Peacast X: Cave of Forgotten Themes

by Wardog

We try to work out what the fuck Prometheus is about.
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Needless to say, spoilers abound.
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Comments (go to latest)
Jamie Johnston at 21:27 on 2012-06-11
Maybe I've got too used to Tumblr, but I wish there were some kind of 'I enjoyed this and have nothing worthwhile to add' button.
Frank at 00:46 on 2012-06-12
I got this SMS from io9.
Arthur B at 00:49 on 2012-06-12
That SMS exchange is full of wisdom.
Arthur B at 23:19 on 2012-06-13
Hitfix have a great article here analysing a lot of the enigmas about the film. It seems like half the stuff they've got here are things which were really, really sloppily explained in the film, and half are stuff which just make no sense at all (like "why does nobody react to the bloody half-naked woman with fresh surgical incisions?").
Andy G at 10:41 on 2012-06-15
I agree with all of that! It struck me that the plot is very similar to the backstory of Starcraft - the creators made a dissatisfying race in their own image, so decided to make scary monsters the second time round instead, and got killed by them.

I also thought it was very weird that they just kind of ignored the fact that there was a tentacle monster in the sickbay. Did anyone else think they also seemed to have ignored the fact that they had just been attacked by a zombie? I almost wonder if that scene was inserted at a late stage to add more action, because it never gets mentioned again.

My one other thought was that it was stage-y. The two locations were just point A and point B connected by empty (albeit very pretty and vista-y) space. It felt rather constricted and linear, without being atmospherically claustrophobic in the way that Alien was.
Arthur B at 10:55 on 2012-06-15
My one other thought was that it was stage-y. The two locations were just point A and point B connected by empty (albeit very pretty and vista-y) space. It felt rather constricted and linear, without being atmospherically claustrophobic in the way that Alien was.

The vagueness of the layout of, well, just about everything was something I found really distracting, which is something I've never encountered in a film before. Usually I am quite happy to accept that I don't really need to know which way Darth Vader has to go on the Death Star to get into his TIE-Fighter, or what the exact layout of the Starship Enterprise is, or precisely where the air ducts on the Nostromo go, but in this case I found it irksome, particularly since spatial relationships are a big part of the visuals.

I know I keep coming back to the scene where Shaw is running around in her pants covered in blood with great big staples in her tummy, but it was far and away the most jarring scene for me and completely broke the illusion. Partially because I was forced to think "Wooooow, she's really being humiliated in a way Ripley never was in Alien", but also because it forced me to think "Waaaaait a second, why is nobody reacting to this at all?", and so I was prompted to start trying to work out whether she was on the main ship or the fairly expansive space shuttle and whether it really made sense for nobody to hear or see her running around like that and so on.

Another thing I found jarring was that if you look at the 3D map the little spheres make of the Space Jockey complex, it's clear that there's a lot of stuff in there - for instance, there's passages winding all the way to the top of the dome - but the film only ever uses a tiny fraction of these locations: the entry, the death room, and the cuddle pile. (The ship seems to be docked in a port area rather than being an intrinsic part of the complex.) We never get to see what the deal is with that passageway going up to the top, despite the fact that whenever we see the map the spheres are exploring more and more of it. For an outfit which is meant to be on an exploratory mission they really don't show much enthusiasm for exploration - and, again, if the geologist and biologist wanted to find a safe place, why go to the creepy room with the dead body and the thermos stash when they could see where that long passage goes?
Michal at 22:08 on 2012-06-15
So, it turns out Jesus was a Space Jockey and the Engineers were sending the bio weapons 'cause we crucified him.

If true, this is Deckard-was-a-replicant levels of stupid from Ridley Scott.
Arthur B at 22:15 on 2012-06-15
In the original interview that quote is from Scott seems to be saying that they originally considered putting that in the film but decided against it because it'd be too blatant.

