We're back under Covid lockdown where I am so, with spare time on my hands, I decided another viewing of Alien 3 was in order. It's been a few years since I last watched it. (By the way, this was the special edition in the Alien Anthology, the version with the ox-burster. Is this the same thing as the "Assembly Cut" everyone talks about? It looks like no roughly drafted assembly I've ever seen.)
And, well, it is different from the way I remembered it. Ripley is not miserable throughout the entire film as I thought. Sure, after learning of Newt and Hicks' deaths she's pretty depressed, but flirting with Clemens seems to perk her up quite a bit. Actually, that in itself is kind of weird—but no time to ponder that, there's a time immediately following when she seems quite galvanised into action, getting the prisoners organised. So contrary to my recollection, she is quite focused on survival at this point.
But she goes downhill from there.
There's the scene where the prisoners get together and confront her with blame for their predicament, and (I think it's) Morse says they should kill her by smashing her into a wall. And Ripley rather dourly says, that's fine by her. This is not a way for her to avoid the horror of the chest burst, btw, since this is before she learns she's been impregnated. So it sounds like she's back to being depressed and having suicidal thoughts even at this early stage.
Of course, once she learns about the chestburster she's carrying there's no doubt that suicide is on her mind. She goes down to the basement hoping the alien will kill her, and clearly, she's disappointed when that plan fails. So she goes back to Dillon (very strange transition there, btw, as though there's a sequence missing) to beg him to cave her skull in with the fire axe. This is one severely desperate woman looking for a way out of life.
Thankfully, the action scenes that follow do a lot to leaven the depressing atmosphere, as they all work to lure the alien down the maze-like passageways into the foundry. It's not really scary since there's no one whose survival you really care about—it's only Ripley we care about—but we've already learned the alien won't kill her. But even if it would, she's already showed us that she herself wanted death by alien, so maybe that would be a good thing? But all that aside, the chasing through the passageways is quite thrilling. And we do get to see Ripley back in action mode, which is a welcome change up.
But the real question is, is Ripley's death a triumphant sacrifice ("giving the middle finger to the man" and all that), or the suicide of a broken woman?
I have no doubt the movie wants us to feel like it's the former, but whether by wrecked storytelling or inadvertent, unintended effect, there's a lot of the latter mixed in there as well. In my opinion, as I said earlier, it's a bit of both.
This is not the same heroic ending that, say, Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) gets at the end of Saving Private Ryan, which is also a "mixed fortune" ending. Miller's death is clearly the noble sacrifice of a man who had everything to live for. Audiences responded well to this ending. Not so much with Alien 3. In fact, I think the audience reception to Alien 3 would have been positive, even with the death of Newt and Hicks, if only Ripley's sacrifice had felt much more triumphant, instead of what felt like the relief of death for a woman with no hope for the future.