Divisive as it is, Ridley Scott's Prometheus is an ambitious and fascinating movie that stays on my will-watch list
A flawed movie, no doubt, though I mostly write that off as a bit of ADD.
It's trying to do too many things, spreading out all the energy instead of concentrating it laser-like on a white-hot point.
There's the arc around Elizabeth Shaw, who's struggling with her Christian faith and the discovery of the beings who created humans.
There's David, the twitchy synthetic with unclear motives.
There's whatever's going on with Peter Weyland... there's an assortment of monster-chow crew members that we barely get to know...
The re-telling of Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness where hapless explorers discover their doom in the ruins of a lost civilization.
For my money, Prometheus is David's movie.
The fact that humans built a robot sophisticated enough to despise us opens up all kinds of depth.
You don't want to meet your creators
David finds this out first hand.
He was built to be a servant to a species that he comes to judge unworthy.
And then the human characters learn the same lesson.
Our creators aren't anything like we thought.
Or are they?
The creators themselves certainly aren't impressed with us.
Imagine how that Last Engineer felt when we rolled up to his crypt, woke him up, and some old guy starts whining for immortality.
Meeting the Engineers was a different kind of disappointment.
They created us and then judged us unworthy. So unworthy that they wanted to eradicate every living animal on Earth with their WMD bio-weapon.
The story's dynamic and guiding themes are all about David's encounters... and friction... with the other characters, human and otherwise.
The parent-child themes here are undeniable.
The artificial person comes to loathe his human parents for their many failings.
The children of the gods bring divine wrath upon themselves through arrogance and hubris.
It's not looking good for humans here.
Where's the line between natural and artificial creation?
The whole plot revolves around creation and the unsteady relationship between creator and creation.
Humans are creations.
We created synthetics like David.
Did the universe spontaneously create life out of an assortment of natural laws and atoms?
That seems weird, but there are thinkers out there who defend this view.
Ilya Prigogine's work shows us that inanimate processes can create spontaneous order out of disorganized "chaotic" systems.
Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela wrote about "self organizing systems" that can bootstrap themselves from Zero to One through self-reinforcing feedback loops of information.
Creation might be baked into the basic laws of nature.
They never get around to answering exactly where those laws and atoms themselves came from...
Which is a glaring black-bruise of a question mark for any so-called "theory of everything".
Why is there anything rather than nothing at all?
Is there a mind, an intelligence, behind creation? Is it all down to a chain of undirected causes and effects?
There doesn't seem to be any satisfying answer to that.
We built David and call him artificial. The Engineers "built" us and we call ourselves natural.
Who built the Engineers?
Shaw has the self-awareness to ask this question out loud.
There may not be an answer.
Here's an interesting prompt from a Youtuber discussing parts of the script that never made it on screen:
Now there's a fascinating idea.
Not canon? Get lost, nerd. I decide what's canon around here.
The Engineers created the "black goo", a highly toxic substance that corrupts every living thing it contacts.
But they aren't in control of it. It wasn't their design. They didn't create it intentionally.
It was a gift. You could call it a divine revelation.
The black goo is a piece of bio-tech that the long-lived Engineers received after one of their own was infected by a parasitic organism
An organism which happens to look very much like a certain chest-bursting acid-blooded monster we know from the Alien movies. A total coincidence, I'm sure.
The Engineers take this as a blessing... the mystery substance has the power to create life on lifeless planets.
Sure enough it's a destructive act. But that sacrifice leads to a greater abundance of life in the otherwise dead universe.
The Engineer in the opening scene is giving up his own life to create a new world.
And this circles us back around to the original theme...
What part do the gods play? Who is the creator? Is there a "who"?
Peter Weyland interprets the gods as grand Wagnerian aristocrats doing as they please.
The Last Engineer that we meet at the end of Prometheus must disagree with this, what with the way he beats Weyland to death with his own android's head.
If the Engineers value selfless sacrifice over the indulgences of a selfish creator, it's no wonder they wanted to murder us.
And it's – debatably but I believe accurately – the case that Shaw's Christian beliefs turn out to be more accurate to the highest values of the Engineers.
What we have here is an exploration of creator anxiety and chaos
David's disappointment at learning of his creation by beings he judges sub-standard drives him to become a scientist in the original meaning.
He wants to break all the rules and do some experiments.
Forget the moral constraints. Morality is all sentiment and convention. Let's get on with the real work.
If David is the Nietzschean over-man, he's balanced out by Shaw's Christian faith.
Where David wants to overturn the old law of the gods and create his own...
Shaw finds her strength in tradition and transcendent higher powers.
The movie concludes with Shaw as the sole survivor and David a bodiless head, suggesting which message Scott probably wanted to get across.
My major complaint about the movie, more than any of the other gaffes, is the placement of the Engineers in the role of the Space Jockey.
I get the feeling that Scott couldn't wait to bring Prometheus into the Alien universe that he went for the easy way. Too bad that this castrates much of the feeling of cosmic horror in the 1979 original.
Don't over-explain your work. Let the mystery stand on its own.
Then he went and pulled an "Alien 3" in Covenant, killing Shaw off-screen and completely dropping the premise that made Prometheus so interesting.
While I'm not as down on Covenant as many of the fans, as there's a lot to like in that movie, there's no doubt in my mind that Scott did the wrong thing by not picking up where Prometheus left off.
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