Kenny's Cafe Corner

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Messages in Prometheus and Things That Make You Go Hmmm...


 *MAJOR MOVIE PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD!*
Dearest reader, discussion of 'Prometheus' will inevitably require the act of having seen and digested the movie first so please refrain from reading any further if you prefer to be surprised by fiction. This is not a movie review.

Prometheus is a hard science-fiction movie and I enjoy it that way. Is it a great movie comparable to the likes of 2001:A Space Odyssey or even Ridley Scott's own Blade Runner? Only time will tell. I like it enough to say that the film-makers did achieve their intention of thought provoking.

Set design and art direction is excellent with intriguing details. Dialogue is serviceable but delivered with enough nuance to intimate at certain secrets. Acting by the cast is good without any obvious showboating. 

You can say the major characters aren't fleshed out enough with backstories. We know about Dr. Elisabeth Shaw's father, her religion and her motivations but little is said of her boyfriend scientist Dr. Holloway's dreams and expectations. So I found the portion of how he is disappointed after discovering the dead Engineers rather unbelievable because Holloway is supposed to be a major character.

Nevertheless, there are movies with shallow human characters but despite that they are eventually considered great movies because of its other traits. The aforementioned 2001 for example.

These are movies about big ideas and not necessarily about the banality of human drama. Of course I enjoy a good drama but I want a hardcore science fiction movie every once in a while dammit! These are so rarely made these days!
 So without further ado here's

Movie Message #1: Life on Earth, specifically human life, originated from outside of this planet.

This is the theory of exogenesis or panspermia. It's not a new concept since ancient philosophers thought of it too but in the last and current century some serious scientists think this concept isn't really that far-fetched. Of course it isn't accepted in the scientific community (yet?) but the latest discovery of amino acids and protein molecules that serve as proto-DNA material in meteors points a finger in that direction.

That is how I interpret the first scene of Prometheus anyway. That robed and statuesque humanoid was an Engineer set on ancient planet Earth to start life by drinking the life generating technology and letting his DNA be the template of human life. The circular shadow in the clouds is the spacecraft that deposited him there and was in the process of departing.

Movie Message #2: Science may think it has found or disproved God but will learn otherwise.

Dr. Elizabeth Shaw is both a scientist and a person of religious faith. This is rather realistic because there are a whole lot of scientists and even non-scientists but people who consider themselves scientifically literate who are at the same time perfectly comfortable with having spiritual faith. There might be occasional conflicts but most of the time we accept who we are pretty well.

 In the movie Peter Weyland insisted that they have a 'true believer' on board the scientific research mission and that is very reasonable of such an enterprise.

Anyway, the crew of the Prometheus found the Engineers and since these aliens made humans in their own image they were treated reverently.

That turned out to be a huge mistake because the Engineers aren't benevolent or loving. The sole living Engineer attacked and killed the humans then attempted to fly a shipload of the dangerous tech stuff towards planet Earth.

The humans think the canisters contain weaponry meant to destroy human life on Earth but in the end, while it's apparent that it can destroy life it can also create new life.

So maybe it's not a weapon but a science experiment.

Fans of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will be familiar with the story of planet Earth as a science experiment by more intelligent life forms. The Engineers in Prometheus don't really hate humans just as you don't really hate the bacteria in that petri dish you are about to wipe clean to prepare for another phase of the experiment. Maybe the Engineers were attempting to 'wipe clean' the 'petri dish' of Earth and then replacing it with superior life form.

So the question arises, why are human life on Earth considered a failed experiment and needs to be reset? Now I'm truly delving deeper into speculation here ... maybe the Engineers weren't satisfied with us because we turned out to be too much like them!

Using yourself as a reference and starting point to create life is a reasonable and the easiest thing to do. You know yourself the best and a certain sense of narcissism is involved. Ergo the Engineers created human beings in their image.

