Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Prometheus In-Depth Analysis

Prometheus was one of the most anticipated films of the year for me and many film lovers. A Ridley Scott film, in my opinion is always a major event, he is after all one of the most important filmmakers of his generation. As you might have gathered from my review for Prometheus, I love Ridley Scott films for many, many reasons, still, I have no problems in pointing out a disappointing one if I ever see one. For example, the last Ridley Scott film to underwhelm me was Robin Hood (2010). I enjoyed it, but wasn’t floored by it. Though well made, I found it boring. I wasn’t a big fan of G.I. Jane (1997) either. Point is I don’t blindly love Scott’s films. No filmmaker is free of making a dud or two; but Prometheus wasn’t a disappointment in my book. I recognize that it isn’t perfect film though. Some characters do pretty stupid things when they should be acting more professionally; like that guy who starts playing with a potentially dangerous alien life form like it was a cute little teddy bear or something? The idiot! But can that scene really be considered a major flaw? Not in my book, there are a lot of idiots out there, that guy happened to be one of them.

The interesting thing about a lot of Ridley Scott’s most recognized films is that at first they weren’t big hits with the masses. Two good examples are Blade Runner (1982) and Legend (1985); both huge flops when they first premiered in theaters. Yet right now they are both considered some of the best films within their genre. Now here comes Prometheus, again, a film that a lot of people have felt disappointed by. It was not a flop in theaters, or a failure in the true sense of the word (it’s still making money around the world) the problem with it was that even though there was a huge hype surrounding the film, it didn’t make as much money as expected. I think people were expecting another film like Alien and Prometheus was anything but that. Alien was a straight forward horror film, Prometheus isn’t. Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) was a far simpler film than Prometheus. Alien simply wanted to scare, while Prometheus aspires to explore deeper themes about life and the universe we live in; we can’t blame a filmmaker for wanting to go in a deeper and more cerebral direction with his new films. But this shift in tone was not received well by the masses. The masses wanted people running from Aliens and shooting guns, what they got was a film that wanted to explain the origins of humanity. The result was a smaller intake at the box office then expected. Still, that’s fine by me; I don’t consider Prometheus to be a film for everyone. It doesn’t have mass appeal. The masses love stupid films, Prometheus was not.

The following article aspires to analyze Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. If you haven’t seen the film, then please don’t read this article because I’ll be analyzing major plot points and themes. If on the other hand you have seen it, and want to read my thoughts on the films themes, then continue reading my friend!


The questions of who made us and where do we really come from have always been a major issue for deep thinkers. The thing is that once you eschew the many teachings religion has to offer  about the origins of man, then you are left with zero answers. The scientific mind will rarely acknowledge anything related to religion because scientists by nature need proof. That’s what science is all about, making a hypothesis, and then proving it. If you can’t prove it, then it’s just a hypothesis or a theory. In religion, when something can’t be proven, it’s called faith. For scientists, religious explenations are closer to fairy tales than anything else, for the philosopher, this holds true as well. Truth of the matter is we still don’t really know who made us; the perennial question lingers on.

Prometheus is an interesting film because it’s one of those films that dares to give explanations for the origins of man other than the explanations that Christianity teaches. The daring part is that the film doesn’t tell us that humanity was created by Christianities ‘God’, the film tells us that it was other beings known as ‘The Engineers’. The idea that maybe aliens designed us and that we are somehow linked to them is not a new one, for example, it had been explored before in films like Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars (2000) and Alex Proyas’ Knowing (2009). Mission to Mars actually has many similarities with Prometheus, watch that film again and you’ll see what I mean. The same themes are touched upon.

The alien beings in Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars (2000)

Prometheus starts out with these amazing vistas of Planet Earth. We see mountains, waterfalls, cloud formations, basically, planet earth at it’s most glorious. The idea being that maybe the Planet was here long before any life form came to it. Then, a huge spaceship leaves an albino, bald, and extremely muscular alien being behind. The alien seems to be wearing ceremonial clothing of some kind, leading us to believe that maybe this whole event has a religious connotation for the alien beings. The being takes a sip of something that begins to degenerate his body, soon, the being falls to the water as his body continues to disintegrate in the depths. Then, the camera does an extreme close up and focuses on the beings DNA which appears to be disintegrating and forming itself back again; we are looking at the origins of man. “Big things have small beginnings” a character says at some point in the film, this was the small beginning of man.

