Prometheus - Reviews & Discussion

10 posts

Bob Dylan Roof

I saw Prometheus last night. For a SciFi film it was very good -- superior to Scott's original Alien. Parts of the film seem rushed and the characters seemed implausible, but that's to be expected in the genre. :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup: out of five


There's a subtle Salotrean theme in the film surrounding the nature of the "engineers": the film reveals that Proto-Indo-European shares root words with the alien language. Couple this with the fact that the "engineers" are huge, muscular white men, and the inescapable conclusion is that Ridley Scott intended the engineers to be Aryan Gods or other-worldly hyperboreans!


I greatly enjoyed Prometheus. I had a Facebook discussion over the films metaphysics, and I wrote this:


Recall also that the decapitated Engineer was killed 'around 2000 years ago'. Not just exactly 2000 years -- that would place the death at AD 93. 'Around 2000 years ago' gives us enough leeway to imagine that this creator was killed by his creation right around the same time another Creator was killed by His creation.

Bob Dylan Roof

Good analysis. How do you fit the image of sacrifice at the beginning within your interpretation?

I liked this statement, uttered by the secular humanist scientist in a moment of drunken lucidity. It reminded me of Norman Mailer asserting that WASPs went to the moon "because it was there."

Recall that this character was like a starry-eyed Trekkie or reddit atheist hoping to find some sort of satisfying, other-worldly creation story pregnant with explanations that could give meaning to his own life.

Thanks for linking that blog post, Mlad. It's shit. The author really misses the point and treats technology as a god.


Sacrifice and Creation

Prometheus review cross-posted from MPC:

The Gigerian aesthetic -- traumatic impregnation, forced metamorphosis, sarcophagi, ravenous orifices and malignant fluids -- is compelling enough, counterposed with sublimely lifeless rock vistas and the androgynous, angelic mien of David, for me to forgive moments of thin characterization, overly obvious revolvers on the mantle, and a few instances of implausible behavior. There's less of the latter than many self-sure spergs would like to think -- e.g., the "unaccountable about-face" of the biologist and geologist and the "astonishingly stupid" inclination of other characters to touch oozing jars, etc., seem less like forgetful scripting (or impatient setups for body-horror) than intentional demonstrations of fatal allure, a hypnotic fixation of the sort that cats supposedly exert on small birds. Certainly those cringe-inducing extensions of hands have the purely atmospheric function of magnifying sympathetic fear, but in them too I find strong hints of tempting serpent and forbidden box.

The visual contrast with the original Alien is worth remarking on. The leathery eggs of Alien have hardened their angles and transformed into stacked warheads or machine-tooled canopic jars, lidded and filled with transparent ampoules. Conversely, in place of the crustaceous, the insectile, the exoskeletal, we have the unjointed, the cephalopod, softer and more unnervingly liquid. The three-stage endoparasitoid wasp lifecycle has become much less straightforward, a protean wind from black slime to centipedes underfoot to corpse-colored snake down the gullet (and back out again) -- something less scrupulous about directionality and windows of transmission, something not yet crystallized into fixed instars and more thickly imbued with primal chaos.

The strength of Prometheus is in its allusive resonances. We are Beebe in his bathysphere, and what privileges our descent are the luminous contours and huge black masses that we at most halfway glimpse through the fogged quartz of our windows and the cold ink beyond it: titanic revolts, the taint of sin, cults of death, the rightful rage of fathers (stepfathers?), and the astral glint of redemption beyond rationality.

But profound silences can just as likely cloak imbeciles as sages. Interviews with Ridley Scott suggest to me that much of the depth and nuance read into the film might lie somewhere beyond authorial intent:

RS: I started off with a title called Paradise . Either rightly or wrongly, we thought that was telling the audience too much. But then with Prometheus – which I thought was bloody well intellectual – that wasn’t my idea. It was Fox’s notion, It came from Tom Rothman, who’s a smart fellow. The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a good idea. This is about someone who dares and is horribly punished. And besides, do you know something? A little bit of an education at the cinema isn’t such a bad thing.​

It's somewhat of a deflation to learn how puerile Scott's apparent backstory -- not to mention his understanding of historical trajectory -- would seem to be: We had heard it was scripted that the Engineers were targeting our planet for destruction because we had crucified one of their representatives, and that Jesus Christ might have been an alien. Was that ever considered?

