Another year, another Arbogast Day. For those of you who have not been reading kindertrauma since it’s inception way back in 1997, every year on the day after Mother’s Day we celebrate our ongoing obsession with fellow blogger Arbogast of ARBOGAST ON FILM. We do that by participating in his “The One I Might Have Saved” blog-a-thon that asks bloggers to write an ode for a film character whose death they’d stop if they could.
I personally love the concept behind “The One I Might Have Saved” because I love movie characters. In fact, I may even like movie characters better than “real” people (movie characters never smell and you can mute them.) Arbogast’s idea presents a great opportunity to talk about an aspect of cinema that should be discussed more often; how we connect to people through film on a personal level. Anyway, here’s my pick for 2010…
LANCE HENRIKSEN “Bishop” ALIENS (1986)
I can’t tell you the deep devastation I felt at the moment I first witnessed Bishop’s truly shocking death in JAMES CAMERON’s ALIENS. (Although his head would go on to do a cameo in ALIEN 3, that does little to weaken the blow.) Here was a character that I grew to love and feel great empathy for over the course of the film. ALIENS is a movie that’s difficult to take in lightly; it’s an expansive journey that registers as a full experience. By the time the credits roll you have spent some serious quality time with its characters and the investment truly pays off. In the case of Bishop, our perceptions of him change over of the course of the adventure (along with Ripley’s.) It’s important to note though that Bishop himself does not transform, it’s the audiences understanding of him which is altered.
Ripley (SIGOURNEY WEAVER) has proven herself a highly tuned moral compass in the first ALIEN. We trust her without pause to point out the bullshit and lead the way. Because of her negative experience with an android in the first film she takes a clear dislike of Bishop as soon as she learns about that part of his identity. The viewer is meant to hold him with suspicion as well, but we get an early glimpse at his mettle when he declares he prefers to be called the more self-respectful “artificial person” rather than a “synthetic.” Our hero Ripley may be prejudiced in the truest sense of word but give her a break, not every bigot has a 57 year coma for an excuse and she does convert her views based on the information she witnesses herself.
We are shown the worst of humanity in the form of the weasely, backstabbing opportunist Carter Burke (PAUL REISER). Bishop, who really does come off as a Zen-like holy man, is shown as his direct opposite. Bishop may be “programmed” to assist and care for humans but he’s also programmed for self-preservation. When mid way through the film he volunteers for a mission he’s unlikely to survive, there’s no question that it’s above the call of duty. Not to take anything away from the mostly courageous Marines that loose their lives battling the monster swarm, but as was proven in the first film, it takes more than firepower to survive in the ALIEN universe. Much like Ripley herself, Bishop is a cerebral entity first and an action figure second. He may not carry a weapon but he’s smart enough to be in the right place at the right time and he ultimately saves the day.
Like the Replicants in RIDLEY SCOTT’s BLADE RUNNER, Bishop forces you to contemplate what makes us human. Considering the behavior of the treacherous Burke we might even wonder if being “human” is anything to be proud of. There’s a nobility to Bishop that raises him above those who would call him “false” just because he is different. His sudden evisceration by the Queen Alien, though horrific, is not without its almost crucifixion like beauty. His “otherness” is eventually shown to be an integral strength as even after being torn in half he is still capable of lending Ripley and Newt a life saving helping hand. ALIENS is a rare action movie where a character’s actions actually mean something. Bishop allows us to see that being “human” may have less to do with how we are built and more to do with our behavior.
NOTE: At the end of the movie we are shown Bishop’s remaining torso being put into sleep along side survivor Cpl. Hicks (MICHAEL BEIHN) so maybe I just wrote this whole thing about someone who didn’t die at all. Oh well, he got torn in half for crying out loud, isn’t that bad enough?
NOTE 2: Aunt John is at sleepaway camp and can’t add his “The One I Might Have Saved” to this year’s addition, but I can tell you whom he would have chosen anyway. He was very upset by Megan (GRETA GERWIG)’s death in THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. He thought the movie really lost something when she died.
NOTE 3: Check out many more “The One I Might Have Saved” tributes at Arbogast’s wonderful blog HERE and have a Happy Arbogast Day!