So this is a brave film, because according to it, we weren’t created by the Christian idea of ‘God’, it was beings from some other planet. But of course, the question still remains, if they created us, and they are ‘The Engineers’ of humanity, then who created them? There is always something bigger behind everything. Who is that one final being who created everything anyways? I love it how the film attempts to answer some questions, but makes even bigger ones. 


The films protagonist, a scientist by the name of Elizabeth Shaw is a Christian. According to her, Christianity is what she’s chosen to believe in because it’s what her father believed in, and therefore, his beliefs where passed on to her, which is something that happens to a lot of people. You probably ended up believing in Jesus because that’s what your parents taught you, but does that mean it is right? Or even real? Maybe, maybe not, but like Elizabeth Shaw, when one is confronted with the validity of their beliefs, the answer is sometimes “because it’s what I choose to believe”, not because you have proof, or because you know what you are believing in is right, but it’s what you’ve chosen to help you get through life.

This is another theme that the film addresses, the idea that we got to believe in something even though we might not be entirely sure if it’s true or not. For example, my belief system is a bit more grounded in reality. I personally believe that we don’t know the truth about anything, that the universe is the biggest thing out there and that there is a lot we don’t know. If it was by me, we would have sent out a spaceship to explore the universe a long ass time ago, Star Trek style.  I personally just accept the big mystery until that fateful day when we’ll finally know THE REAL TRUTH.

But Prometheus is a film that questions Christianity a lot. For example, when the scientists in the film are finally gearing up to meet with the alien beings, Charlie tells Elizabeth that she should throw away her cross, alluding to the idea that maybe Christianity is all fairy tales and that what they are about to meet out there is the real deal. I found it interesting how Elizabeth Shaw never throws away her cross. Maybe it’s because it belonged to her father and it reminds her of him so it has more to do with sentimental value than beliefs, either way, the cross Elizabeth Shaw wears through out the whole film is an important symbol. It means that until she finds some real answers, she’s not willing to let go of the beliefs she grew up with. After all, that’s exactly what this movie is all about, finding answers to the big questions in life and until Elizabeth finds them, she’s sticking to Christianity. But I like the fact that her search is never ending.

Elizabeth Shaw never looses her faith

At one point in the film, the character of Peter Weyland says that because of all we have achieved so far as a race “we are the Gods now”. Somebody created us, but we can also create life ourselves, even artificial life. Right now, we can create computers and robots that think for themselves, but how long  before we can create androids like the ones presented in these films? In Prometheus, humanity has reached the point where they can create androids that live forever (!) and are almost indistinguishable from man! In the film we are similar to Gods in the sense that we can create. According to Biblical and Greek Mythology, the gods don’t like it when we are like them. It’s the reason why they punished the god Prometheus and sent him to Tartarus; a.k.a. HELL. According to the story, Prometheus shared the secret of fire with man, in this way bringing us closer to Godhood because of it. The idea being that knowledge is power, and ultimate knowledge has made us Gods. What drives the characters in this film? The search for answers to the biggest questions; its that thirst for god like knowledge. Mans thirst to KNOW, which strangely enough is considered a sin in the bible. In the tale of Adam and Eve, when they take a bite from the tree of knowledge, they were expelled from paradise! So to the Gods, no matter what religion, knowledge is not something they want us mere humans to have, knowledge is what makes us like them.  


In Prometheus The Engineers of humanity have now turned into the would be destroyers of humanity. The big question that arises in the film is why? Why do they want to wipe us out? One scene has Elizabeth Shaw confronting The Engineers, asking them why do they want to destroy us? This idea of Gods destroying their creation is not new at either. If we go back to the bible itself, God was once so displeased with humanity that he wiped it all out, save for eight people he thought were good enough to save. I’m speaking of course of the biblical story of Noah’s Ark and how he and his family where saved from the worldwide deluge that God sent humanities way. This is the idea that we are presented with in Prometheus as well. The Engineers have created a deadly life form that they intend on releasing upon humanity. When David, the android of the film finally discovers how The Engineers computers work, he learns that their final destination was earth and that their deadly cargo was destined for us; what they really wanted to do was destroy us. The idea being that our creators are ashamed of us, same as God was ashamed of having created humanity in the bible.

