smackshack: Marvin the Martian looks peeved. (Marvin the Martian)
[personal profile] smackshack
I already tweeted some stuff about it, but if you're craving some (allegedly) deeper thoughts about the movie, check what I have to say after the cut.

"Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would have hidden from it in terror." -- Emperor Ming, Flash Gordon 

Right about the time Vickers torched Holloway with the flamethrower I decided that Prometheus just had to be a comedy. I mean, I was laughing, so that's what it had to be, right? We've already had the scene where the biologist and the geologist break the fourth wall by realizing that they're trapped in a horror movie and flailing around until they get killed in such stereotypical Alien-like ways that the only reason you'd film such a scene is because you're doing the sci-fi/horror mashup version of Scream---so it has to be a comedy, right?

We've also had the scenes of gratuitous removal of helmets in an unknown alien environment and gratuitous sticking of fingers in unknown alien goo and gratuitous betrayal of the human crew by an artificial intelligence and gratuitous reference to Christian faith that's so incredibly shallow it's an insult to all these trite repetitions of classic sci-fi/horror tropes in the service of a plot twist that's already been telegraphed from a million miles away by the inclusion of an H.R. Giger-based set, not to mention stealing the Evil Black Oil from the X-Files, can only mean that we, who bought tickets in good faith for a high-minded philosophical science fiction epic, are actually stuck in an unexpected dark comedy. Right?


I was ready to roll with this interpretation. It's a dark comedy about human greed and vanity, represented on one side by Weyland's obscene wealth and lust for immortality, and on the other side by Shaw's simplistic Christianity and her gullible faith that the universe was designed to fit the primitive ape-mythology that just happens to characterize her cultural and family history. The mission is a comedy of (horrific) errors because the people in charge are all acting from positions of bad faith.

In support of this thesis I cite the fact that when Shaw loses her cross, she starts behaving intelligently, draws sound conclusions about the situation she's in, and kicks major ass. And then the instant she puts the cross back on, she's back to being the same starry-eyed innocent she was before, convinced that the motives of a completely alien species must revolve entirely around humanity. At best what she's seen indicates that life on Earth is nothing more than a pawn in an immense and terrifying game, and if she had said something like, "If we want to survive we need to learn the rules of this fucked up game," then I'd have sympathized. But instead she lectures David the android about how it's a uniquely human and presumably cross-fingeringly spiritual thing to want to know why the Engineers didn't wipe us all out. GNAGHHHHH!

(Mind you, the portrayal of the David the android is brilliantly done. As a specimen of the "rogue AI who resents his human masters" plot trope, it's really good, despite the absence of any plot-relevant explanation for his behavior or for his maker's complete ignorance that such a thing could happen to a computer---clearly the audience is expected to know that, well, AI's just periodically go rogue, dontcha know.)

So, there I was, convinced that Prometheus is a marvelous, dark, and hateful satire about how unrestrained capitalism and unexamined faith will destroy a humanity that clearly deserves to be destroyed, which is why all the characters are so stupid and die so horribly, when I went and read this piece by a guy named "Cavalorn" on LiveJournal (do go read it, or at least watch the videos posted at the end) that methodically explains the glut of religious symbolism in the movie.

It argues that to understand the movie you have to realize the Engineers embody the ancient mythical theme that says willing self-sacrifice is the key to maintaining life. It goes on to posit that Jesus was actually an Engineer sent to teach humanity the error of its ways, and when some uppity Romans killed Space Jesus the Engineers decided to wipe out humanity, but then were stopped because...who knows why?

It's pretty convincing, because the movie plays exactly like a story that was written like this:

"Hey, man. What if we make a movie where Jesus was actually a space alien?"

"Fuck that man, it's been done."

"Yeah, man, but not with, like, the aliens from Alien, man."

"Fuck me man, that's intense. Pass me the bong." [SUUUUUUUUCK]  "OK, it'll totally work, but Jesus can't be a fucking xenomorph, man, nobody will believe that."

"Shit, man, you're right. But what if he, like---" [SUUUUUUUUUUCK] "---makes the xenomorphs to punish mankind?"

"Oh, MAN."

"I know. I KNOW."


