On Prometheus and Chopped Liver
This post is going to contain spoilers for Prometheus. If you’ve not seen Prometheus and you liked Alien and Blade Runner, then you probably shouldn’t read further — you’ll be happier if you see the spectacle and then come back for the exposition. If you thought Blade Runner was, frankly, kind of dumb… then I’m afraid the Alien lineage isn’t going to make up for a whole lot of the character behavior in Prometheus. Except for Michael Fassbender, who plays the artificial person far, far too perfectly.
But now that you’ve seen it (if you’re going to), I’m sending you off to read some other guy’s mythological analysis of it. He is “Cavalorn,” his post is “Prometheus Unbound: What The Movie Was Actually About,” and it is 100% spoiler and spot-on enough that I’m glad he covered so much of it so I don’t have to. Really, he did an amazing job and you should go read it… But he did miss a few things and that’s what I’m going to write about.
My spoiling begins… now.
Vickers is a replicant. Flat out is. Her only act of lust was to maintain her cover as a human in the same way David wore his environment suit. (And Ridley Scott is the Blade Runner guy, remember?) But Meredith’s trick is that she was too perfect, too equal to her creator, so she got shunted (to the board room) and ignored (but not destroyed) to make room for the more servile creation. This was the running motif of Data and Lore in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but is also the motif of Adam, Lilith, and Eve. But that’s not mythological enough, so let’s call up Paradise Lost and see that Lucifer gets pushed aside when Jesus is set up to mediate to God. Like them, Vickers feels bitterness at her creator for being created first but appreciated less. This is not, however, a precise comparison: what was that nonsense about creating life versus creating machines? Peter Weyland’s illusions of creating life effectively make him not a god, but rather Satan — who is good with illusions that invite idolatry but incapable of creating, certainly not creating life per se. After Satan’s fall (back in Paradise Lost) he did have a pseudo-offspring of Sin, female, that was born from his head (intellect?) to add another mythological layer to the artificiality of Ms. Vicker’s life.
[All references to Paradise Lost are being cribbed from David Hawkes' The Faust Myth in case you're wondering how I'm pulling this feat of recall. If you've read this book and it suddenly occurs to you that the recordings of the Engineers, and especially the super-pretty stellar navigation, are performative signs indicative of their Satanic power... bonus points to you! -- but I don't think that was what Ridley Scott had in mind as it contrasts poorly with the bigger self-sacrifice motif.]
Let’s spend more time on Peter Weyland, specifically his sneakiness. Now Cavalorn says roughly that “the atmosphere in the cylinder chamber was reacting to the human psyche” which is nonsense from the perspective of the gene-based Alien-lore perspective but I can’t say it’s wrong here at a symbolic, mythological level. And Weyland’s presence actually supports it at the symbolic level. The noble scientists aren’t here to be corrupting and evil and stuff, but the truth is that they can’t help it: they brought it with them. That Weyland claimed in the video recording to be dead — thus hypothetically leaving the scientists unshackled and in the clear to pursue their beliefs (and that’s an odd phrase) — underscores the corruption bound into the pursuit. They thought they were clear of its taint, but they weren’t. We’re reminded of it by the trillion-dollar conversation, and again by Fifield, but only Weyland is big enough to taint the whole thing. But this is symbolic, so it is not, however, a problem unique to Peter Weyland: when Shaw continues her quest, she takes her faith (the cross pendant) and her techno-idolatry (David’s talking head) with her, with the latter ensuring her continued failure.
What exactly this means to Ridley Scott, Blade Runner guy, I cannot readily say. I personally find it odd that his characters are going backwards. Perhaps I’ve been reading too much Jung to sympathize with their quest. But look at them: Shaw, Weyland, Holloway, and Roy Batty all think they’ve got a personal creator who has The Answers if only they can find said creator to pose questions to to him/her/it. And while Roy’s quest makes some sense because he knows he’s a replicant, the Prometheus mission makes rather less sense because they’re evolved humans — a point that gets lost when they consider the Engineers. A mortal Terran knows their evolutionary lineage, but seems to regard the mortal-as-demonstrated Engineer with human DNA as having popped up ex nihilo to create those very special people we call Liz and Pete and Chuck. This makes sense if Peter is Lucifer trying to confront God, but the larger tragedy of the film is that they didn’t find God, they found Some Guy — a lone, anonymous, anger-management-impaired survivor out of a whole crew of Some Guys. Some Guys may have a history as boring as the rest of us or as freaky as the Greek pantheon — really, read up on Saturn — but we don’t even begin to question this until the film is over. Put simply, the explorer’s inability to address the mythology unfolding before them like a xenomorph egg made me want to slap facehuggers on the lot of them. That people who got a trillion dollar stellar expedition for studying cave paintings wouldn’t spend an hour racking their brains for which ancient mythologies best described what they actually found (and I’m totally going with Nephilim from Genesis 6:4) showed how two-dimensional the characters really were.
The final interesting thing* is that the personal quest that these characters go on, they ostensibly claim to be going on for the benefit of the species. To answer the great questions of the species, they spend over two years utterly disconnected from the species, putting a really huge number of kilometers between them and Earth. And how many known-humans were in the film that weren’t on board the Prometheus? I’m remembering 2 at the dig site. While this demographic sample isn’t unusual for an Alien film, or any horror film, it does seem odd to pursue a personal quest in the name of a species that isn’t really represented within the main characters’ field of vision. Note that this isn’t the same as saving a species that won’t ever know it was saved, as the captain does. This isn’t just sacrifice, this is the unsung sacrifice that echoes the Babylon 5 episode “Comes an Inquisitor” — and if you noticed the black Captain Janek showing his social affiliations with the Christmas tree, antique squeeze-box, Weyland Corp.-emblazoned shirt, et cetera, it becomes clear that Janek is sacrificing his temporal life to save his ongoing roots, especially contrasted with the sterilized-to-selfishness white-and-blonde Vickers (replicant status notwithstanding). And yet. When we consider that they thought they’d left the human condition behind them so that it wouldn’t corrupt the purity of the answers they genuinely wanted for themselves, it makes perfect sense as to why they’d want to be leaving the species behind. It’s the people who don’t wholly leave their species behind that are willing to make the sacrifice necessary to save it. The point, however, appears to be this: if you go looking for truth — whether pilot or scientist — please be honest with yourself and don’t expect to take it home with you.
Overall, I’m glad I watched Prometheus once but I don’t think I’ll be watching it again.
* Because I’m not touching the — bluntly, backwards — notion of “Space Jesus” or any anti-Catholic implications of Mr. Weyland’s name being “Peter” that could follow from that; No.