SPOILERS CONTAINED WITHIN. DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT THE MOVIE RUINED
“Every child wants to kill their parents” -David
I believe that in the quote are many of the answers to the questions that “Prometheus” poses.
As I walked out the theatre Saturday night, I was unsure what I felt about the film. I had a very unsettled feeling that left me questioning exactly what I thought. It has since dawned on me that this is exactly what the director, Ridley Scott was aiming for. In the ensuing days I have done a ton of reading online trying to figure out exactly what happened in the film and why. What follows is my condensed version of what I found and what, like Elizabeth Shaw in the film (played by Noomi Rapace), I choose to believe.
I have been accused of reading too much into things that I read/watch. That may very well be the case here. I think there were some big thematic things going on in this film. I think they were intentional and I think Ridley Scott set out to make a statement. Not every film, book or TV show sets out to say something about something. I do think that is the case here.
I will admit that I was left with more questions than answers after watching the film. Much of what I now think about it, and the conclusions that I have drawn is based on what I have read and what others have said. So these are not (all) my original ideas. I read through a few posts after searching “Prometheus Explained” on Google. I suggest anyone who is curious do the same. I will try to start at the beginning and go through the events of the film and what I think about them.
Starting with the title itself. Prometheus was the Greek titan who created man from clay and gave man fire. For this, he was punished by his peers. Tied to a rock, where hawks ate his liver every day for eternity. The imagery of this act, a character sprawled with their chest ripped open is obviously alluded to in the Alien films. Prometheus gave life to humans, then sacrificed himself and was punished by death for that act.
The film “Prometheus” opens with an absolutely stunning shot (I would go so far as to say that the visuals alone are worth the price of admission) of a landscape from the air. According to director Ridley Scott, this could be Earth, but for the purposes of the film, it doesn’t have to be. It could be any planet. The camera pans to a being standing at the top of a massive waterfall. This character is human-looking. He is very pale, blue-ish white. My first impression was that he was some type of religious or spiritual figure based on his appearance and dress. He undergoes a ceremonial process of opening a metal container of some type of liquid. He looks very peaceful and purposeful during this process, as though he knows and understands what he is doing. After he drinks it, he begins to turn black and disintegrate. He falls into the river and his body breaks down to its basic molecular level. At this point his molecules appear to realign and what looks like DNA begins to form. I didn’t realize this at first, but upon further reading, this character sacrificed himself to begin the process of introducing life to the planet (again we see the sacrificial giver of life).
The film fast-forwards thousands of years and we meet two of the protagonists, Dr’s Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Halloway (played by the ever handsome Logan Marshall-Green). They are investigating cave paintings in Scotland in the year 2089. They believe they have found evidence that alien beings, our creators in their opinion, left a map for mankind to follow.
The film flashed forward to the ship, Prometheus carrying its human cargo towards the planet that the cave paintings directed Shaw and Halloway towards. Shaw and Halloway have labeled them Engineers, believing that they are our creators. The doctors are searching for the Engineers because the are looking for answers the “big” questions. Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? They are willing to search the galaxy for these answers.
It is during this portion of the film that we get our first glimpse into the life of what I believe is the films most intriguing (and confusing) character, David (portrayed by Michael Fassbender to perfection). David is an Android. The trip to the Engineer’s planet (LV-223) takes Prometheus 2 years. During this time, David watches “Lawrence of Arabia”, patterning himself after Peter O’Toole’s character. David looks in on the passenger’s dreams and overall, left me with a feeling of unease. If you know anything about me, I distrust all robots. David’s character, and actions throughout the film leave the audience with more questions than answers. It is mentioned that David is receiving messages from someone at Wayland Corp. (the financial backers of the expidition, and the “Company” that is responsible for all the bad things that transpire in further Alien films). David also appears to be breaking down all human language into its base form, in an attempt to be able to communicate with the Engineers, should they find them.
