Friday, June 08, 2012

Searching for our Maker in Prometheus


  1. Excellent review. I recently saw a sneak peek of Prometheus and intended to write a review, but this one says it far better than I could ever hope to say.

    I'd add a couple of quick points, but please be forewarned these contain spoilers:

    * Ridley Scott's original Alien has been described as a house of horrors in deep space. The spaceship serves as the horror house while the alien is the monster hunting down the crew members one by one. I think Prometheus attempts to capture some of the horror as well. The boo moments and all that. However, it's not so much the aliens or engineers which are truly scary. Rather it's the human crew members themselves. Most of the characters had their own agendas which they held close to their chests, and there seemed to be some devious or sinister motive lurking behind their every conversation, unspoken silence, gesture, or action. They can't fully trust or depend on one another. Although the aliens and engineers are frightening because they're so technologically as well as biologically superior and they can kill with such violence, the real horror is within the human heart. The humans can kill the aliens and engineers, or at least escape from them, but they can't escape from themselves. As such, the movie is a sort of window into human depravity.

    * For example, the Weyland Corp's founder underwrote the scientific expedition. He funded the scientists and built the spaceship so that they could fly to the moon LV-223. However, the founder's interest wasn't in the science or the discovery of where we came from. Rather he wanted the key to immortality. As an aged man, he was on death's door, and reasoned if the engineers created humans, then the engineers must know how to keep humans from death. Perhaps this shows poor reasoning. But many past humans have desired the same. People have been searching for the elixir of life or the fountain of youth for generations. So what the founder did was not out of line with what humans have always desired. The founder wanted to eat of the tree of life and live forever. But he was willing to risk the lives of others in order to achieve his desire for eternal life. This is hubristic, as if others should die so he could receive the knowledge of how to live forever, so he could achieve godhood. It's a salvation from death by attaining a special gnosis from the engineers who created humanity, and it's a salvation which directly contradicts "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13), since he expected others to lay down their lives for him.

  2. * What's more, it's amazing what lengths people will go to in order to find what they want, whether it's immortality or the meaning of life. Weyland invested a small fortune in training a crew, hiring the scientists, building a spaceship, sailing the stars to distant galaxies, and so forth to meet his maker. So how gracious is the God of the Bible who speaks to us in Deut 30:11-14 and Rom 10:5-13.

    * At the same time, their search for meaning comes at the cost of people's lives. Other people are less important than their desire to know. But true knowledge should lead to greater love for others.

    * There's a running theme that there must be death for there to be life. Such as the fact that the original engineer who created humanity had to sacrifice his own life in order for human life to emerge. This is reminiscent of Christ's words: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). Yet when the crew meets the last living engineer, and asks for the meaning of why they created humanity, the last engineer doesn't respond but simply kills everyone. In Christianity the first Adam sinned and delivered death to humanity, but the last Adam redeemed humanity and gifted them with eternal life. Thus Prometheus would seem to turn the Christian redemptive story on its head.

    * The crew was ostensibly on a scientific mission to discover where humanity came from, to ultimately meet their maker. On the one hand their makers turned out to be no less flawed than humans (e.g. murderous). But on the other hand the humans created an android which likewise was as equally if not more flawed than humans. The flawed can't create a creature more morally perfect than themselves. The servant is not greater than his master.

    Overall I thought the movie was good but not great. I appreciated that it was far more of a cerebral film than an action-packed film. Unfortunately, though, there was more intellectual potential latent throughout the film than realized on screen. There were several significant disappointments. Like there was a lot of buildup for one of the main characters which completely fizzled out by the end. I might say a bit more if I have more time.

  3. By the way, there's some overt Christian symbolism in the film. It's not very satisfactory. For one thing, it's underdeveloped and also too squishy. For another, the way it's conveyed seems a bit forced.

    The main character wears a cross. She hangs onto the cross. She doesn't want to let it go. At the end, she requests from the android her cross. I suppose this represents her belief. But considering what the movie considers "faith," it's a bit nebulous. At best, "faith" is meant to be a sort of hopeful optimism in the absence of evidence.

    The phrase "I just choose to believe" is uttered at least a couple of times throughout the film. First it comes from the lips of the main character's father who talks about his deceased wife being in heaven. The daughter (i.e. the main character) asks her father how he knows the mother is in heaven. He simply replies because that's what he chooses to believe. Later, prior to arriving on the distant moon, the main character is questioned by other crew members about how she knows the moon is where humanity's makers originally came from. Like her father, she replies she simply chooses to believe. That's quite unrealistic! Why voyage however many light-years away in stasis for years ultimately because someone simply chooses to believe?

    At the end, after almost everyone has died, the android asks the main character how she can still believe despite all the death she's seen. This would've made for an interesting exploration into the problem of evil, but alas! the movie didn't go that route.

  4. Ebert gives Prometheus 4 stars, but I thought it was more like a 3 (if we're scoring it out of 4 total).

    I liked that the movie was less oriented toward action and more toward asking questions about the meaning of life. Not as cerebral as Solaris or 2001, but way more in that direction than in the direction of James Cameron's Aliens or many of Scott's other features.

    Still, that said, while I don't expect Scott to present answers, of course, the questions he asks about where we came from, why we're here, what's the meaning of life, etc. seem to fall a bit short in light of how much he ramps up the expectations in the movie. His own Blade Runner was far superior in this regard. (Well, unless Scott expects there to be a Prometheus 2 where he fleshes out the questions a bit better.)

    I don't know if Scott always envisaged Alien in terms of the Prometheus myth. If he did, I don't think it was evident from his original Alien movie. If not, it's a small feat for him to tie his current Prometheus movie to the Greek myth. Of course, Prometheus was a titan who created humans and stole fire from the gods whereupon he was subsequently punished for the theft by being chained to a rock and having a vulture eat and re-eat his liver for all eternity. Likewise the engineers who created humans were killed by the aliens lodging themselves within the bowels as parasites in the engineer/human host.

    Another angle to review this movie from is the naturalistic evolution angle. More specifically, as Richard Dawkins once quipped, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." There's some of this tension in the movie as well. Scott isn't satisfied with naturalistic evolution but he can't seem to move beyond it either. For instance, the husband/wife scientist team of Charlie Holloway the atheist evolutionist and Elizabeth Shaw the archaeologist Christian - presumably since she wears a cross, believes in God, her dad believes in heaven.

    By the way, it'd be interesting to compare Blade Runner with Alien/Prometheus. Weyland and Tyrell Corp., replicants and androids, etc. Blade Runner was released exactly 30 years ago. Scott has been asking questions like who's our maker, why are we here, and what's the meaning of life for three decades. Although it's hard to tell in Blade Runner how much is due more to Philip K. Dick vs. Scott. (It'd likewise be interesting to compare Ebert's reviews of Blade Runner and Prometheus.)

    I think Ebert and Scott are both in their 70s. I don't know how Scott's health is but Ebert isn't exactly in the best of shape to put it mildly. So it could be death is looming large in their minds. It could be that's why Shaw doesn't want to return home but instead wants to continue the journey to the home of the engineers. David the android) replies her search for the engineers, no matter what they say about why they created humans but then turned on humans, is ultimately "irrelevant." But Shaw replies that's why she's human and he's not. It's human to always ask, seek, knock?

  5. Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain is another cerebral movie which didn't quite live up to its own tantalizing expectations. It could've been great, several fine moments, glimpses of grandeur, but it ultimately fell short. A failed masterpiece (maybe) which nevertheless can at least be appreciated for the attempted reach, even though it failed to grasp.