewall, Stephen. "A Womb With A View: Women in Science Fiction" Diverse Universe. Geoff and Miriam
A short history of women in science fiction, from ancient mythology to film.
Feminist SFF & Utopia Quick Lists Themes, Characters, Genres and if you like... Lists
A list of titles in science fiction literature by theme. Includes titles with themes of alternative reproduction.
LSU Law Library--Women's Rights and Women's Images in Science Fiction An extensive bibliography of scholarly articles about women in the genre (film, television, and print media), review articles, s/f books by women writers, and more.
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review
A comprehensive index of science fiction films with short descriptions of plots and links to reviews.
Films with Womb Invasion
Village of the Damned
Village of the Damned (1960)Review
Village of the Damned (1960)IMDB page
Village of the Damned (1995)IMDB page
Village of the Damned (1995)Review
Tag-Team Movie Reviews A debate about the two versions of Village of the Damned.
Demon Seed (1977)
Demon Seed IMDB page
Demon Seed Review
Horror Planet/Inseminoid (1981)
Horror PlanetIMDB page
InseminoidReview of British version
The Astronaut's Wife (1999)
The Astronaut's WifeIMDB page
Taken ( TV miniseries, 2002)
Review of Alien
Alien IMDB page