Eventually you find the same faults in the facsimile and would want to improve on the design. So what do you do?
You uncover a better method of generating life. You allow random mutations into each newer generation of this life and give it the 'smarts' to adapt to its environment.

Blammo! Ridley Scott and the writers of Prometheus just commented on the debate between Intelligent Design and Darwinian Evolution!

The human scientists in Prometheus thought they found God but the Engineers turned out to be merely alien scientists. However that discovery alone doesn't disprove the existence of a God even though humankind needs more humbling.

The questions still exist: who made these Engineers? Where did they come from? Who are they really?

In the movie David the android took Dr. Shaw's cross away from her symbolizing science's attempt to remove faith from the human condition. At the end of the movie though, she made it a point to retrieve the cross because she needs her faith.

Faith is what gave her the strength to survive till the end. What happened right after the cross was removed from her? She had an abortion of some abominable creature. A scene rife with moral commentary!

It seems to me the film-makers are saying that while science is essential in our search for truths and facts, we need faith to continue our spiritual search. After all the film ends with Dr. Shaw flying off in a spacecraft and her narration that she continues her search.

I love how the film does not offer an answer to this mystery. She intends to find out the reason and motivations of the Engineers by flying to their homeworld. Which leads us to...

 Movie Message #3:Asking 'WHY' is what makes us human.

Dr. Shaw wanted to know why the Engineers wanted to wipe us out or why we are considered unfit to inherit Earth.
One of the motivations and justifications of the space mission is to to find out why humans were created. 

David the android asked Holloway why humans created his kind. When told "just because we could" David warned that humans shouldn't be disappointed if that's the same reason why humans were created too. 

Asking WHY is the search for meaning and the search for the divine. When you only ask HOW, you turn into a Peter Weyland. The power mad multi-billionaire wanted only to know how to prolong his own life and eventually how to profit from it. You become soulless and that way lies only nothingness (para-phrasing from the character's last words) instead of the eternal life that faith offers.

Asking WHY did God create us (because of love? because He's lonely?) is human. Believing and trusting in an answer is faith. Religion is the set of rules and practices that promises us the answer. Should we accept the answer? Or do we accept the mystery of it? Can we tolerate non-answers and live with the unknown? 

We don't really know, we just believe in certain things, the definition of faith. That's essentially what Dr. Shaw's father told her when she asked all the big questions.

And so Dr. Shaw the scientist, with a cold reasoning android and her father's cross around her neck flies off in search of answers. Ridley Scott seems to be saying...the important thing is we arm ourselves with science and faith then keep on searching!

Things That Make You Go Hmm #1 The automatic surgery device in Meredith Vickers' personal life pod is programmed for a male.

When Dr. Shaw requested a caesarean to be performed the computer reported that it could not execute the task because it's calibrated for a male physiology.

Either Vickers' is actually a transexual or somehow a male, in which case the captain of Prometheus just had some truly kinky sex (my first naughty thoughts)
or it's the way the movie foreshadow's Peter Weyland's presence aboard the Prometheus.

The founder and dying CEO of the corporation will of course have priority and more need for such a medical device than the fit and healthy Vickers. Perhaps Vickers was unaware the device was programmed that way since Weyland's stowing away and coming along the expedition was kept secret from her.

Still, when I offered the transexual explanation a friend thought that it would explain Weyland's animosity towards his own daughter (Vickers) because he was ashamed of her/him and wanted a son instead. Hence David's existence.

I think the medical device and life pod was most likely meant for Peter Weyland though. What do you think?

Update: Turns out there's another possibility as proposed in imdb. 
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446714/faq#.2.1.19
Vickers is actually an android herself! She has no need for the medical device and it's really meant for Weyland. The discussion listed pros and cons for this theory so after reading it, I still prefer to think of Vickers as a real human albeit a cold ambitious one. Just like her biological father.


Things That Make You Go Hmm #2 Why are each of the creatures birthed by the black goo different?

