The long-awaited science fiction film “Prometheus” was directed by Ridley Scott of “Blade Runner” and “Alien” fame. The script was written by Damon Lindelof, writer for “Lost” and J.J. Abrams’ upcoming “Star Trek” sequel. “Prometheus” is a movie that seems better upon subsequent viewings. It does not spoon-feed the audience, but instead it dares them to question, as human beings are apt to do. It is not officially considered a prequel to “Alien,” but there is some overlapping of certain elements. Several themes and connections abound in the movie and make for interesting discussion and analysis.
The movie’s name comes from the ship Prometheus. In mythology, the Titan Prometheus was punished for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to mankind. He received a sentence of eternal torment for this act, but he was set free by Hercules. Prometheus is often used to illustrate the risk of human endeavor, especially in the quest for scientific understanding.
The opening sequence is stunning, with ambitious aerial shots of wondrous landscapes crowned by magnificent waterfalls. The effort to use real cinematography footage as much as possible makes an appreciative difference. Amid the eye candy, the meaning of what takes place during the first few minutes is confusing. Why did the Engineer drink the black liquid containing the black, gene-altering substance and then proceed to fall into the raging river below? It appears that the scene takes place on Earth and that it is showing the start of mankind. It is just as possible that this is occurring on planet LV-223 for some other reason. This is an example of meaning being left to viewer interpretation.
Human beings have always been curious about our origin. This fact is illustrated by the discovery of the star maps-many similar depictions of humans reaching for spheres-that originate across millennia and different cultures. The crew of the Prometheus varies in their motivations. As scientists, Shaw and Holloway make it their main mission to find those responsible for designing humanity. Shaw is a strong, tenacious woman-much like “Alien’s” Ripley-but she is her own distinct character. Holloway suffers from some arrogance. It is not enough to discover his makers; he wants to meet them face-to-face. Meredith Vickers appears to just want to carry out the orders of corporate mogul Peter Weyland and then go home. Some, like the geologist Fifield, are just there for the paycheck.
Throughout the film, the android David is a key focus. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the character is marvelous. David’s obsession with “Lawrence of Arabia” and actor Peter O’Toole add a real Pinocchio quality. David wants to be a real boy in a sense. In one key scene, Holloway tells David about his mission objective-to question the Engineers about human origins. David is not impressed but asks Holloway why humans made androids like him. Holloway responds, “Because we can.” David’s reply leaves much food for thought: “Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?”
The question of science versus faith comes up several times during the course of the film. Shaw wears a cross around her neck, which belonged to her father. Holloway expects that proving the Engineers created humanity will upset her faith. Yet she retorts, “Who made them?” Peter Weyland is on board the ship, although the crew is given the initial impression that he is dead. Weyland is in an advanced state of degradation from old age, and he questions his mortality. His sole motivation for the mission is to meet an Engineer and request assistance in helping him to live longer.
The role of the planet and the motivations of the Engineers are debated among the crew. The prevailing theory is that the Engineers were developing creatures for use as biological weapons, with the intention of sending them to Earth to wipe out humanity. It is really no surprise that the awakened Engineer is not pleased to be in the presence of lesser beings. It makes one wonder what exactly David whispered to him. Was it a request from Weyland, or did he reiterate Shaw’s questions?
Prometheus may have some lofty ideas, but it leaves the viewer with a sense of wonder. If there is one lesson to be learned from the film, it is this: you might not like the answers to your questions. Shaw goes through Hell and back, yet she is only strengthened by her experiences. Indeed, big things start with small beginnings. A glimpse of what is to come, such as a newly emerged Xenomorph, ends the film on an ominous note. We see hope and the will to carry on versus the specter of constant threats. In a way, it’s an eloquent comment on the fragility of life in the universe.