Prometheus

The Avengers was a great, entertaining summer film, and yet I’m pretty sure I stopped thinking about it before I even pulled out of the parking lot of the movie theater. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is also great entertainment, and yet two days after seeing it I have yet to stop thinking about it. This is not to say that the latter is smarter than the former. Both of these films are smart as well as entertaining. But Prometheus actually wrestles with interesting questions and asks the audience to wrestle with them as well, which I almost always prefer to the “that was fun!” one-off popcorn movie.

Prometheus has a lot going on. A lot of big-picture, metaphysical questions about  existence, creation, evolution, etc. Questions come fast in furious in the film, far more than answers do. It’s a film that–like any given Lost episode–allows the audience to merely see one part of what is obviously a much bigger reality (Lost’s Damon Lindelof wrote Prometheus). I won’t speculate here about what lies beyond the limited field of view of this film (I’m not a fanboy), but I do have some  scattered thoughts on what we do see in Prometheusand I’ll share some of them below (SPOILERS ahead!).

I think the film can be read as a dark, secularist’s perversion of the Christian narrative–particularly the theology of Incarnation. Images of Christmas and Incarnation abound in the film, albeit with a horrific twist. The Christmas tree aboard the ship tips us off to this motif. The events of the film unfold (not coincidentally) during Christmas. But the most visceral nod to Incarnation is the actual literal entrance of the alien species into the body of the film’s heroine, Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace).

Christians celebrate Christmas as the moment that the Creator took up residence within his creation, humbling himself to the place of a tiny fetus within Mary’s womb. In Prometheus, we are led to believe that the creatures the humans encounter are in some sense their own Creator Gods (“Engineers”), and yet when one of their biological creations sprouts inside Dr. Shaw’s womb, the results are far less “Emmanuel” than they are “Get this monster out of me!”

In Prometheus, Scott’s vision of the relationship between Creator and created is one of spite and hostility. In the Christian narrative, God is a benevolent creator who takes on the form of his creation so he can rescue and redeem those he created in his image. In Prometheus, the “gods” also seem to have created man in their image, and yet they despise humanity and want to destroy it. Incarnation for the purposes of redemption is re-imagined as infection for the purposes of eradication.

The hubris of the humans in the film is that they assume that once contact is made with the “Engineers,” it will be a pleasant experience–that Creator and created will be reunited in a lovely moment of discovery and redemption. But of course, it doesn’t turn out that way.

Meanwhile, the humans are themselves “engineers/creators,” having spawned robot creators like “David” (the phenomenal Michael Fassbender) in their own image. But the humans resent David because he is fundamentally different than them: lesser, devoid of soul. Why should they expect that those who engineered humanity would feel any differently toward their “lesser” offspring? Indeed, Scott’s vision of the “Creator” perspective on creation is one of resentment, disgust and hostility rather than sacrificial love. Humans are misguided, pride-driven fools if they expect to be welcomed with open arms by the vastly superior Engineers who created them, Scott seems to suggest.

Certainly Scott is correct to chastise the pride of man and his penchant toward self-destructive hubris; and he’s also right to paint in more favorable light the characters who shun the need “to know” and end up saving mankind when they sacrifice their lives to prevent the alien ship from leaving for earth.

Yet Scott also seems to critique the very notion of curiosity and discovery–man’s wiring to inquire about his origins and his Creator. Is it science Scott is critiquing? Religion? Both seem to drive the Prometheus and its crew in their ill-fated expedition.  If the film has a bone to pick with Christianity, it has at least as much of a beef with science and industry–the innovations of mankind which are simultaneously his most crowning glory and most explosive source of destruction. Indeed, Prometheus is on one hand a showcase for the impressive creativity and reach of mankind (the technology, the ship, the weapons, the robots are given more than just passing screentime). But on the other hand, the film’s quick “in over their heads” descent into hell demonstrates the humility of mankind against the vast mysteries of the universe that remain outside our reach.     The film seems to go outside of its way to hammer home the point that–in juxtaposition to other alien species and unexplained phenomena–earthlings are not especially savvy, adaptive or impressive.

