In Hollywood, animals are not spared typecasting. Dogs are often the doofy, loyal sidekicks. They’re the innocent that gets murdered (just think John Wick). They’re the character that everyone is rooting for (what about that Independence Day scene with the dog leaping through the fiery tunnel?). Dogs are warm, lovable, naïve, they’re just trying to help their human.
And then there are cats. The popular media depiction of the cat seems to be cold, apathetic, and downright evil. Terry Pratchett once wrote, “In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” This sums up the basic depiction of the cat.
They are narcissistic beings, incapable of showing love or affection or blah blah blah…
Okay, enough with the cat hate. I’ll just put it out there, I love cats. I used to have a cat before he died of kidney failure. Anecdotally, I can say that cats are not like this media depiction. They are soft and warm, and they show affection in different ways than dogs. Why do dogs and cats have to be at opposite ends of some irrelevant spectrum? Stop the dichotomy, I say. Stop applying the dog framework of affection to cats!
I’m not really going to go on and on about the construction of cat stereotypes. Though I do think that there are a lot of societal reasons for these stereotypes, one of these reasons being human perceptions of gender and how we gender animals (but that’s a whole other issue).
Instead of writing a thesis tackling this dichotomy, instead of ripping it apart and liberating you all from the unnecessary binary that is cat/dog, I want to spotlight one particular breed of cat. Hopefully this spotlight will encourage you to liberate yourselves from the binary.
I want to talk about space cats, specifically the space cat Jones and why he is so key to the film, Alien. By space cats I mean cats in space, cats that live on spaceships, visit other planets, watch the universe go by outside their window.
No matter where humans go, the need for pet companionship seems to follow. Pets surpass genre, they are found in fantasy, realism, mystery, and science fiction. And cats are no exception. In fantasy stories, they often act as familiar-type creatures that support the main characters. In Harry Potter, Crookshanks is Hermione’s best feline friend. In other stories, cats can act as partners, companions, symbols, and sometimes as links to the supernatural.
The connection between cats and spaces unseen is ancient. Ancient Egyptians worshipped a lioness warrior goddess named Bastet. She is a goddess of protection. The nuance of this ancient goddess has probably been lost throughout time, throughout the bastardization of the Ancient Egyptian culture. But, since we’re talking about films here, according to the wonderful but historically inaccurate The Mummy, cats are protectors of the living realm. In one scene, Brendan Fraser’s character uses a cat to fend off the evil mummy.
Not only are cats protectors, they are also liminal spaces. In the film, Constantine, Keanu Reeves uses a cat to literally transport himself into Hell. Culturally, cats seem to be connected to the land of the dead, the land of the unseen. They can peer into a realm that we cannot. I recall often watching my cat stare into the distance. He wasn’t staring at anything I could see, but maybe there was something there. A ghost, a spirit… an alien.
This is what Jones does in Alien. He is a cat brought onto the Nostromo as a professional mouser. It’s odd, imagining rodents in space, but I guess that could be an issue. Jones is there to find rodents, but he ends up finding the alien. Often, it is he who first notices the alien. The character Brett goes looking for Jones (or Jonesy, as he calls him) at one point in the film. Once Brett finds him, Jones sees the alien’s shadow and starts to hiss. Brett is oblivious to the danger and is subsequently killed.
Again, at the end of the film, Jones tries to alert a human to the alien’s presence. Ripley holds him as he meows. He meows and meows and then she sticks him in a cryopod. After this, Ripley finds the alien sleeping in the escape pod. Jones was trying to warn her! He was trying to say, “Hey, something isn’t right here!” When she puts Jones away, Ripley disables her own personal alarm system. Though it’s okay, she and Jones have a nice relationship after the events of Alien.
In Aliens, they are picked up by a salvage crew. “The salvage crew that picked them up initially thought the unusual readings from the cryotube was that of an alien life form, but visual inspection revealed to them that they were simply reading the human and feline sets of DNA as one organism” (“Jonesey”). I find this fact to be so interesting. In the first film, Jones is mistaken for the alien when a motion tracker picks up his movements. He is mistaken for an alien twice, once in Alien and again in Aliens.
To me, this adds to the mythology of cats as liminal beings. Jones is both cat and alien, natural and supernatural. He occupies two spaces at once, a space that humans understand, and one that humans do not.
Jones is obviously connected to his humans. He is more than a professional mouser, he is a companion and a source of relaxation for the crew. Crewmembers pet him, call him Jonesy, and care about his welfare. While it may be a running joke that those who go looking for Jones end up dead, I would say that this is not Jones’ fault. The crew members die because they are unaware, they cannot see what is obvious to Jones. And he tries to warn them, he really does. But his cries are no match for the alien. (The alien he is NOT in league with, by the way. That is an interesting fan theory, but I feel it once again demonizes cats as agents of evil. Jones has claws, if he was really helping the alien he could’ve slashed a few faces or something).
Jones tries to help in his own way. He is a space cat, bound by duty. He is not Jones the dog because Jones the dog would have been most likely killed by the alien. I love dogs, but I think there’s a reason there is a cat in Alien and not a dog. Cats embody something I will call the “friendly unknown.” They are sweet and calm, yet they are mysterious. I’m probably just projecting my own romantic personifications onto cats, but in American mythology, cats are the ones that inhabit the shadows. They are the ones that see.
At the end of Alien, there are two survivors. Our protagonist, Ripley, and a cat named Jones. This is no accident. Ripley is our determined hero, a truly strong woman that survives patriarchy and an alien intruder all in the span of 1 hour and 57 minutes. Jones is the silent sidekick, the one that tries to alert his fellow crew members to the intruder but ultimately fails. The alien isn’t even interested in him, he could’ve easily hid in a hole somewhere and waited for this mess to pass. But he sticks with Ripley until the very end. In Aliens, Ripley looks at Jones and affectionately says, “And you, you little shit-head… you’re staying here.” Yes, Jones will always be right here.
Sophie Brown, “Fantastic Cats in Sci-Fi & Fantasy,” Wired, April 1, 2011, accessed September 11, 2017, https://www.wired.com/2011/04/fantastic-cats-in-sci-fi-fantasy/
Thor Jensen, “The 12 Best Cats In Sci-Fi History,” geek,com, March, 21, 2017, accessed September 11, 2017, https://www.geek.com/culture/the-12-best-cats-in-sci-fi-history-1693091/
Adam Whitehead, “The Cats of Science Fiction and Fantasy,” The Wertzone, August 19, 2016, accessed September 11, 2017, http://thewertzone.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-cats-of-science-fiction-and-fantasy.html
“Jonesy,” Alien Anthology Wiki, http://alienanthology.wikia.com/wiki/Jonesy