Because of course a woman giving birth to a squid is the height of subtlety, and isn't even remotely stupid.
Arthur B at 22:24 on 2012-06-15
Oh, and this Worst Previews article on the film's questions lives up to their website's title: it's terrible.

- They take as a premise that the Space Jockeys are all about sacrificing themselves to bring forth life rather than allowing for self-preservation. This isn't established in the movie even remotely. The sequence with the Space Jockey killing itself on maybe-Earth gives us too little information to assume that that leads to life being seeded - in fact, quite the opposite, it looks like that DNA there is being destroyed right down to the atomic level rather than being disseminated across the world, so it looks more like an execution or a suicide than a sacrifice to bring forth life. At no other point do we see a Space Jockey sacrificing themselves; indeed, they seem quite intent on eliminating others for their own inscrutable purposes.

- They also assume that the black goo only becomes evil on contact with humans, which means we go back to having no idea what caused the mass death in the Space Jockey base 2000 years ago. It can't be as a result of human contamination of the goo because there's no sign of any humans being brought back to the base, and according to the WorstPreview theory the black goo in contact with Space Jockeys causes love and cuddles. I don't buy it; more or less the only assessment of the black goo which makes sense is Idris' character's assumption that it's a bioweapon, and the planet they've landed on is a military base, because we never see the black goo doing anything other than kill stuff.
Jules V.O. at 23:54 on 2012-06-15
Red Letter Media's response to this movie is really excellent; especially in outlining just how little sense anything made.
Arthur B at 10:31 on 2012-06-18
Asking the Wrong Questions has a really excellent essay on the film here. Points made which I missed (but strongly agree with) include the one about Vickers actually being way more Ripley-like than Shaw is.
Cammalot at 21:27 on 2012-06-27
I read this as a sort of refresher before going into the film -- and I highly recommend it. It really brings home all the themes, sexual subversion and imagery that Prometheus tried to imitate from the first Alien and put into context, for me, Nussbaum's article.
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 03:43 on 2012-08-19
I liked Prometheus, and I completely disagree with all of you.

I'll admit, the first time I saw it, I didn't entirely understand everything that was going on. However, it hit that certain unquantifiable threshold where all the discordant elements of a work stop being "mistakes" and become deliberate stylistic choices. The people who made this movie are not stupid men. If they wanted to make a straightforward Alien prequel, they could have done so. The question then is: why? (I think like this a lot. I usually read art on a thematic level, and I prefer to ignore the "logical consistency" of plot or character until I can see the work as a whole. As a viewer, I can't see the trees for the forest.)

Anyway, one thing led to another, and I eventually ended up on a thread on SomethingAwful, which honestly helped me out immensely. A number of the posters (a disproportionate number of whom have names that are some variant of "mecha godzilla") saw the film in a similar light, and a lot of what they've written has managed to clarify my thinking with Prometheus. I think the thread's starting to slip towards the archive pay wall, so I'd recommend looking through some of it now. (I started reading around page 250, so that's a start if you need one.)

To summarize all I've absorbed and figured out briefly, I think Prometheus works best if you do not see it as a documentary on planetary exploration, but as a fable of mankind's search for ultimate truth (or ultimate knowledge, or the Lacanian Real, take your pick) and his relationship with said truth, told through the language of Golden Age scifi tropes. Once you start looking at the movie that way, a lot of it starts to fall into place.

