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Let’s Talk Prometheus (2012): Space explorers search for answers to the creation of life. Ancient relics point to the stars. Is something out there responsible for birthing humankind? What happens when we meet the face of our Creator?
This divisive sci-fi epic begins with a super confusing prologue. Ridley Scott is known for trusting his audience. The legendary filmmaker doesn’t necessarily hold your hand. With a dense sci-fi like Blade Runner, Scott set the stage rather well. However, with Prometheus, he may have trusted the audience too much. By establishing a world first, we would have been more likely to participate. That said, there is enough room for interpretation. Let’s remember what made that opening sequence so special. First of all, fans of the Alien franchise want to get answers badly. We’ve enjoyed the series for decades. We are involved. When some of us fanboys didn’t get the answers we expected from Prometheus there were near riotous results. After us nerds relaxed and thought about it, Scott actually provided answers… even if they were somewhat obscured.
A worthwhile film will urge you to wonder what’s happening under the surface. Prometheus proposes some deep philosophical questions. It takes a science fiction ‘What If?’ approach to God. What if we were engineered by intelligent beings from another solar system? This hypothetical fiction is our reality for the duration of the runtime. The clues are sprinkled about from the opening frame. In a way, this sequence is a parallel to the scientific theory that life on Earth came from elsewhere in the universe. No, not from UFOs or little green men, but from meteors containing different elements (like metals and carbon), or frozen asteroids distributing water to our rocky orb. This theory is like a dandelion blown in the wind. The seeds of our planet floating on the lofty breeze from another solar system. Let’s deconstruct the curious opening with one nerd’s interpretation where the Engineer is “the seed in the wind.”
THAT MOMENT IN PROMETHEUS: A cloaked figure approaches the water’s edge. This pale marble statue looking being gazes into a waterfall. Known as The Engineer, it looks skyward to a shuttle departing into the clouds. This being is alone. It opens a small container (a ceremonial object?) filled with a strange black ooze. The Engineer drinks it like a celebratory warm sake, but really it’s like committing hari kari. Upon ingesting this thick goo, the bipedal person ignites its own death. The Engineer sacrifices himself to build a new world. As the noble(?) being falls into the water it de-materializes. The camera zooms in on a molecular level, as the Engineer comes apart piece by piece. Its death equals creation.
On a barren planet void of life, but flowing with water, the Engineer’s sacrifice will spark a mutation in the single celled organisms within the primordial ooze. Scott suggests that this is how human beings came to exist in his fictional universe. The Engineer’s DNA, mixed with this religious(?) ooze, breathes life into the bleak abyss. It seems like the genetic materials for an infinite recombination are spread across the planet. Mutation is advantageous. The Engineer just lit the torch that will cause incredible change on this infant rock floating in space.
We are unclear if the Engineer knew this goo would sacrifice its life. Was this being led to believe something else? Is this a rite of passage for its species? Are they immortal Gods who’s death creates life across the universe? Is this Engineer a willing “seed in the wind?” Is this the only way these beings can die? Perhaps these Engineers want to find the key to immortality. Maybe they need another way to populate planets or kick-start creation. Perhaps these Gods are tasked by one all powerful leader, but somehow defy the omniscient. From earlier films, it seems like the familiar Aliens were a weapon created to wipe out planet life. What if it was misunderstood? By using this goo in a different way they could defeat mortality, continue to give life to planets, and live themselves. Are they dubbed Engineers for creating life, or creating this ooze? Perhaps by tampering with Nature, these Gods created Evil. This viscous material could have densely packed bundles of DNA suitable for near infinite recombinations. It just so happens that the building blocks of life all point towards destruction. The perfect weapon would be the strongest species. If the Engineers created humans, then we are weapons just like the Alien monster in Scott’s original masterpiece.
Cinema Remembered: The mythological Prometheus from Greek history stole fire from the Gods, and was punished by Zeus to suffer in eternal torment. He has been associated with the pursuit of knowledge. In a way, improving human life through science lead to tragedy instead, like Prometheus… and like The Modern Prometheus (aka Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). Another way to interpret the title is the android, David (Michael Fassbender). This robotic life wonders about what others think, he is curious, and wants to fulfill the desire of knowledge himself. When he discovers the black goo he wants to find out what it does. One could argue this is his programming, but it could also have to do with the parallel to the myth of Prometheus. After all, David was watching Lawrence of Arabia and the match (which not only suggests pain, but also growth from pain).
While I enjoy deconstructing these interpretive sequences, I want you to make your own discoveries. Each film means something different to each viewer. By thinking more about these ideas, you can find your own meaning. Share with us in the comments section below. Don’t be afraid to get nerdy. I’ve heard the Charlize Theron is an android theory before. Ridley Scott continues to push the boundaries of filmmaking. He somehow manages to weave in important philosophical themes with popcorn. By surrounding these universal questions with sci-fi tropes and technological advances, this iconic director makes introspection entertaining. While watching the stylish visionary’s films you’ll never be bored, but you may be scratching your heads. Love it or hate it, that’s essential for cinema to progress.
Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender
Next Week: Let’s get Canadian nutso and Remember SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD!