Alien (1979), directed by Ridley Scott

In my career as a school principal, parents from time to time would ask me to break a school rule when their child was in trouble. In one case, the parent told me that enforcement of a particular rule would turn off his child from Judaism and I would be responsible for his son’s lack of faith. Such a comment weighed heavily on me. Moreover, in my early years, I wanted to be liked, and enforcement of the rule would make me unpopular with a few parents. Fortunately, a mentor of mine reminded me that my goal in my professional life should not be to be liked but to be respected. He impressed upon me that whenever I make an exception for one student, I have to make it for all students. There is no such thing as a private deal when it comes to maintaining the integrity of a school rule. Everybody has to follow the same Bible. Whatever expedient decision you make in the short term may bring you some satisfaction and peace momentarily, but it will eventually bring you havoc. It is just a matter of time.

The consequences of a decision to break a long-standing policy for a short-term benefit, however noble it may seem at the time, is the catalyst for all the mayhem that erupts in  Alien, a tense and disturbing science fiction thriller, which spells out in grim detail the horrific results of breaking one rule to ameliorate an immediate problem.

The Nostromo, a commercial towing vehicle traveling to Earth with over a million tons of mineral ore, intercepts a signal which the crew perceives as an SOS. When Kane, a crew member, leaves the ship with the captain and investigates the origin of the signal, he is attacked by a foreign life form which attaches itself to his head. Some crew members want to bring Kane back to the ship to see if they can save him; but Ripley, the commanding officer when the captain is not on the ship, refuses to bring Kane back on board, citing quarantine protocol and the real danger of putting more lives at risk. In spite of her ruling, one of the ship’s officers disobeys Ripley and opens the door of the spaceship allowing the contaminated Kane to enter. This marks the beginning of the end of most of the crew who do not realize that they have allowed the alien to enter the ship as well.

The Ethics of the Fathers tells us that the wise man is he who foresees the consequences of his actions, who does not put others at risk to satisfy his own immediate needs. One rash act can leave in its wake a plethora of tragedy.

It is a Jewish sensibility to do whatever we can to prevent danger and harm to others, to minimize risk to our friends and neighbors. The Torah lists numerous laws that are designed to protect people. When we build a house, we are enjoined to erect a guardrail on a roof. Furthermore, we are enjoined not to possess an unstable ladder, not to own a vicious dog, or do anything that may create a hazard for anyone who enters our home. Moreover, contemporary authorities in Jewish law argue that driving recklessly is a violation of Jewish law in that it puts the lives of others as risk. In truth, when a Jew drives with courtesy, it is a way of sanctifying the name of God.

Although Alien deals with a foreign universe, it reminds us of the importance of following the rules and not placing others at risk. We cannot predict the outcomes of our actions. Therefore, it becomes incumbent upon us to think wisely before making an exception to the rules.

Purchase this movie from Amazon.com.

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4 responses »

  1. Not to pick the metaphore, but in Alien it turns out the crew member who breaks the rule does so on the commend of the authority that orchestrated the situation in the first place. How does that play (if at all) into your analogy?

    Reply
    • You are correct and I thought about that. However, the general point still makes sense given that at that juncture in the movie, we do not know that the crew member is allied with the bad guys. Thanks for your thoughts. HC

      Reply
  2. Menachem Lipkin

    Great analogy!

    Reply

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