Jones The Cat, ALIEN’s True Hero

Originally published in the Alien: Covenant special issue of Birth.Movies.Death magazine in 2017.

In all the discussion of Ellen Ripley as a horror movie Final Girl, one important fact is routinely ignored: Ripley is not a Final Girl at all. She even makes that mistake herself, when she signs off as the “last survivor of the Nostromo.” Ripley isn’t a final anything: she’s accompanied, in the last act of Alien, by a boy. A very good, very special boy: a slightly overfed ginger tomcat named Jones.

Jonesy’s purpose aboard the Nostromo may seem unclear from a cargo-haulage perspective. He’s unable to lift large containers, operate load lifters, or pilot a starship. His only practical use is as a rodent exterminator, in the grand ship’s cat tradition. But watching Alien reveals his true value: he’s the crew’s connection to home, to domesticity, to a life more pleasant than hanging out in an oily, run-down freighter. Jonesy dines at the table with the crew, getting head scratches as they chat and gossip. He’s not just a crewmember; he’s a friend, a comfort, and a confidant, happy to snuggle down at the foot of the cryobed. At least until an alien starts killing off all his snuggle buddies.

While the human crew of the Nostromo spends the better part of Alien trying to divine a method for killing a xenomorph, Jones takes an altogether more sensible approach. From very early on, Jones gets the hell out of dodge, doing what cats are naturally good at: hiding. Scurrying around all the hidden corners of the ship only a cat would know, Jones manages to evade the alien much more successfully than nearly any other crewmember. The source of more than one jump scare and the most adorable blip motion-trackers have ever seen, Jones’ hiding prowess becomes something of a liability for the crew. But for all their carping about false positives, it’s the crew’s fault for mistaking a cute, fuzzy cat for an oozing, penile monster. With that in mind, it serves Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) right that he should be led on a merry chase through the ship, and ultimately to his death, by our little tabby friend. Silly puss.

Jonesy’s (non-)interactions with the alien demand some scrutiny. This cool cat gets more face time with Giger’s creation than any of his human pat-dispensers, and yet he lives to tell the tale (via a complex code involving rolling around, stretching, and head-booping objects). He just watches while Brett is torn to pieces; later, the alien has every opportunity to kill him, but it does not. What drives this mutual respect? Is it an understanding between fellow predators? A shared scorn for the stupid humans, running around trying to solve problems instead of finding a tight spot to hunker down? Or is it a case of Jones’ quiet confidence in himself discombobulating a creature that expects all others to cower before it? Whatever the answer, it’s further evidence toward cats being the true “perfect organism.”

Indeed, some fan theories contend that Jonesy is Alien’s secret weapon for a wholly different reason: maybe, they somewhat forcedly argue, he is incubating a xenomorph himself. Think about it, they’ll tell you: why else would Jones and the alien be so non-antagonistic towards each other? Why, apart from the literal fact of the production using a bigger cat (compared to the original film’s four identical moggies), does he appear bigger in Aliens than in Alien? Such theories are not simply a stretch, as with all fan theories; they fail to factor in just how implacably cool Jones is. Presented with a Facehugger (because how else would it happen? It’s weird to visualise), Jones would simply turn his nose up and walk away. Facehuggers ain’t givin’ no head scratches, after all.

It’s in the final act of Alien that Jonesy’s importance to the larger narrative becomes clear. Ripley spends that act attempting to blow the alien into space and escape, but one other task takes priority: securing the safety of her sole surviving crewmate. She goes out of her way to rescue Jones, and that reinforces his meaning to her. It’s not like she was obliged to go back and get him. He slows her down. It would have been easier navigating those corridors without a bulky cat carrier. Hell, Ripley could easily have become alien food for the sake of one small cat. But nevertheless, she persisted; Jones was important enough to Ripley that she put herself in considerable additional danger to ensure he made it through with her. 

What’s more, the end of Alien sees Jones attain the happiest ending of all, getting what all cats crave: a long sleep in a human bed. At 57 years, it’s the longest cat nap in history.

Jones makes a brief appearance in Aliens, and though he does not accompany Ripley on her next adventure, he performs an important role in preparing her for it. With everyone else in Ripley’s life long dead, Jones is her sole remaining companion and friend, with bonds forged in the furnace of terror. No way would Ripley be able to go straight back out to face the alien again, were she not first nursed back to snuggly normalcy by the only creature who understands her. The novelisation of Aliens reveals that Jones was the sole exception to a no-pets rule aboard the station where Riley is debriefed. Supposedly, the exception was made to accommodate for her traumatic experience aboard the Nostromo, but true fans know better: it’s because Jonesy is simply that great.

Jones presumably dies at some point between Aliens and Alien 3, as Ripley drifts, once again, in cryosleep. “No more cat-nightmares for him,” reads a brief passage in the official Alien 3 novelisation – a fitting eulogy, if a brief one, for a cat who’d been to space, killed some mice, and seen some serious shit. Over sixty years old, thanks to his own cryosleep journey, he surely broke all records for feline longevity – not to mention bravery.

Jones’ popularity has given the little dude an even longer lease on life than in the movies. He makes brief, inexplicable appearances in the video games Aliens: Infestation and Aliens: Colonial Marines, and though he does not appear in Alien: Isolation’s version of the Nostromo, his robust meow can be heard on board the space station Sevastopol – again, somewhat non-canonically. Film critic and novelist Anne Billson wrote Jonesy’s adventures into a short story, “My Day by Jones: A Cat’s-Eye View of Alien,” one-upping Alan Dean Foster, whose official novelisation contained short segments written from Jones’ point of view. And countless real-life kitties likely owe their names to the Nostromo’s ratcatcher extraordinaire.

Though he only appears in about three percent of its running time, Jones is the true hero of Alien. He’s a true survivor, going it alone in the Nostromo’s myriad ducts and vents, and teaching his humans valuable lessons in the process, until he simply decides to get Ripley to do everything for him. The one and only character in an Alien movie to be allowed to live out his natural life, Jones gets the best revenge of all, living it up secure in the knowledge that he faced an alien – and won.

To paraphrase Ellen Ripley: Jonesy, you little shithead, you’re staying here – in my heart.