The tragedy of Prometheus is that most of the characters attempt to penetrate the mysteries of the Engineers under the impression that they are the masters of the world, or that they are owed something. Weyland, obviously, wants divinity in the form of eternal life. Capt. Janek wants his paycheck, as does the geologist Fifield (Fifield is a debatable case; you could argue that by his mohawk, tattoos, and his mapping "pups" that he has a sublimated desire to modify his body beyond its mundane limits, a wish that is unwillingly granted after his visor melts into his face and he is transformed by the black goo into an ubermensch). The biologist Milburn wants to make friends. Vickers doesn't care what they find, so long as it gets her her father's company. Both Holloway and Shaw want knowledge, but they are subtly different. Holloway wants the Engineers to tell him their secrets first-hand, and is disappointed when it isn't handed to him on a silver platter. When they first land on the moon, he overrides Janek's suggestion that they wait until dawn to perform the first survey by saying "it's Christmas. I wanna open my presents," which tells you all you need to know about his character. Shaw wants to know, but there is no real entitlement to her desire. She's perfectly happy just to study the inscriptions in the catacombs in the beginning of the movie. After her experiences, her desire to know becomes an active quest, but it's not borne of a need for vengeance (you did this to me, you cannot do this, I will make you pay) but out of a desire to understand the new world she has found herself in (your actions have changed how I interpret myself and my place in the world, and now I must rebuild my understanding of the world). It also seems quite likely she's going to spend her time planet-hopping rather than making a beeline for the Engineer's homeworld. The quest for knowledge is not punished in Prometheus, but assuming you can treat the ultimate truth of the universe like a bank machine will get you killed.

Sadly, since I am beginning to fall asleep, I will have to cut this defense far too short, but I will say that there is far more going on Prometheus than a surface reading can show (a major theme of the movie, incidentally, one that occurs again and again in the course of the excavation, the events and structure of the plot, and also in Scott's use of the tropes and images of Alien and Aliens).
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 03:51 on 2012-08-19
Before I go, there is something I would like to quote, mostly for Kyra. It's a post from that SA thread concerning an interpretation of how the characters of Vickers and Shaw compare to Ripley, as well as some discussion of David's behavior. I'm not on board with all of it (I admit to having a poor grasps on discussions of sexuality, especially in artificial lifeforms), but I thought the analysis of Vickers was spot-on.

Posted by Piedmon Sama

So I've watched it a second time last night. I've been mulling the movie over and over in my head for days now, and I think there's really a lot beneath the surface in this movie to talk about.

One of the most interesting things about Prometheus is the way it handles the power imbalance between men and women, with both Shaw and Vickers. Vickers is essentially defined by her lack of maleness, for which her father has presumably neglected her for her whole life. There's a line of dialogue that states Vickers is on the mission because Weyland never even bothered to leave a clear line of succession for her back on earth. While partly explained by the fact Weyland isn't planning on dying, from his interactions with his daughter we can tell he simply treats Vickers like she doesn't exist. This has caused her to try to become the Ultimate Strong Woman. The first thing she does out of her pod is treat David like a coat rack and utterly ignore his sexuality (which he has, more on that later).

Vickers goes past that to the point of ridiculousness by trying to physically bully an android that could presumably rip her arms off. At specific moments she echoes Ellen Ripley from Alien, but where Ripley was kind of a rules-lawyering bitch (which was literally her job) Vickers is completely OTT, threatening a dying man with a flamethrower and repeatedly informing the whole crew they are all expendable. As the film says, she literally lives on a lifeboat, prepared to abandon the others at any moment. Ripley emerged as The Lone Survivor and Vickers is absolutely counting on the same.

The irony is that in the end Vickers is completely ignored by everybody. When telling her she can take the lifeboat out or go down with the ship, the Captain is utterly indifferent: she's treated everyone as disposable the whole film, now she gets the same treatment. Her own father greets her with an indifferent "oh, so you came?" and during his failed quest she simply sits on the sidelines, no one paying attention to her orders any longer.

Others have noticed as did I that Vickers' death is so extravagant, it seems more befitting a real antagonist rather than a mere nuisance. Almost as if the character were supposed to have more of an arc that brought her into real conflict with Shaw, but it was cut out. Thematically her death makes an ironic kind of sense: having spent the film trying to be the son her father wanted and live up to a masculine ideal of power, Vickers is finally crushed to death by a massive phallus. She was in the wrong kind of film all along: Alien was a simple survival story, and rewarded its protagonist for strategic and precautionary thinking. Prometheus at its core is a spiritual quest, where pragmatism and ruthlessness just get in the way.

