Friday, June 15, 2012

Post 700: Prometheus

Some movies give watchers a lot to chew on, spend their time tackling the big questions, contain multiple threads to track throughout the film. Ridley Scott's Prometheus is one such film. A general review first before the spoiler-laden attempt at thread identification.

General Review:
This movie is not Alien. The horror elements, though nodded to at times, are largely replaced by dramatic big-question pondering, and action-adventure running and dying. Filled with different threads and themes to follow, the film ties them all together with a supremely well-paced action plot. Actors and actresses are on their best behavior and none turn in a poor performance, though most of my friends think that Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba turn in the best performances. Iceland is gorgeous as ever, the special effects are superb, and the three-dimensional filming and presentation are the best I've seen. To point out two faults would be nitpicking, but in the effort of fairness: 1. There are 17 people onboard the Prometheus, and with that many characters in a two hours ten minutes action film, the development, even of some main characters, stays a touch thin throughout; and 2. The plot's alright, but there were two parts I had to really try to suspend my disbelief. I have seen it twice and the first time, my one sentence review was, “Enjoyable, but confused.” The second time I realized that Mr. Scott knows what he is doing and my review would be, “Enjoyable and good science fiction: complex world-building melded to unanswered questions and interesting characters.” In other words, if you can catch the magic of this movie, it is a nerd's wetdream – endlessly debatable. Ridley Scott wants to make the sequel and I hope that he gets to.


Thread Collector (SPOILERS):

  1. Fathers and Creators:
From Weyland to Vickers and David8, from Shaw's father to Shaw, the personal relationships between children and their parents are on display and talked about. David8 specifically attempts to understand how Vickers and Shaw can be so different in their thinking about their fathers. While one wishes hers would die, because all king's must, the other wishes hers were still alive. These personal, short term relationships are echoed in the discussions of creators. The Engineers created us, the face hugger creates xenomorph, man creates android. Here again, David8 provides the most insight as he puzzles over humanity's contradictory natures. However, he comes to the realization that once we are able to meet our makers, it is irrelevant to meet them because we are already so much like them and have similar power and technology. He points out that creators create out of curiosity, or to quote Halloway, “Because we can,” and his disappointment is displayed well. However, fathers seem to create because they feel compelled to, a need to breed and bring little screaming meat sacks into existence. Though both fathers and creators perform a similar role, to David8 they seem to do it in a different manner.

  1. Destruction is Creation:
The first scene reinforces this phenomenological tenant: by the very act of destroying, one has created. To use an example from science fiction, the creation of an asteroid field and the destruction of Alderaan are the same act. The first scene of the film displays an Engineer priest's suicide atop a waterfall in order to jump-start creation on a neoproterozoic or early cambrian earth. And throughout the film, death and destruction are life and creation: the face hugger kills the Engineer and a xenomorph is born, Fifield dies, but is reborn as a monster, Shaw gives birth to the face hugger and is almost killed by it. This simple concept creates a striking film with things bursting out of other things and death leading directly to life.

  1. Emotional Intelligence versus Rational Intelligence – or Humanity versus Perfection:
This carryover theme is brought from the original Alien and Scott's Blade Runner, though also drawing from 2001: A Space Odyssey. David8's inherent, android tendencies are the main focus of this thread and again Ridley Scott comes down on the side of being human. A theory in Blade Runner is that mistakes make us more creative. 2001 posits that mistakes force us to evaluate ourselves more honestly than the egotistic HAL9000. In Alien, android's nature as a tool for their master is shown to be dangerous when their master is dangerous. Here, these three all come together in Fassbender's brilliant portrayal of David8's curiosity and confusion. David8 is a superman, but he is unable to understand things that make perfect sense to the audience. He has faith that the world around him is rational and logical. When asked, he's unsure what he would be if he had freedom. And then he does: the world reacts in a surprising way and suddenly he ends up decapitated and free. He no longer has a directive from his creator to follow. Rather than channeling his disappointment and anger at humans, letting Shaw be surprised by the Engineer, David8 warns her, tries to use her to get back to earth, his comfort zone. When Shaw survives he is thankful due to his own sense of self-preservation, but she decides to go on the heaven instead of earth. This, to David8, makes no sense, but it delights him. He has spent 2 years, 4 months, 18 days, 36 hours, and 15 minutes trying to puzzle out what makes humans humans, and in the end he still debates Shaw about the irrelevance of her quest for heaven. This is the adventure that could teach him what it means to be human. In this action there is that illogical but sure answer that David8 realizes is what separates his makers from him. In this action is humanity. In other words, David8 seems to want to be his makers as much as Weyland does. Perfection will never understand reality, in Scott's mind. And that's a heartwarming thought to me, because I'm far from perfection.

  1. How Humans Approach Death and what it Shows about their Values:
There are 17 crew members and two survive, though one of those is cut in half. Some deaths have all the trappings of glory through self-sacrifice: Janek, his co-pilots, and Halloway all sacrifice themselves for the greater good of others. Other death's are inglorious: Vickers, who reveals her obsession with reducing risk in her first scene, dies running from a rolling thing the wrong way; Millburn understands too late what the snakes are; and Weyland, who is also obsessed with living longer, is killed by an Engineer still pissed about something (The killing of Christ?). What interests me are the ways characters die and why. Janek finds it necessary to die in order to save Earth from the possibility of destruction. His co-pilots stick by their captain's side partly for his same reason, but partly for their own sense of duty to him. Halloway is willing to do anything in order to find out more about the Engineers, but when he realizes that his knowledge might be dangerous to his lover, he has Vickers burn him. Millburn and Fifield let their fear dictate their actions, and in their resulting confusion they get lost and dead. Weyland wants only to live forever but dies symbolically by the head of his creation and the hands of his creator. David8 is, of course, immortal, but his freedom costs him the integrity of his whole body. This sort of one-to-one relationship between goodness in life and glory in death – or selfishness in life and inglorious deaths – could be seen as overly simplistic and straightforward. But to me it communicates that how somebody dies, their last actions and words, can put their life values on display in an irrevocable way. Through this thesis, Scott has put meaning into these fifteen deaths. In other words, the movie has a lot of death, but the deaths are not senseless, meaningless, or pointless – the deaths in this movie have import and meaning that is refreshing in a cinema-scene so congested with sensational deaths that watchers are often desensitized. And how could we not become desensitized when so often deaths have no meaning, no affect on the outcome of the film, provide no true tension in the film. Here, death is done perfectly, and it reveals something about that singularity that other films have skipped.

  1. Faith in the Face of Doubt – Be Careful what you Wish For:
This topic speaks to ongoing threads in the life of our smoking group, so this one stood out to some of us prominently. This is an extension from the first thread of fathers and creators. Shaw's father seems to have filled her with this sense of responsibility for her beliefs and her actions – a strong spine. She acknowledges that her beliefs are a choice, but she sticks by them and allows them to color her perception of events. Much like Millburn with his “going against three-centuries of Darwinism” quip, she is willing to question, but not to doubt. The adversity of the situation merely makes her more sure of herself. To quote a friend, “Even after coming face to face with the uber-man, the doctor's religious faith is only strengthened, because she realizes that whatever god is, this is not it.” I would simply add that her faith is where she draws her inner strength.


Which threads did I miss. I'm sure I missed some. Let's make this post collaborative. Tell me what I got wrong, what I got right. Let's compile these themes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie yesterday, here in Spain's theathers, and I really liked it, and I've found your post to be really interesting, loved all the things you've pointed out about the plot and the engineers, human creation and everything else.