Ridley Scott’s new film ‘Prometheus‘, the (kind of, sort of, maybe, sure, why not) prequel to his seminal sci-fi/horror film, ‘Alien‘, has been pretty divisive. It has a fairly decent rating on Rotten Tomatoes(It has a 74% freshness rating.), but that hasn’t stopped the geek community from working themselves into a nerdy froth. Which is a good thing, because at least “some” people are thinking for themselves. The problem is that there is a lot of hyperbole being thrown around. Like, “Worst movie of the year!”, or “Damon Lindelof’s family should be raped in front of him!” (Damon Lindelof is the writer, by the way.) Hurray for people. Anyways… Some of the more reasonable criticism is going after things like, the lack of character development and the nonsensical character motivations, the muddled narrative that is filled with plot contrivances and plot holes. Stuff like that. To a large degree, I agree with these things. It’s not going to win any awards for story telling, you never have a clear understanding of who the characters are beyond superficial elements. For example the main character wears a necklace with a cross on it to show that she has faith. Other than a few heavy handed and clunky verbal exchanges, that’s all the characterization your going to get. It’s all superficial stuff, but the movie wants you to think it’s more, but it isn’t. The movie poses a lot of esoteric type questions that it never really discusses or even attempts to answer. Almost as if, asking the question is deep enough, because, you know, it will make you think and stuff. Honestly though, the movie isn’t so much a “bad” movie as it’s a mediocre one. Some people’s expectations were just too high for this one. Even though it doesn’t get it’s point across in the best way, the ideas presented are indeed interesting, and worthy of discussion. So, I guess I’ll get to the point now… A lot of peoples’ frustration with the flick comes from, what I feel, is a misconception they have about the sub text of the film. It’s a fair misconception, and the title of the movie doesn’t help things. I only realized what the movie was actually referencing after I had watched the movie and did a few days of “nerdy stewing”. So, what am I talking about?(Spoilers Ahead!)
The title ‘Prometheus‘ implies that the movie has a sub textual relationship with the story of the titan Prometheus from greek mythology, but this isn’t actually the case. In fact, it relates to another story that uses the story of Prometheus as a point of inspiration. That story is Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein‘. There was a time when the novel of ‘Frankenstein‘ carried the sub-title, “The Modern Prometheus”. What Shelley was speaking to, by adding this sub-title, was the central theme of the original story(Also as a side note, and further connection, Frankenstein’s Monster has a crippling fear of Prometheus’ gift to mankind.Well played, Ms. Shelley. Well played…). The relationship between creators and their creations, and also the nature of parents and their children(I know, it’s kind of the same thing in terms of over arching theme.). What ‘Frankenstein‘ touches on, that the myth of Prometheus doesn’t, is the concept of “the meaning of a life”, or more specifically how do we define that meaning. Where do get our definition of purpose? The most readily available example of this would be Christianity. Christians have a defined “purpose” that is based in their religious beliefs. Live your life by a set of “God” given rules and then go to heaven. I know, that is a reductive description, but you get the point. They live their lives in a type of service to a benevolent creator. That is what they feel is their purpose, and if they are in good standing with “God” when they die, all of their questions concerning the nature of existence will be answered. ‘Frankenstein‘ and ‘Prometheus‘ pose a scenario in which the creations get to directly confront their creators, and then, you know, shenanigans ensue. This concept is what is really at the heart of ‘Prometheus‘, and is the sub textual through line of the film. Once you’re aware of what the movie is referencing, you can see it plain as day. You could even say that the movie is constantly beating you over the head with it. In my observation, I can see three different examples of this in the flick. Here we go!
The most prevalent example of this concept in the movie involves the character of David the android. He is, for all intents and purposes, the “Frankenstein’s Monster” of the movie, and the human characters represent “Dr. Frankenstein”. What occurred to me was how David’s interactions with the human characters was not too dissimilar to the way that the human characters interact with the monster in ‘Frankenstein‘. They treat him with with a certain amount of disdain with no real provocation or reason. His mere existence and the nature of his existence causes them to treat him less than favorably. To treat him inhumanely, in a way. Sure, he’s a robot, and that’s fair enough, but the movie implies that due to his A.I. he may actually be developing certain human capacities. You could chalk some of this up to his programming, his inquisitive nature certainly starts with a certain programmed purpose, but if he has the capacity to “learn” and make discoveries because of his programmed curiosity, then I suppose we could assume that certain “emotions” would have to develop themselves even if he doesn’t technically understand what they are. Not too different than a developing child or the monster in Shelley’s novel. Even though he appears to be a full grown adult, he’s actually not very old at all. In fact, the film, and it’s marketing, seem to suggest that he is basically a new born, and was probably only activated for the purposes of this expedition. Early on in the movie, we see David wandering around the ship learning about the nature of humans while the rest of the crew is in hyper sleep for the two year duration of the trip. One of the things he does is watch ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ over and over due to his obsession/fascination with Peter O’Toole. He makes his hair up to look like O’Toole’s, and is actually doing a weird “robotic” kind of imitation of the man as well. Now, this implies that David has the capacity, to some degree, to be aware of something and actively like and enjoy it. None of the human characters know about this, and aren’t aware that David might actually be capable of some type of emotion. Like, vindictiveness. Just like the monster in ‘Frankenstein‘, he kind of turns on everyone. There are some reasons given later in the film, but it doesn’t explain why exactly he seems to be enjoying it. These elements remind me of the monsters exile in the novel. He goes out into the world, only to be met with cruelty, and almost in a defensive stance, turns on his creator. If only to be free of the shackles of his “purpose”. David verbally expresses this sentiment at one point. He asks one of the characters why man made androids, and the response he gets is, “Because, we could.”, he then expresses a degree of disappointment by this, and it just so happens that the character that makes this statement to him, becomes David’s first victim. Another telling thing that David expresses is the idea that children aren’t free to define their own existences while their parents(Creators) are still living. When asked what he would do once his creator was dead he says, “I would be free.”, and then smiles.
