From Book: Becoming Stranger: The Beginning And End Of Evil In The Most Idiosyncratic Sci-Fi Movie Franchise By Sarah Welch-Larson | Features


Extraterrestrial opens in the dark: first darkness and a hint of stars, then a slow panning over a planet and its moons, title and credits crisp against black, all exterior light dimmed by most of the planet. The title patiently assembles from a series of abstract lines, each letter spaced apart from each other, creating bizarre glyphs before being summed up in one short and familiar word: Extraterrestrial.

At first, there’s a tower-shaped ship that pushes its way through the depths of the void. We’re starting out in res media, although we don’t know it yet. Soon we will learn that the ship is not leaving for a long trip. The Nostromo is a commercial tow vehicle driving home, its refining towers laden with precious ore. His crew are not adventurers. They are truck drivers, shippers, ordinary blue collar workers in the depths of space.

The public is introduced inside the Nostromo through a patient, wandering gaze across the shipDark and empty hallways. The passages are both massive and claustrophobic, octagonal, wider than a typical land corridor, but crammed with pipes, cables and switches: apparent chaos, but in a way that suggests a worker on board can make sense of the entanglement, and that the entanglement can cause the ship to leave. As the camera floats through the halls, we feel like invaders. There are no humans in sight, but proof of their existence is everywhere: in the dippy birds on the kitchen table, in the wind chimes hanging in the doorway, in the rustling papers under an air duct outlet, and in helmets staring at computer screens on the deck. For the first few minutes we don’t see anyone, but we do know that people live here, somewhere in the bowels of this gigantic cathedral spire ship,[1] still already on mission.

Catherine Keller’s conception of the universe is non-linear, limitless by difficult beginnings and endings; the universe exists in a constant state of becoming. The “In the beginning” of Genesis also begins in medias res,[2] the spirit of God hovering over the face of the depths (“Tehom”), from which God creates the universe. These tehomic the waters are prior to all; they are a source of chaos, both frightening and full of delight, an informal reality full of endless and ever-changing possibilities, as deep as space, flowing and flowing like the sea. They are both literal and figurative , the constituent elements of the universe dispersed before their assembly into a recognizable form. Keller marks the beginning not as a fixed point, but as “a beginning in progress, a process of becoming without origin and without end”[3] this does not exclude any part of creation, but seeks to fold all parts of creation into itself, repeating and repeating like a fractal.[4] Chaotic, gloomy depths are no longer reduced to something to fear – darkness is reclaimed as a good thing in a tehomic understanding the universe[5]– but are considered rich in possibilities. The depths are a source of all good, regardless of culture, creed or communication.[6]

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