Upon being woken up, the crew is brought together where doctors Shaw and Halloway present their research and their reasoning behind the trip. They show artwork from civilizations that existed thousands of years and thousands of miles apart from one another, yet depicts basically the same scene. Human figures worshipping a larger figure who is pointing towards a cluster of planets. They belive that the Engineers created mankind, then visited and revisited over the course of thousands of years, leaving instructions on where to find them. They are in search of the Whys.
Prometheus lands on LV-223, and in less than 30 seconds locates their base of operations. They enter a gigantic dome-structure that appears to be some type of temple. David finds some writing on the wall (that has unexplained green goo on it). David can clearly read their writing and touches the panel. When he does this, what appears to be a “memory” of the temple’s log shows some of what appears to be Engineers running away from something. One of these apparition Engineers falls and appears to be beheaded by a closing door. The crew finds the body of said Engineer laying on the ground outside a gigantic door. They carbon date the body to about 200o years ago.
Two of the crew members (the biologist and geologist) freak out when they see the body of the dead Engineer (what did they think they were going to find?) and head back to the ship (bad move).
There is a wall of writing on the outside of the door, which David appears to read (I think this is important) and then proceeds to open the door against the wishes of his cohorts (I do not believe David’s agenda is clear, even now). In the room the crew finds the severed head of the Engineer, along with hundreds of metal urns, that begin “sweating” as soon as the atmosphere in the room changes. The camera focuses in on the foot print of one of the crew members, where some worm-like creatures are writhing in the dirt (they look like the super-worms I used to feed to my bearded dragon). In the center of the room is a giant humanoid head. On the ceiling and walls are murals. One of which depicts a creature that resembles an alien from the previous films (fans of the Alien series call the creature a “Xenomorph” or Xeno ). As the urns begin to sweat, a mysterious black goo begins to leak out of them onto the floor. At this point, a perfectly timed storm leads the crew to rush back to the Prometheus (but not before Shaw grabs the Engineer’s head and David grabs one of the urns).
It turns out that the two crew members who headed back early somehow lost their way and are stuck in the temple until the storm passes. Back on the Prometheus, Shaw begins to test to head of the Engineer. They put an electric charge into his brain, hoping to trick his nervous system into thinking it is alive. As soon as this happens, the head starts to turn black and disintegrate (just as the fellow at the start of the film did) and his head explodes. This is just a guess, but it is my assumption that whatever happened in the temple 2000 years ago that led the Engineers to be running down the halls trying to get away from something, included an infection of the black goo (is it the same that the guy drank at the start of the film? We never find out, but I think so). To further this hypothesis, the two guys left in the temple stumble across a pile of dead engineer bodies with exploded heads and chests. They all appear to have been infected with the black goo.
David speaks with Vickers (Charlize Theron’s character) who is the Wayland Corps. representative on the ship. She asks him “What did he have to say?”, to which David replies “Try harder”. We are not sure at this point who “he” is (to me it was pretty obvious that David was in contact with Peter Wayland). Next, we see David alone, open the urn and remove a glass vial of the black goo. He takes out one drop on the tip of his finger and says “Big things have very small beginnings”. David finds a drunk Halloway in the rec room and offers him a drink. Halloway is disappointed because it was his deepest ambition to find the answers to his big questions on this planet. Halloway is very rude to David (as an android, it is hard to know how this makes him feel). Halloway asks David about his creators, and David replies “Every child wants to kill their parents”. David asks a despondent Halloway, how far he is willing to go to get his answers. Halloway responds that he would do anything. David dips his finger (which presumably still has the black goo on it) into the glass and David drinks it.
We next see Halloway in Shaw’s room, where she shares with him that when she analyzed the Engineer’s DNA, she found it to be a perfect match with human DNA, thus proving that we came from them. Halloway makes a comment about creating life and Shaw becomes really sad, revealing that they are incapable of having children because she is infertile. Shaw and Halloway engage in coitus (thus unknowingly infecting Shaw with whatever he’s got).
