Science Fiction Film & Television

Cosmic careers and dead children

Women working in space in Aliens, Gravity, Extant and The Cloverfield Paradox

Science Fiction Film & Television (2019), 12, (1), 73–102.

Abstract

The figure of the astronaut mother in sf represents a site of confluence between the seemingly incompatible cultural ideals and archetypes of the astronaut and the mother. These two identities are perceived to exist on opposite ends of the continuum between traditional binary conceptions of science and nature, masculinity and femininity, rationality and irrationality, detachment and attachment, technology and biology, and of course - space and the Earth. Contemporary sf stories struggle to merge these identities without breaking the mother in the process of making her an astronaut. In order to explore the complexities of the astronaut-mother figure, this article provides a close reading of four female astronaut characters in sf whose motherhood stories are constructed in strikingly similar ways: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in James Cameron’s special edition of Aliens (1992), Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013), Dr Molly Woods (Halle Berry) in the television series Extant (2014-15) and Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in The Cloverfield Paradox (2018). Each of these narratives features a female protagonist who goes to space, whose job is the impetus for her space journey, and whose backstory features a dead child.

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Lovell, Bronwyn