The second example, is the most obvious one. The relationship between the engineers and human beings. The engineers created mankind. For what reason? The movie doesn’t say, but they did. So there! Sooner or later the engineers decide that humanity is bad news and start making some type of weaponized goo that seems to mutate people into whatever they “truly” are. I guess… The movie is not very clear on how this stuff works. Like at all… I digress… The closest thing the movie has to a main character, Dr. Shaw, wants to meet God basically. She wants to meet her makers to ask them why they made us. This refers to mans’ need for a defined purpose in life. Most people can’t deal with the fact that life is what you make of it, and you do what you can. Nope, people can’t deal with that. They require, at the very least, some hope that there is a deeper meaning to it all. She feels that if she can make some sort of contact with her creator that it might inform a deeper sense of purpose in her life, and the lives of the rest of humanity. Just like the monster asking Dr. Frankenstein, “What am I?”, just to make sense of the fact that he exists in the first place. He wants to be defined, because as he discovers later, it can be rather difficult to define oneself without a shove in one direction or another. Even when she discovers that the engineers wanted to destroy their creations it doesn’t stop her need for some kind of answer. If they wanted us dead, then why? What did we do wrong? Later on in the film, Dr. Shaw realizes she has been “impregnated” with something, and immediately wants it out of her. She wants no part of it. She reacts to her “creation” in the same way that the engineers eventual react to humans. They both come to the conclusions that their “creations” are bad news without even really taking the time to understand what exactly they have created(Granted, she was giving birth to a baby face hugger. So, there’s that…). Not unlike the way Dr. Frankenstein reacts to the monster the first time he really sees him. I wish the movie had taken more time with these ideas. Instead, in turns into a by the numbers action/horror movie for it’s last thirty minutes or so. Every time the movie threatened to become intellectually interesting, it would pull back, and be all like, “Explosion!” In other words, “Bummer City”.
The last example, is one the movie spends the least time with. Throughout the film, there are implication made that the character of Vickers, who is the Weyland Corp. representative, has some sort of hidden agenda. That she’s keeping secrets from the rest of the team. She does have an agenda, and it is revealed in a really clunky and awkward way. Vickers is speaking to Weyland late in the film, and she starts talking about the fact that every body dies, and that, “All kings eventually fall. FATHER!”(DUN DUN DUNNNN) Vickers has been waiting for her father to die so she can become the head of the company. Through his death she will be defined and have a true purpose. Up until this point it would seem that her purpose has been to wait until her father dies, but her father doesn’t want to go just yet. In fact, that’s why he funded this excursion. He’s hoping that the engineers will have some sort of key to eternal life. Now, this is the most obtuse connection to ‘Frankenstein‘, but it is there. Squint your eyes if you’re having a hard time! Sorry… Weyland has an obsession with cheating death. You could even say that his creation of the David line of androids is an extension of that obsession. He directly plays both roles of creator and creation. He figures if he could give life to something, and ostensibly create an immortal being, why couldn’t the engineers do the same for him? Sound crazy? Well, he’s a crazy old man! Anyways, that is also part of Dr. Frankensteins’ motivation. He wants to cheat death.
Those are the examples that lead me to believe that the movie is a loose adaptation of ‘Frankenstein‘. If you think about the creator and creation dynamic at play it seems pretty obvious. ‘Prometheus‘ is not a terrible movie, but the fact that it has so many interesting ideas at play and really does nothing with them is pretty frustrating. Having said that, I think the worst thing you’re going to feel after leaving the theater is a sense of being underwhelmed, but it has enough good stuff to make it at least worth the price of admission. On a side note, I would actually recommend the 3D. It uses it in a way that actually enhances the atmosphere rather than use it as a cheap gimmick.