This idea is an interesting one when we take in consideration how messed up the world truly is. So many shameful things happen ever second of every day on our planet, that if  alien beings were watching us, analyzing our behavior, I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided to wipe us out. Let’s see, nuclear weapons, child slavery, rapes, violation of human rights, despotic governments, greed, murder, war, famine, you name it, if it’s evil, its happening on Planet Earth!  If there is a God, and he’s watching what’s going on down here, he HAS to be ashamed. I would have pushed that restart button a long time ago; as one of the characters in Prometheus says: sometimes, in order to create, one has to destroy.  


It’s interesting that one of the main characters in Prometheus is an android who will live forever, way past the lifespan of its own creators because this film is all about humans wanting more life. Same as the ‘replicants’ in Ridley Scott’s own Blade Runner (1982), one of the humans in Prometheus is after more life. I’m talking of course of Peter Weyland, the owner and founder of The Wayland Corporation, the company in charge of space exploration in the Alien universe. You see, in the film Peter Weyland is dying, but before he dies he wants to meet The Engineers in order to ask them for more life, same as the replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner wanted to meet his creator to ask him about: “Something a little more radical…death” If you remember that scene, Batty then picks up Tyrell and tells him “I want more life fucker!” I found it interesting that the need that the androids of Blade Runner have is now the need that humans have in Prometheus. Basically, we don’t want to die. As I said in my review for Prometheus, I think it’s fitting that Scott, now 74 is asking these questions. He must feel like Roy Batty or Peter Weyland himself; getting close to death, and not wanting that day to arrive. 

Rutger Hauer as replicant Roy Batty in Ridle Scott's Blade Runner (1982)

All these great things we see and do, they all fade away as soon as we die, sometimes forgotten forever. How many lives blink out of existence, never to be thought of ever again? The character of Roy Batty said it very poetically in Blade Runner: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain…time to die.” Of course, since this is a film that addresses big questions and themes, the theme of death could not be left out. It is mans greatest enemy and one of the grandest themes one could address in a film, which is why I appreciate a film like Prometheus, it touches upon so many important themes, leaving them there for us to ponder and think about after the film is over. On Prometheus, the final thought on death is mentioned when the character of Meredith Vickers tells her father Peter Weyland: “A King has his day and then he dies” That is the truth about death, we have our days on this earth, we better make the best of them because then we die, and the ride is over. 


Finally, one of the things I loved the most about Prometheus was its ending. When Elizabeth Shaw finds that other ship and takes off towards the planet where ‘The Engineers’ supposedly come from. To be honest, that ending offers up so many awesome possibilities for a sequel. What planet will Elizabeth Shaw arrive at? What discovers await for her out there? Will she find the true engineers of humanity, or something greater? Whatever Elizabeth Shaw’s out come maybe, I loved the fact that her final words were her signing off and saying that her search never ends, that her search for truth continues. This is my goal as well, the never ending search for the real truth. Well, my friends, this has been The Film Connoisseur. I should reach the frontier at some point, with a little luck; the network will pick me up. This is Franco, one of many survivors on spaceship earth…singing off.  


Jay Shatzer said...

Excellent write-up! Like you, I loved Prometheus and appreciated the layers upon layers that the film provided. There's so much going on in this film that it makes my head spin reading how people wrote it off because of one odd character choice or implausible factor.

I am now two weeks past my first viewing of the movie and I still can't stop thinking about the many themes and ideas that it brought into light, and I can't wait to revisit the flick again and eventually continue with Shaw on her journey for answers if the sequels ever get commissioned.

Thanks so much for taking the time to analyse this exceptionally worthy film. It was refreshing to see someone put as much effort into praising its boldness and ambitious nature, rather to the throngs of people that seem to be relishing in its failings. Thanks again!

Franco Macabro said...

I saw it a second time a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it a lot more for some reason, I guess the expectation was out of the way and I could just sit back and absorb the film.

Glad you enjoyed my positive take on the film, true the film has a few flaws, my main problem with it was how the scientists went into this whole alien business in a careless kind of fashion, I mean, this is a potential alien life form you are going to be contacting, why not prepare yourselves a bit better...they didnt seem to take the proper precautions and just jumped right into this alien structure, but whatever, it's a minor hiccup in a film filled with so many great things.

Thanks for reading and commenting Jay!


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