That's the important point of Prometheus, and something I've been noticing about Scott's ouvre since at least Gladiator: his films seem to be increasingly about faith even in the absence of a Redeemer (and I'd love to write an essay about how Gladiator is very much a Christian retrospective of the unredeemed world). I can't help thinking it's got something to do with the dude mellowing out in old age, as people tend to, and being less ready to affirm an essentially dystopic universe with no brighter hope than mere survival as in Alien and Blade Runner. IOW:

Old Ridley Scott: Well, maybe there's something out there after all...
Young Ridley Scott: gently caress YOU, DECKARD WAS A REPLICANT

Shaw and Halloway are absolutely on a spiritual quest. It's no accident that the two dedicated scientists are completely loving useless and die right away. The complete ridiculousness of the Engineers "creating" mankind is not ignored. That it makes no sense under the observable fact of evolution is waved right under our noses. That doesn't matter. Hell, succeeding in meeting God ultimately didn't matter. It was about choosing to believe. I really don't think the film is satirical or whatever, or that it undermines Shaw's faith. She's the one who survives because she was there for the right reasons. The scientists refuse to believe what's right in front of them. Weyland simply wants to make demands of God. Vickers doesn't believe and doesn't care about anything but herself. Even Halloway goes wrong in that he wants to have a direct conversation with God and grows depressed when he learns he won't get that.

The others all have motives that are understandable from a logical view. Vickers wants validation (I also would guess she's hoping Weyland will officially nominate her the heir when he finally kicks the bucket, which is why she's there to begin with). Halloway wants knowledge. Weyland wants more life. Everybody else is there to collect a paycheck. Shaw's motive is harder to rationalize: like Charlie, she's hoping to meet God but somehow for her the searching is enough. This is what initially draws David into his skeevy obsession with Shaw. Presumably he looks at everybody else's dreams and finds them quite ordinary, readily explicable. Shaw bothers him. He doesn't understand her, and he'd really like to dissect her.

Like Vickers and Ripley, Shaw has an iron will to get what she wants. Unlike Vickers, however, she acknowledges her own need for others, and is willing to rely on others for help: not just Janek and Halloway but a variety of machines including David. In her intimate moment with Halloway, Shaw allows herself to show vulnerability. This not only cements her bond with Halloway, which gives her strength, her emotional earnestness wins Janek (and maybe kinda-sorta David) over, whereas Vickers pushes everyone away and dies literally alone and unloved.

In fact Shaw does very little without the help of others. And the film is saying this is absolutely okay, that on the quest to meet God we have to depend on others. Inevitably, Prometheus was going to be compared to Alien, which was almost revolutionary for the character of Ellen Ripley. It's not impossible Scott and the writers, thinking about how they were going to live up to that, decided to take a wholly different route. Ripley has to discover the toughness to survive within herself; Shaw just has to make the choice to have faith.

We don't know, at the end, if Shaw's stubborn insistence to continue seeking answers will be rewarded. I'm somewhat leery of the whole idea of a direct sequel to Prometheus because I feel part of the film's point is we shouldn't know, that we have to find our faith while we're still on the journey.

I was very struck by the fact that Shaw's body is cradled in the arms of machinery and rendered passive three times in the film. The first is when we see her sleeping in the stasis pod. The second time is when David takes her to the medbay and, inasmuch as power dynamics go, does his stunted robot version of raping her (the syringe full of doping drugs taking the place of the penis he probably lacks). The third time is within the medical pod, which saves Shaw's life only after she reprograms it, taking control and acting to save herself for the first time in the story. Even this action is essentially submitting to the ministration of a machine (an explicitly mindless machine, no less), Shaw putting herself under a knife to survive (and subsequently pumping herself to the nines with drugs every five minutes to keep going). A minor theme of the film is that of technology's absolute power: it can save (as in the medical pod, Weyland's exoskeleton, David), or destroy (the black ooze, also David); notice Vickers relies on her own physical strength and tenacity through the film (pushups, trying to intimidate David, running) and how she pretty much just fails and dies.

