In space, no one can hear you scream. This is the memorable tagline from Ridley Scott’s landmark science fiction horror film Alien. When the crew of the Nostromo lands on a strange planet, they are met with something dangerous: a life form they have never encountered before. The Xenomorph hatches from an egg hidden in the belly of a forgotten ship and is implanted into the body of a crew member. Once hatched, the alien stows away and mutates with each passing moment, becoming an even greater threat to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the crew. In space, no one can hear you scream, but they can hear a faint meow.
One of the most famous felines of the screen, there is far more to Alien’s Jones than meets the eye. Causing panic at a moment’s notice or remaining aloof in the background, Jones becomes one of only two survivors of the attack on Nostromo. While he escaped the ship by being carried around in a protective box by Ripley in the film’s final act, this cat brings about dangerous situations leading to more than a few terrifying ends.
Following the iconic chest-bursting scene, the smallest form of the Xenomorph scurries from the crew and into the dark shafts of the Nostromo. The crew disposes of Kane’s (John Hurt) body and plots to split into two teams in order to hunt down the alien aboard the ship. Ripley, Parker (Yaphet Kotto), and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) investigate dark corners with the use of Ash’s (Ian Holm) motion detector. The trio readies themselves for the capture after sensing movement in a nearby locker, but when the locker door slams open, Jones runs out, frightening his would-be handlers as he escapes.
Brett is then tasked with finding Jones. Meandering through darkened rooms, he finds the cat huddled in the corner of a damp chamber, water raining down from the unseen ceiling. But as Brett approaches Jones, a murmured heartbeat echoing, the cat recoils. Jones begins to yowl and hiss right before the Xenomorph appears behind Brett and drags him upward through chains and rain. Only a closeup of Jones’ face is seen, his mug unperplexed and his pupils fine slits observing the horror taking place. What becomes of Brett is never seen.
But Scott’s choice to show us the stealthy feline is not only a trick of the horror genre, leaving audiences to imagine what could become of Brett, but perhaps a detail providing emphasis on Jones’s own internalized survivalist instincts. Sure, the character is only a cat, but his adept maneuvering of the Nostromo shouldn’t be disregarded. Forsaking the other members of the ship aside from Ripley — the only character who often shows affection towards the feline — Jones’ precarious whereabouts and tumblings into mayhem are a means of escape from human and alien alike.
Following Brett’s death, Jones remains an elusive passenger. Likely hiding from the Xenomorph as the crew continues in vain to hunt the alien down, Jones only reappears as Ripley readies the escape shuttle for Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Parker, and herself. Frantically flipping switches and following procedures, Ripley hears Jones’s meow over the audio system. She leaves her station to walk right back into danger and search for the feline.
Ripley does succeed in finding Jones and stows him away in a hard-covered container, but then listens in as Lambert and Parker are killed by the Xenomorph, their screams echoing through the corridors of the ship. Ripley has no other choice; this is her chance to escape. Preparing the Nostromo to self-destruct, Ripley and Jones eventually find themselves huddled in a corridor next to the Xenomorph, strobes of light violently pulsating while alarms blare. Ripley runs, and for only a moment Jones comes face-to-face with the deadly, gaunt figure. But nothing happens.
The Xenomorph merely inspects the case in which Jones is confined. The cat does not appear, from what is seen, to be defensive or in a state of distress; the meeting is puzzling. To Jones, the Xenomorph is a towering figure who could swat him aside or leave him for dead. Perhaps the alien did not find Jones a worthy victim, but after five humans and in pursuit of a sixth, what’s one cat added to the body count? Maybe it was a choice made by the alien to move along to bigger prey, one that will show its suffering. But even though Jones was never a priority among the crew aside from Ripley, why should that make a difference for the ferocious alien searching for prey? Still, Jones is not harmed by the alien. The reason why could lie within Jones’ own connection to Ripley.
The pair are often the forgotten, or neglected, members of the Nostromo crew. And when they do come to assert themselves or make themselves known, it is cause for frustration for the rest of the crew. Even as Ripley tries to assert her leadership, her efforts are pushed aside. Often overshadowed by Ash, Dallas (Tom Skerritt), or any other member, it is rare to see Ripley given the attention she has earned. For Jones, attention to his wellbeing is only given to him by the one who knows the same feeling: Ripley herself.
Following their encounter with the Xenomorph, the cat and Ripley find safe passage onto an escape shuttle just in time. But the battle for survival does not end there. Once in the safety of the escape shuttle, Ripley takes Jones out of his heavy-duty carrier. Either out of discomfort or as a warning, Jones yowls before settling into the hibernation pod aboard the shuttle. It’s here that the final showdown between Ripley and the Xenomorph takes place, where the former blasts the Xenomorph into the cold darkness of space.
Jones and Ripley, the survivors of the commercial ship Nostromo, leave the Xenomorph behind. Somehow, someway, the Xenomorph never attacks Jones in the time the audience sees of the two mere inches from one another. Ripley, on the other hand, fights back and pulls through the horror-laden escape coming out alive and into further installations of the Alien franchise. But it is the iconic cat, Jones, who remains a memorable part of the film. His antics led to the death and life-threatening situations of crew members, and his companionship to Ripley echoes the survivalist mode both take on to abandon ship, leaving relatively unscathed. As if an extension of Ripley herself, Jones is one of the most subtly dangerous characters in Alien, and undoubtedly the most vicious feline in space.