In the summer of 1986, my Mom brought a six year old me to the movies. Usually this wouldn’t be a big deal since she loved bringing me. But my Mom was scared to expose me to this particular film…Aliens. I was eager to see the return of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, despite the fact I had never seen the original movie. I didn’t care…it was about a bunch of marines fighting alien monsters.
I could lie and say that I was a fan of Aliens from the first moment I saw it. The truth is, it scared the crap out of me. I didn’t sleep for a week and I wouldn’t leave my room after dark without turning on every single light in the house. My Mom always pointed out that I begged to go, but I was six years old for Christ sake! Why would you listen to me? Someone should have called Child Protective Services. I was well into my teens before I even had the nerve to watch Aliens again, which is where my love affair with the film truly began.
But one thing always stuck with me: Corporal Dwayne Hicks. It sounds silly, but the quiet Colonial Marine taught me how to be a man. While I’ve always been called quiet or introverted, I tried to be the strong, silent type (I’m not quite there yet…) and I can trace that desire back to Michael Biehn’s character.
Hicks was the cool “hero” who listened before he acted and never acted rashly. He never thought he knew everything and wasn’t afraid to take a step back, but he knew when to take a step up when the situation on LV-426 escalated. These are all amazing traits for anyone to admire, and six year old me loved it.
Looking back, the whole film’s approach to masculinity and gender roles had a much larger influence than I thought. I never liked loud mouthed, hyper masculinity and Aliens made sure that I never became that type of man.
The Quiet Hero and Gender Roles Of The Future
Let me get one very important thing out of the way. This is NOT an attempt to take anything away from Sigourney Weaver’s iconic character, Ellen Ripley. Aliens is very much her film. She is the strong lead and her performance is incredibly powerful. The relationship between her and young Newt (Carrie Henn) is what forms the film’s emotional core.
Hicks is a supporting character, first and foremost. But he’s a great one. He exudes a quiet cool, akin to Steve McQueen (At least for me). He is as tough as the other marines…He goes into battle with NO SLEEVES people! But there’s a deeper level to his character.
When we first meet the Colonial Marines, we find a bunch of loud mouthed, sarcastic grunts who look at Ripley as an exaggerating outsider. Nearly every fan’s favorite, Private Hudson (Bill Paxton) is probably the loudest and most hyper-adrenaline pumped guy on the the squad. His performance is legendary, but we’ll get to him in a second.
During that first meeting between Ripley and the marines, Hicks simply watches and rarely speaks. As the others dismiss her, he doesn’t join in. You might actually forget he’s there in those early moments of the film. He quietly takes things in, his gaze lingering on Ripley. Granted, some of that is from a different type of interest. But much of Hicks’ gaze is the marine sizing the woman up…and being impressed.
As the expedition is decimated by the the aliens, Hicks steps up into a leadership role alongside Ripley. He knows she is the real expert on this creatures and he needs her to get everyone home safe.
This shouldn’t be surprising. The rest of the marines are a mix of men and women. They don’t fill any stereotypical gender roles. Aliens rarely calls attention to the fact that a woman like Vazquez (Jenette Goldstein) is the team’s “smart gunner,” using a massive weapon that’s the envy of any gun nut who lays eyes on it. These marines are all equals, so it’s not surprising that one of their leaders knows when it’s time to try something new.
This dynamic always had an influence on me. I was raised by a strong woman, and I had no problem seeing them as equals. Seeing Ripley, Vazquez and Hicks interact at equal levels was a great experience for me in my formative years and it influences me even today.
Failure of Traditional Masculinity
Contrast Hicks’ attitude with that of the rest of the marines, chiefly Hudson. As mentioned above, Hudson is the loudest of the marines, the one who feels the need to constantly flaunt his toughness…his masculine power.
The first film in the franchise, 1979’s Alien (Haven’t read my review? Check it out here: https://www.supermassivefilmstuff.com/alien-1979/) also takes a critical look at masculinity. Captain Dallas’ (Tom Skerritt) laid back approach and Parker’s (Yaphet Kotto) more abrupt style both fail.
Hicks is different. He adapts and knows when to keep his mouth shut. When Hudson’s brand of “manliness” lets him down, he completely loses it. He becomes a wreck, barely keeping things together after the marines are nearly wiped out by the aliens.
Hyper masculinity, the need to exaggerate your own manly prowess, fails in Aliens. Even when Hudson manages to get his “shit” together, he lets his manly need to blast the creatures who killed his friends get the best of him, leading to his death.
Hicks doesn’t get out of Aliens unscathed, but he does survive. He becomes a part of the strange family unit that forms at the end. Ripley and Hicks are the parents, Newt the daughter, and Bishop…well, let’s just call him the weird Uncle.
An Unknown Idol
I felt like writing yet another praise-filled review of Aliens would be a waste of time. I wanted to try something different. I latched onto this idea after seeing a tweet from writer Max Landis, praising Hicks as a “perfect underwritten character.”
I never realized how much the quiet Hicks had an effect on the young me, but after writing this. who saw a movie he had no business seeing. But I guess your childhood idols always more influence than we realize. Hicks is the quiet guy who came out on okay…Well, at least until Alien 3.
Everyone who knows me should probably thank Hicks and Michael Biehn for the awkward shy guy who tries to be tough. Maybe it’s because I can never master that sleeveless look…