I haven't talked about David much yet, but he's a whole subject in of himself. The very first thing we learn about David is that he has esthetic preferences: he likes Lawrence of Arabia and restyles his hair to look like Peter O'Tool's T.E Lawrence. He also noticeably has a preference for sandals over a more expected corporate style of footwear (actually, it's kind of interesting to notice the diversity in footwear during the briefing scene: David's sandals, Vickers' ridiculous platform shoes, Millburn's big Napoleon Dynamite boots). David absolutely has emotions, you can't fail to notice them during the scene with Holloway at the pool table. So did Ash, and something the two robots share is a stunted sexual frustration leading to an attempt to artificially surprise sex the film's heroine.

This may be my perception, but immediately I thought I noticed that there is something artificial about David's movements. He isn't hiding the fact that he's a robot: he's perfectly comfortable with it. Ash never displayed any such movements: when he was alone he would jerk around in a short spastic movement. In other words, David is comfortable in his own skin, Ash is not. Ash actually comes across like some people with autism, uncomfortable in their body and awkward (a tinge of personal experience here ). Early on in Alien, Parker comes in after Ash has sat down in the mess and badgers him to give up his seat. Ash quickly defers with a downcast glance. Just as Parker is very much the alpha male of the ship, Ash is a "beta male" (or "omega male" even). He's awkward and unsure of himself, frustrated at his own lack of sexuality and inadequacies---thus his admiration of the "Perfect Organism" and his attempt to surprise sex Ripley.

David, however, does not at all view himself with such an inferiority complex. He's already sure he's above his creators (who, let's allow, are kind of a bunch of ninnies). His disgust at Halloway's drunkenness, his smug appraisal of Shaw's emotions and his implied sabotage of Weyland's quest all point to it. He acts with impunity for most of the film, using Halloway as a lab rat and studying, poking at Shaw (probably the real reason he saves her during the storm), who is the only one he doesn't quite "get" because of her faith. It's not accidental that David murders Shaw's lover, then tries to put himself in complete power over her (trying to keep her from looking at the surgical scan, trying to stick her back in the fridge).

When David is on the very cusp of having his freedom--I think he expects the Engineer to kill Weyland--he is suddenly ripped apart by the being he admires so much. David is left emasculated and unable to do anything for himself in a truly ironic punishment. Shaw rescues him, but from here on she will be setting the course. To the very end David fails to understand her, underlining his misplaced sense of superiority.
Arthur B at 11:51 on 2012-08-19
That's all quite cute, Al, but none of it quite manages to excuse the fact that all of these people end up behaving in wildly pointless ways or fail to react to situations in any believable way for the sole reason of the advancement of the plot. On top of that, some of it comes across to me as Emperor's New Clothes analysis - trying to read into the text something the text doesn't actually support because Something Awful can't quite believe it's as bad as it is.

It'd be perfectly possible for a director of Scott's calibre - during his prime at least - to create a film with all of this nuance and which is also tells a good and coherent story on the surface. But Scott hired one of the writers of Lost to do the script so I think that tells you all you need to know about how much of his judgement and taste he's retained.

In particular, I see no way in which this:

It also seems quite likely she's going to spend her time planet-hopping rather than making a beeline for the Engineer's homeworld.


is even remotely supported by the film. Shaw shows no interest in visiting any other planet whatsoever.

I also think the analysis ascribes somewhat loftier and cleverer aspects to the spiritual side of the film than you can really seriously expect when Scott in interviews seems to be implying that he semi-believes in the whole ancient astronauts thing. Sorry, but garbage in/garbage out applies here: Chariots of the Gods is daft and only daftness can arise from it.
Jules V.O. at 16:19 on 2013-11-19
So, the pre-Lindelof script has made its way online. And yep, it makes a *lot* more sense.
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