RS: We definitely did, and then we thought it was a little too on the nose. But if you look at it as an “our children are misbehaving down there” scenario, there are moments where it looks like we’ve gone out of control, running around with armor and skirts, which of course would be the Roman Empire. And they were given a long run. A thousand years before their disintegration actually started to happen. And you can say, “Let’s send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it. Guess what? They crucified him. ​

I don't consider this altogether condemnatory, though. Scott wasn't the sole source of creative input -- but that's not my primary consolation; I do not discount the possibility of "automatic writing" in art -- there is such a thing as possession by Geist. Prometheus , at any rate, has sense enough to hold back from handing the viewer a concrete reduction of the Engineers' motives. Were they the Heavenly Host bundling YHWH's thunderheads, Lucifer's generals, or merely old kings in their dotage? If their invitation an extension of peerage, since rescinded, what crown, what heraldry, was this?

I found myself coming back to two sequences. Some characteristic nerd flippancy from the blog post linked in the other Prometheus thread, on the first:
In juxtaposition with the opening scene, I think there is in fact an interesting picture of human telos being painted here. The Engineers, it implies, did not simply uplift men from the fortuitous clay of primitive hominids, à la Monolith in 2001. Instead, they found Earth a sterile planet and, through a sacrificial act of fecundation, initiated the evolution of all life -- a replayable tape terminating in the only sentient beings receptive to their tutelage: themselves ... at once father and son.
He also states that, "We all want our parents dead" -- I think he rapidly becomes aware that the task with which Weyland has charged him will lead to the extinction of all his "parents". And there's more to this, perhaps, than the idea that sociopathy is the inevitable outcome of intellect divorced from emotion, that robots hate their makers, etc. David is a being with no capacity for truly independent sentiment, and his utterances and behavior seem to attest to the existence of a death drive in man, something inseparably bound up with the other human drives -- even (especially) the ostensibly bloodless craving for knowledge.
I don't think it's an aversion to the animal that prompts the Engineer's hostile response; they retch, they stumble, and this particular Engineer even comes for Shaw in revenge. "So they are mortal."

The linguistic consultant to the film reveals that this is what David says to the Engineer (in proto-proto-Indo-European!):

/ida hmanəm aɪ kja namṛtuh zdɛ:taha/.../ghʷɪvah-pjorn-ɪttham sas da:tṛ kredah/

‘This man is here because he does not want to die. He believes you can give him more life’.

But you don't need an insider disclosure to guess the gist of the line (there was actually more dialogue that didn't make it into the theatrical cut...) or understand why the Engineer reacts as he does. Here he is faced by an obscenity of hubris -- the impossibly old Weyland, his decrepit body insolent against inevitability in robotic struts, the trillionaire industrialist who pontificates about the soul while straining for a purely corporeal immortality, and, speaking for him, the cyborg he made in his own image. It's a scene very much in dialogue with the confrontation in Blade Runner , and our sympathies are again with the smiter.

(The recurrence of decapitation and speech beyond death, seen earlier with the Engineer whose head is carried back to the ship like a relic of John the Baptist, is interesting. I think it's something beyond a seal of internal symmetry.)
President Camacho

Mlad and Byssus already wrote very good reviews, so I will try to add whatever I can.

Mlad, I don’t think you can completely ignore the sacrifice/selfishness motif, considering the paramount symbolism implied by the opening scene. By the way, I believe this is the review you referenced in the response to your friend; it’s an interesting review and I will come back to it later.

I agree with Byssus that most of the nerd objections to the characters’ “nonsensical” behavior are unwarranted. The Engineer quite obviously becomes enraged by the arrogance and presumptiveness of Weyland's quest—the creation requesting a “modification” from the creator—shades of Blade Runner indeed. Yet in this case it is the creator who represents the strong, the noble, the upright judge, and the creation who is weak and cowardly. This is what has internet atheists’ panties in such a bunch.

The complaints that David’s actions are never explained are also ill-founded. He obviously sees himself above and apart from the rest of the crew, and his sociopathic behavior towards Holloway represents the distilled sterility of the Scientific Method—Holloway is simply used as a case study of cause and effect, detached from any deeper considerations.

David in fact seems to look down on even the Engineers—“Mortal after all,” he remarks disappointedly when the reanimated head explodes. While fascinated by the Engineers' physical achievements, David lacks the metaphysical impulse characteristic of sentient life—he’s befuddled in the last scene by Shaw’s desire to find out the “why”, and it never occurs to him to first ask the Engineer why he planned on exterminating Man before requesting more life on Weyland's behalf.