Meanwhile, in the temple, the two lost crew members enter the urn chamber. There is black goo all over the ground. One of them sees something moving in the black goo and out pops a white snake-thing that resembles a king cobra. The biologist decides to try to befriend the thing, just before it jumps on him, constricting and breaking his arm. The geologist cuts it in half and it grows a new head. It’s blood splashes on his helmet and begins to melt the plastic (sound familiar Alien fans). Meanwhile, the snake-thing enters the biologists space suit and forces itself down his throat (isn’t that everyone’s worst nightmare?) The guy who’s helmet melted fell face first into the black goo (we will hear from him later). At this point, we are unsure about the nature of the black goo. I personally think that the black goo is some type of biological excellerant. Because this film is used (in my opinion unwisely) as a psudo-prequel to the Alien franchise, the black goo seems to lead to a rapid succession of events that brings about the so-called Xenomorph aliens.
Speeding up this story a bit, as I realize I am focusing too much on the plot, and not enough on the “big” questions, let me bullet point it from here:
- Halloway wakes up infected with something, but tells no one (not very scientific)
- The crew returns to the temple and finds the two dead crew members
- David follows a random probe that reports life down one hallway
- David enters the room and finds the cock-pit of the Engineers ship, along with one living Engineer in Cry0-freeze
- David accesses the ships navigation system and realizes this ship was bound for Earth
- This ship is choc-full of urns of the black goo
- Halloway gets sick and the return him to the ship
- Just before he gets back, Vickers meets him at the gate and refuses to let him on
- Halloway asks her to torch him with a flame-thrower
- David examines Shaw and she is carrying a baby (immaculate conception, did I mention the film is set on Christmas day?)
- David informs Shaw that the baby is not human
- Shaw enters an automatic surgery pod-thing and performs a C-section on herself
- She removes a white squid-looking alien from her uterus
- Stapled up and covered in her own blood she enters a room where a team of doctors (who we didn’t see prior to this) are waking up Peter Wayland, who surprise, surprise was on the ship the entire time, communicating with David via his dream thing
- David tells them there is a living Engineer on the ship
- The crew is attacked outside of the hangar by the dead geologist who is a super-zombie as a result of his contact with the black goo (this is never really explained)
- Edris Alba, the ship’s captain has somehow realized that this planet is a military installation where the Engineers were manufacturing weapons of mass destruction (how many alien military bases he has seen is never revealed)
- Shaw has now realized how wrong they were about the Engineers intentions
- Shaw, David, Wayland and some guys go to the ship and wake up the Engineer
- When he is woken up, David says something (which we don’t know what) to the Engineer in his language
- The Engineer proceeds to rip David’s head off and beat Wayland to death with it
- He kills everyone else, but not before Shaw escapes
- He tries to take off
- Edris Alba’s character crashes the ship into his ship to keep him from getting to Earth with the black goo (another example of self-sacrifice)
- Vickers escapes, only to be crushed by the rolling alien ship (not sure why she didn’t run to her right or left)
- Shaw returns to the escape pod to find the alien-squid she pulled out of herself alive and huge
- David warns Shaw that the Engineer is coming for her
- The Engineer shows up
- The Squid grabs him and kills him my sticking a tentacle down his throat (why is all the imagery in these films homoerotic face-rape and violent chest-bursting child-birth?)
- David informs Shaw that there are other ships on the planet (this raises a major question I will get to in a bit)
- Shaw packs his head in a bag and the two of them head for the Engineer’s home planet
- The dead Engineer’s body is shown on the ground convulsing
- A Xenomorph looking alien bursts from its chest (it looks vaguely like a Queen alien)
- The End
So… What did it all mean? I think the meaning of the film that Scott and company were shooting for, was to question where we came from, and why. And how fruitless our pursuits in answering those questions are. A dying Peter Wayland says to David: “There was nothing…”
Let me try to tackle some of the biggest questions that were left unanswered:
WHY DID THE ENGINEERS CREATE HUMANS, THEN APPEAR TO WANT TO DESTROY US?
