The Greek myth of Prometheus wants us to understand a lesson: For every technological advancement (such as the fire Prometheus brought to mere mortals), there runs the risk of severe consequences. The consequences can be both foreseeable, or unavoidable, but they are surely there. Knowing that such consequences exist, why is it that we continue on our eternal quest?
Perhaps being the mortal recipients of technology wasn’t enough – perhaps we want to be the god that brings the fire.
PROMETHEUS centres around scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Green). They are archeologists who believe there are untold secrets in mankind’s origins, and believe so due to star maps discovered amongst the artifacts of several completely unrelated ancient civilizations. Convinced they have correlated those maps to their point of origin in the universe, the archeologists persuade the founder of The Weyland Corporation t stake a mission to the deepest reaches of space, so they can find out what awaits them.
The team assembled to make the journey on the vessel Prometheus, consists of Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain, Vickers (Charlize Theron) a supervising Weyland liaison, scientists Milburn and Fifield (Rafe Spall and Sean harris), and an android named David (Michael Fassbender). Not all of them believe in the mission’s merit, but they are all prepared to take Weyland’s money.
Prometheus lands on the distant moon LV-223, choosing to investigate a curious straight line of hills. The hills prove to be unnatural – seemingly “man-made” as they include features like doors. As the team enters into the first hollowed-out hill, they soon discover the first answer this hidden moon is holding.
As they follow a long series of hidden caves, they eventually come upon alien corpses – one of which has been decapitated by a nearby blast door. When David manages to open the door, the crew stands in awe of a temple-like room…filled with oblong canisters…and a giant statue of a face.
The first answer has only led to more questions.
PROMETHEUS has no interest in playing things straight, so if you are looking for a flat-out prequel to Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, you’d best move along. This film doesn’t want to fill in every detail of what Dallas, Kane, and Lambert found in that chamber after disembarking The Nostromo. Instead, what PROMETHEUS wants to do is expound the original horror story, and turn it into a conversation that is far more vast…one about spirituality, existentialism, science, and faith.
The myth of Prometheus is about the desire to advance ourselves as a species, and the consequences that such desire can bring…or to paraphrase a twenty year-old blockbuster, the fact that we as a species spend so much time trying to figure out if we could, that we barely pay much attention to whether or not we should. Humanity can become obsessed with what we don’t know, and with each passing age we come closer and closer to getting the answers to the biggest questions: who we are and where we come from. However, time and again we forget that in bringing that fire of knowledge to the world, we risk a torturous punishment.
The core of PROMETHEUS comes down to Elizabeth and David.
Elizabeth is something of a paradox herself: a scientist who believes in God. She is a woman dedicating her life’s work to unearthing the very building blocks of our universe, and doing it all while quietly acknowledging a supreme deity that put those building blocks in place. At one point, the role of God is boiled down to the ability to create life, and Charlie suggests a theory that anyone who can create life must be a god. In this moment, we discover that Elizabeth herself cannot have children, leading her to ask what that makes her. If the inability to create life excludes her from being a god, is her existence something less than those of us who can? Perhaps this quiet frustration is what leads Elizabeth to make the dangerous decisions she makes. Further, perhaps this frustration is what has driven her on this entire ambitious quest.
With that in mind, it could be said that what Elizabeth represents is how the most ambitious scientific advancements are driven by the desire to close the gap between God and humanity.
David, on the other hand has no use for gods: he’s trying to be more human. We see this when his character is introduced, and he joyfully plays basketball. A robot is designed to work, so if he is going to be something more, he must learn to take value from individual enjoyment to compliment his technological proficiency. We also see him trying to be human by aping what he sees. Just like a young boy practicing his best pickup lines, he rehearses his demeanour in front of a mirror after watching LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. For David, mankind is God: we are his creator and what he is striving to be.
So what we have is story, where a human tries to be more like God, with a robot right beside her trying to be more like a human. What’s interesting, is the robot is trying what we all try as children – he is trying to please his parents. Elizabeth on the other hand, has quietly stopped trying to please hers. Thus, the film poses another question: Is it better to equal our creators, or please them?
That all of this philosophy and theology is interwoven into an epic spectacle is something truly special. It must have been so tempting for the filmmakers just to want to fill in the blanks of what we already know…to present PROMETHEUS as a typical prequel that’s really just a gussied-up rehash. Instead, Ridley Scott has both amazed us as moviegoers and challenged us. He knows that we know the lethal danger contained on this world, and still finds ways to leave us gnashing our teeth with a heightened sense of dread. But while we cower at the thought of a parasite escaping its host (or invading its host in this case), he uses the down moments to have a bigger conversation – one with no clear answers.
There’s the rub: If what you want from PROMETHEUS is pure entertainment, you will likely be let down, just as so many are when they ultimately get the answer to a lingering question. If, on the other hand, you value a Hollywood film that can wax philosophical about the unending quest for knowledge, then this film has a lot to offer you.
In general, science fiction has a hard time aging well. Inevitably, we eclipse both the technology and the age, and what once seemed to be something beyond our imagination dwindles down to something quaint. What allows the best science fiction to endure is the way it uses the medium to have a conversation about timeless and universal ideas. By building PROMETHEUS on a foundation of truth-seeking and existentialism, Ridley Scott has done something daring…something that will divide audiences…but something that will ultimately do what only the very best science fiction can do:
PROMETHEUS will endure.