Metaphysic (belief in the supernatural, the otherworldy, in a higher purpose—ie, religion ), the film conveys, is the root of true creative potential. Lacking any metaphysical feeling, David is in the same class as the trilobytes and the worms-turned serpents—he can only deform and destroy.

A lot of the questions the film asks perhaps cannot be answered definitively , but there are hints dropped throughout the film which may help. Cavalorn’s review offers insight into the nature of the black slime and its connection with the Engineers’ planned extermination of man:
If true, the black goo functions in the manner of the Pnuema —a physical stand-in for the “substance” that forms the divine ordering principle of life. How then did the Engineers on LV 223 fall victim to the substance 2000 years ago when in the opening scene they seem to be selfless masters of it?

Could it be that the Engineers were punished for the Old Testament Wrath they intended to inflict on their creation? Their implicit rejection of the New Covenant simultaneous with Man’s rejection of the New Covenant—is this why the black goo turned on them? Because Wrath is again the source of the surviving Engineer’s demise when he pursues Shaw onto the escape ship.

Or perhaps they fell victim to each other and not the goo? Maybe LV 223 was the scene of an internal struggle 2000 years ago between factions of “good” and “evil” Engineers? Are the Engineers Gods, or angels? Or fallen angels? Perhaps their entire race is a stand-in for the Demiurge?

There is talk about a sequel, and I hope it's possible for Scott to come up with one that can poke at some of these questions without becoming an intergalactic "action film" like the Star Wars prequels.
Bob Dylan Roof

Byssus has won the debate. With due respect to his diving bell metaphor, I think Prometheus is a shallow film in the sense that its rich, symbolic mythology lacks the purpose and function of real myth. Yet, as Byssus points out, the film's strength consists in this range of shallow archetypes, which serve as a sounding board for "allusive resonances".

I suppose this is a predictable motif from Lindelof, whose vacuous Lost mythology (complete with allusions to antiquity) managed to sufficiently captivate viewers to warrant 6+ seasons of incoherent mystery and myth. But Promtheus fares much better, in my opinion, because the archetypes are closer to the themes to which the west imputes the most significance, such as immortality and creation.

Yes, we need a Spenglerian interpretation to supplement all of the other reviews.

According to Spengler, primitive man and child mature by affixing categories to the morass of disjointed and incoherent sensory perceptions that confront them. Contra Plato, the separation of subject and object -- inner and outer experience -- only occurs when nature is carved at the ego's joints (by imposing the categories deemed "significant" by the individual's ego). This separation gives rise in turn to "longing" and stimulates "becoming": the actualization in the outer world of possibilities experienced in our inner world. The subject then experiences "direction" through the irreversibility of becoming (things-become and the actualized in the outer world), and "dread" through experience of the "having-become" -- the end. This phenomenology is at the root of our dread of mortality, and undergirds the fear of the world experienced by child and primitive alike.

More importantly, however, is that this dread is the most creative primitive feeling, because it compels man to "bridle" the outer world through myth, art, and knowledge, and to "conjure" god by forcing the alien outer world to conform to laws. The opening scene's ritualistic overtones suggest that the sacrifice was a conjuring act, a ritual repetition of the engineer's cosmogony (to borrow a phrase from Eliade), signifying the Spenglerian Culture of the Engineers.

In contrast, as Camacho points out, David seems to lack this higher creativity, presumably because his programming was merely a limited manifestation of one man's dread. David could be seen as a manifestation of Autumnal man, whose relationship with the outer world was mediated only by a cold scientific worldview and the practical purposes of his programmer. Spengler states:

Only the spiritually dead man of the autumnal cities — Hammurabi’s Babylon, Ptolemaic Alexandria, Islamic Baghdad, Paris and Berlin to-day — only the pure intellectual, the sophist, the sensualist, the Darwinian, loses [the feeling of dread] or is able to evade it by setting up a secretless “ scientific world-view” between himself and the alien.

On the other hand, as Byssus seems to suggest, David evinces a desire to actualize the possible -- to create -- in his apparent curiosity and creative efforts with the black goo. During the first half of the film, David strives to mimic his human creators in the manner that man endeavours to mimic his own cosmogony. However, as David becomes more acquainted with the Engineers, his object of mimicry changes. Perhaps his use of the goo was his own conjuring act, a response to a feeling of dread at the uncontrollable "alien" that impelled David to know his new god, or perhaps it was merely a prudent act of a sophisticated computer programmed to serve a man with delusions of immortality.