Scott may well intend all of this to add up to a cynical view of humanity, religion, and our hapless tendency to destroy that which we create. And yet something about the film also evokes–perhaps inadvertently–a sense of wonder and worship. What does lie beyond? The unapologetic open-endedness of the film’s inquiries puts man in his place and yet affirms the validity of our skyward-gaping curiosity. The film may slap humanity on the wrist for its reckless hubris, yet ultimately it seems to suggest that there is something valuable to discover in our search for answers. And though many may die trying, it might still be worth the pursuit.

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7 responses to “Prometheus

  1. Thanks for the review.

    While I absolutely agree with all of the horrific Christian motifs present in the film, the alien in Dr. Shaw’s womb was less about the birth of Christ and perhaps more about the birth of John the Baptist (a barren woman named Elizabeth..)

    Also, the creation that does sprout inside Dr. Shaw’s womb is not from an “Engineer” but rather the audience is lead to believe it is a biological weapon that the Engineers created to be used in the wiping out of humanity on earth. Aka the origins of the aliens in the Alien movies. This is best confirmed in the closing scene, when Dr. Shaw’s alien creature saves her from the Engineer, kills the Engineer and then is re birthed from the body of the Engineer.

    One of the strongest Christian motifs in the film for me was of the sacrifice of one to create and/or save life. (opening scene, Prometheus ship crashing into Alien ship, Charlie’s willing death)

    There are some *interesting* opinions out there that talk about why the Engineers became so hostile to their creation of human beings. One of those opinions is it is because human beings killed an Engineer which came to earth to restore humanity (Jesus Christ). This opinion certainly does not work in atonement theologies but still worth reflecting upon.

  2. But it slaps us on the wrist just as much for any questing beyond the here-and-now, (a quest it set us on in the first place). It’s an unfair situation of teasing you with broader meanings, then chiding you for being dissatisfied when there are none. It was a secular Sunday School lesson and the antithesis of drama. People who felt disappointed by Prometheus are experiencing their first steps away from nihilism and toward religion.

  3. I mostly wish the acting hadn’t sucked. Aside from Fassbender, the performances were pretty wooden…

  4. Though I can see the imagery and pseudo-parallels you are pulling out of the film…and I know this may pass more as a Schoenberg’s “only the artist has the right to judge his art,” I’m pretty positive there’s not a lot of intention in these pseudo-parallels. As a Muslim or a Jew would see their own parallels, we, as Christians, find our own. This movie was formulaic Ridley Scott (knowing all his other works and the mythos behind them); and though we don’t see his name amidst the writing pair that provided the script, you can bet Scott’s hand was heavily influencing the words that fell into this “trick” of a film.
    As you said, there were lots of questions and no answers…the only prevalent material is the Panspermia theory which, we know, doesn’t explain the origins of life…it simply moves its creation from one planet to another. They weren’t concerned with deep theological meaning, but more with Ridley’s Hollywood formula for making another space survival sci-fi. Every punctuated moment of that film came from Scott’s grim way to slay someone in the aforementioned paradigm, and, sadly, none of it held any originality. Dr. Shaw kept asking the deepest question…but if the film held any intention of paralleling a religious story, it could have used any of the wonderful endings provided in such stories. Instead, we get a non-ending: simply Panspermia in all its perpetually unanswered glory. No answer. Moreover, (and this had me laughing at the cruelness of it through most of the credits) Scott disguised another “Alien” film with a telling title (which is about as far as I’ll read into it religiously). The Titan Prometheus was punished by the god Zeus for bringing fire to the mortals (after creating the mortals)…and the fire he brought them caused a chain reaction of scientific growth for humanity, leading to overreaching and venturing into things they ought not venture into. Engineers create life, Engineers create “fire” with more malefic intent, Engineers punished by their “fire,” humans -being dumb with the capability and a lack of self restraint – walk into the realm of Titans being punished…and Alien is born, lol!
    I would hate to parallel this to Christianity…otherwise, my Savior pops out of people and has a second maw inside the first. Good stuff, good post! :)

  5. Pingback: Divisive and Disappointing: Prometheus « Striking the Mask

  6. How about the “Still Searching” shout out at the end…that one was for you Brett!

  7. Here are a couple links that dive further into the Christian mythology within the film, and even some bits about the director’s stated intent:

    http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2012/06/prometheus_alien_origins_the_s.html

    http://cavalorn.livejournal.com/584135.html

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