The worms in the dome structure changed into bigger vagina-penis snakes. Holloway had tiny maggots crawling under his corneas, Shaw gave birth to a squid and a proto-dinosaur (Alien like) burst out of the white giant Engineer.

Why this diversity of life forms?

Could the life generating properties of the goo react differently depending on which organism it gestates in parasitically?

Or could it be each canister contains a specifically programmed organism? One canister contains a squid, another one's a parasaurolophus, an anaconda or a centipede? That would make the bone-shaped spacecraft an ark of sorts and the tit-shaped dome a vault. Kinda like the seed vault they have in Scandinavia designed to preserve life.

Things That Make You Go Hmmm #3 What's the story behind the 'altar' room?

In the dome the explorers found a room with a giant humanoid head replete with freaky murals and one particularly crucifix-like illustration above a sort of tomb.
Arranged in a deliberately ceremonial manner on the moist floor are the canister's containing the nasty stuff, which melted (defrosted?) when the room door was opened.

Contrast this with how the canisters are stored aboard the bone spaceship: stacked like wine bottles in a cellar or munitions aboard a military warship.

I think the existence of the 'altar' room is a clue that the nasty goo is not really weaponry.

Things That Make You Go Hmmm #4 I find it odd that the advanced human technology of 2094 could not provide immortality for someone as rich and powerful as Peter Weyland.

In the movie you see faster-than-light interstellar travel, artificial humans, cryogenic sleep, reading of other people's dreams and automatic surgeons.

Surely by then they could cure almost all diseases and prolong life to the extent of near immortality? To me the exo-skeleton suit that Weyland uses is quaintly old-tech and therefore one of the justifications (obtaining personal selfish immortality) for the mission is rather unbelievable for me.

Heck! They could've just chopped Weyland's head off, cryogenically freeze it temporarily as they already do now and then stick it on top of an android body!

Science and technology does prolong human life. Modern human life spans are longer than the average human living in say, the medieval dark ages.

Things That Make You Go Hmmm #5Director Ridley Scott claims Prometheus is not a Prequel to Alien.

I find it intriguing when he and the writers claimed that in most of the pre-release interviews. After watching the movie I have to say they didn't lie. Prometheus contains same stylistic elements as Alien but the ending does not match with Alien's beginning.

For example, at the end of Prometheus the vengeful pissed-off Engineer did not remain in the pilot chair and went searching for Shaw to kill her. How dare you make me crash! How human! Kinda like the Greek gods that the Engineers were based on! Was Shaw the Titan Prometheus who screwed up the gods plans?

Anyway, the beginning of the movie Alien showed how Ripley and crew found a bone spacecraft with eggs (not canisters) in it and a dead alien sitting in an elaborate bone chair, the 'space jockey'. There's a hole in the space jockey's thorax where a creature burst out of.

Obviously this is not the same being as the Engineer in Prometheus.

Furthermore why didn't the crew of the Nostromo in the earlier movie scan and discover the wreckage of the Prometheus? Why oval organic eggs instead of canisters? These elements don't match and therefore 'Prometheus' is not a prequel for 'Alien'.

Here I can make yet another guess as to what's happening.
David mentioned that there are other ships. Note the major plurality here. He did not say 'there is another ship'. Most likely there are a more than 2 bone spacecrafts lying around on that godforsaken moon.

Separate from Prometheus' story is another story in which the Engineer-based crew of another bone craft was infected and killed by these Alien organisms thereby crashing the whole shebang and allowing discovery later by the doomed Nostromo folks.

Update: Some comments in imdb seems to agree with this theory. These are two different crashed spacecrafts. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446714/faq#.2.1.19

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I'm sure a lot more messages and irregularities intentional or unintentional will surface from such an interesting movie. If Prometheus made you think, no matter what, hate it/love it, disagree/agree with it, got scared shitless from it, yawned at it...if it only made you think a bit more, then science fiction has done its job!
:: posted by Kenny, 8:44 AM | link | 0 comments |



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