"But we can't just, like, destroy the human race, man. That's a downer. It's gotta be something like, he wants to destroy the human race, but then something stops him or changes his mind."

"Riiiiiiiight. Right. Like, uh, Yahweh and the whirlwind of salt thing, right?" [SUUUUUUUUUUCK]

"Dude, what?"

"You know, like in, what, fuckit, the Ten Commandments, right? God wants to destroy all these sinners so he sends, like, a whirlwind of salt, but King David says, like, 'No way Yahweh, that's kind of a dick move, because what about the children, man?' Right?"

"Dude, I don't think that's the movie that you think that it is, man." [SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK]

"Whatever, dude. I know, we'll get that intern, whatshisname..."


"You know, the one we found working at the In-n-Out Burger. Big Deepak Chopra fan." [SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK] "He'll take care of the heavy religious shit, man. We just take care of the special effects and, uh, cash the checks, man."

"Genius, man."


The problem with the religious symbolism reading of the movie is that, although it's convincing, it only makes the movie that much more stupid.
Mutt Williams: No, no. God's head is not like that, man.
Indiana Jones: Depends on who your god is.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Religious themes and symbols are all very well, but by themselves they don't add up to a story.

Let's suppose Cavalorn's interpretation is right: the universe is seeded by Engineers who've mastered genetic engineering and space flight and who also want to teach intelligent beings the absolute necessity of death and sacrifice as a component of ongoing life. 
  • These masters of space flight and genetic engineering haven't found a way to plant genetic material without obliging someone to commit suicide by means of a terrifying biological weapon/contagion. In other words, they've never heard of seeds. Or spores. Or even microbes, apparently, because the evil goo appears to work on the level of DNA itself. Except not really because after billions of years humans and Engineers are a perfect genetic match. Which is weird, considering the Engineers all appear to be humongous albino bodybuilding clones.
  • These masters of space flight and genetic engineering haven't figured out how to safely store and transport large quantities of evil goo.
  • These masters of space flight and genetic engineering who make it their business to nurture primitive cultures apparently have no concept of sending Space Jesus to Earth with some backup in case things go wrong.
  • These Promethean god-beings who value sacrifice and who are willing to die to create new biospheres are apparently so high-strung that their society falls apart when one of the emissaries is accidentally killed by one of their still-developing primitive cultures. ZOMG! The Romans didn't grok the message of Space Jesus! WhatdowedoWhatdowedo?!?!? Kill them all! Kill them all! No, wait, we'll kill ourselves! No, wait...!
It's one thing to posit ancient astronauts and a Space Jesus as a premise for a science fiction plot. It's quite another thing to posit ancient astronauts and a Space Jesus who are all fucking morons and then expect an audience to absorb it as an example of spiritual depth.

On the other hand, maybe the religious interpretation actually supports my dark comedy reading of the film. The Engineers are idiots for thinking they can control evolution and make it produce an obedient child-species in their own image, and the child-species is idiotic for thinking the universe exists to serve its own ends. The meaning of life, then, is a perfect circle of idiocy, signifying nothing.

(Which actually mirrors the story of David the android pretty well. Maybe I'm on to something.)

Which you might be tempted to call "cosmic horror," I guess. I see a lot of people saying that Prometheus is supposed to be loosely based on H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. But in my opinion, it's not cosmic horror if the Elder Gods turn out to be ineffectual twits and if your main character survives with her faith and innocence intact. That's cosmic slapstick.

Can Prometheus be redeemed? Only if we invent a back story that the movie itself fails to provide. Maybe the trillion-dollar space expedition is manned by incompetents because of political or corporate infighting back on...oh, wait, that's still comedy.

What about the Engineers, then? Well, what if they're not Engineers? What if they're just gardeners? Landscapers? People who till the soil and tend the fields and do the bidding of someone higher up the chain of command? In that case one can imagine their society being disrupted by an accident or argument or rebellion that strands Space Jesus on Earth to fend for himself, with dire consequences. We would still have no understanding of why their masters implemented such a dangerous system in the first place, but at least there would be plot fodder for a sequel:

Prometheus Unchained: The Secret of the Ooze.
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smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)

June 2012


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