Most of the time, it's pretty easy to tell what a movie is about: Lincoln is about Lincoln. The Hangover is about some dudes who get a hangover. Tree of Life is about ... you know, things. However, sometimes a movie you've seen a million times will convince you it's about something very simple, when, in fact, there was a hidden meaning all along that the director intentionally put there, but for some reason didn't want you to find. For instance ...
5 Aliens is a Metaphor For the Vietnam War
20th Century Fox
James Cameron's Aliens, the godfather of sci-fi action movies, is about as straightforward as a film gets (except for the part where the aliens are actually giant penises, but that was already there when Cameron came in). It's just a simple story about a bunch of American soldiers sent to a faraway land where they are led to their senseless deaths by incompetent leaders. What could that possibly be a metaphor for?
Karsten Bidstrup/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images
Yeah, according to the Alien: Quadrilogy box set special features, everything in the movie is designed to trigger one huge Vietnam War flashback ... and considering the movie came out just 11 years after the war ended, it wouldn't have been that far from the audience's mind. First, we have the dropship, which was modeled after U.S. combat aircraft of the era:
20th Century Fox, Staff Sgt. Phil Schmitten/US Army
After mating them with giant crabs.
Then we have the general design of the soldiers: Their weapons, outfits, and even the designs they paint on their gear are based on the ways that American soldiers used to decorate theirs during the war.
20th Century Fox, military.com
20th Century Fox, eastofeton.wordpress.com
"This platoon has a minimum 15 pieces of flair."
But the similarities aren't just cosmetic; they are also all over the plot. Like in Vietnam, the technologically superior soldiers soon find themselves overtaken by an enemy that tends to sneak up on them in the dark. Obviously, Cameron isn't saying that the Vietnamese were penis-headed rape monsters -- it's more about the attitude of the soldiers towards them, which goes from "I'm the ultimate badass!" to "Game over, man!" over the course of the conflict.
Then there's the way the movie portrays figures of authority: They're all corrupt, useless morons, basically. The Weyland-Yutani Corporation, like many major companies during Vietnam, is putting their soldiers in jeopardy just to make a profit. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Gorman, is not only elitist (he chooses not to eat with his men, which pisses off Hicks), but laughably incompetent: He gets himself knocked out during the very first fight, and Ripley has to rescue everyone. This is most likely based on what most people think of American officers during Vietnam: that they got a bunch of young Americans killed without ever actually getting their hands dirty.
20th Century Fox
The scene where Paul Reiser does an impression of Nixon for 10 minutes should have tipped us off.
It's probably safe to say that Cameron doesn't think Vietnam ended too well, considering how the colony on LV-426 is engulfed in a thermonuclear explosion at the end. And those poor marines didn't even get to do any surfing.