According to the film’s timeline, something happened, about 2000 years ago, that led our creators to load up a ship with black goo that will seemingly destroy all mankind. The Engineers appear to be a race of people who value self-sacrifice. The imagery of the Engineer at the beginning of the film shows us this. So 2000 or so years in the past, what happened? I think there is enough religious iconography in the film to show that there is a clear method to the madness. It takes place on Christmas, and there are repeated references to self-sacrifice. I think the Engineers became disillusioned to their creations (I also think a reverse process took place with David and Wayland, remember David said “all children want to kill their parents). I think that Jesus’ fate was the last straw for humanity in the eyes of the Engineers. Humans killed their “creators” son, and therefore were no longer fit to exist. I believe the Engineers no longer trusted their creation and were planning to wipe out life on Earth with the black goo stuff, when something went wrong, the temple was contaminated and Engineers started to die. There is no explanation why the cave paintings lead to LV-223, which is clearly not the Engineer’s home planet, but a military complex. Were they hoping humans would show up, and kill themselves? We don’t know. What is the Engineer’s relationship with the Xenomorph Aliens? We don’t know.
WHY DOES DAVID POISON HALLOWAY?
Just prior to this event, David is told by Wayland (via the dream-thing) to “try harder”. I do not think David acts in either a “good” or “evil” way. He is an android, and is not programmed that way. Although his actions appear erratic, and confusing. He is not human, and therefore it is hard to attach human actions and reactions to what he does. I believe he was curious what the black stuff would do, and Halloway basically gave him permission to do it. David is clearly fascinated by the Engineers. I believe that he realizes that he has outpaced his creators, and is somewhat disappointed by their limited abilities. I think he too is looking for answers about why he exists. He is upset (can a robot be upset) at the notion that humans created him just because they could, and is seeking a deeper reason why the Engineers would create humanity.
UPON WAKING UP, WHY DOES THE ENGINEER KILL EVERYONE
I think he is aware the danger that is aboard his ship, and what the reaction will be when the black goo is mixed with human DNA (Xenomorph aliens) and is furious that humans are on his ship. Or, it could be what David said to him. David can read the Engineers language, clearly has the best idea of what their purpose was and why they are there doing what they are doing. We really don’t know what he said to him. We do know that David has a deeper knowledge of what is going on than any human character, and yet still chooses to open the door to the urn room, and wake up the Engineer. We don’t really know what David’s motivation is, and I think the film is better because of it.
Many of the humans act in really stupid ways. I personally think this is one of the major short-comings of the film. People seem to do things less for good reason, and more because it will move the script along. Not a great way to write characters in my opinion. These are supposed to be the worlds leading scientists in their respective fields, and yet the biologist tries to pet the king cobra looking alien snake thing.
We also don’t know what exactly the black goo is and why it appears to do different things to different people. And, is the black goo on the ship the same substance the guy drank at the beginning of the film? Does the black goo respond to the intentions of the person it affects?
IF THERE ARE OTHER SHIPS ON THE PLANET, AND DESTROYING EARTH IS SO IMPORTANT THAT THE ENGINEER WILL DO ANYTHING TO DO SO, AND IT’S THE FIRST THING HE TRIES TO DO AFTER SLEEPING FOR 2000 YEARS, WHY DIDN’T HE TAKE ONE OF THE OTHER SHIPS?
Because, like the actions of the human characters, the weakest part of the film is the script. The big ideas are big, the film is beautiful. It looks and feels amazing. The script is weak. Each scene, taken on its own is good, but when they are put together and form a whole, that whole is left incomplete. The character development is less than stellar. Many of the characters do things that don’t really make sense. The only truly compelling character is David, the non-human. I like what the movie tried to do. I like how it attempts to address big questions about who we are as a people. If the movie makes one thing clear, it is that our need to pursue answers to these questions is pointless. As Peter Wayland realized as he lay dying, there was nothing.
Overall, I think it was a really good movie. Like a solid B+ type movie. It wasn’t necessarily ground-breaking. It did pose some really deep questions, and has left me talking/reading/thinking about it for days. So in that respect, it must have had some impact on me. I am sure this is one I will see again.
Also, I found this:
A fake Peter Wayland TED talk.