Movie Monday #3: All Prometheus Edition (SPOILERS)
2012; Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba; directed by Ridley Scott
So the numbers are in and not a whole hell of a lot of you took too kindly to Prometheus, relatively speaking. #2 two weekends in a row isn't the kind of success rate that a major blockbuster wants, certainly not one tied to one of the most beloved science fiction films in history. It's a difficult thing for me to parse out, personally, since I thought it was the most important sci-fi movie to come out this decade, but I think it might have a lot to do with expectations. That's not exactly a novel observation where this movie is concerned, but let me explain.
I went to Prometheus with my brother and his assessment of it was that it was fair-to-middling. His reasoning behind this mostly concerned some lazy scripting errors: How the crew of the Prometheus doesn't check the camera feed to see what might have happened to two of their crewmates still stuck down in the ruins, how those same crewmates seem to conveniently forget that they have a map with them that they can use to get out of the ruins, how...well, this Penny Arcade comic does the best job of explaining this one. And so on and so forth. All valid complaints, all notable gaffes that in some way detract from the movie. And with almost any other film, I would have agreed with him that such bungling would make for significant marks against the movie.
Where I think Prometheus skews away from most other sci-fi films in this regard is that it has much, much more going on underneath the surface, to the point that most of the philosophy that one would refer to as being subtextual can probably just go ahead and be referred to as textual. There's already been so much discussed about the themes of childbirth and parricide, how the movie exists as a kind of metaphor for filial aggression. I want to talk about something else.
I want to talk about predators.
There is, to my mind, one message of the movie that comes through even ahead of the stuff about killing your parents and killing your children. Near the end of the film, David quips "Sometimes in order to create, you must first destroy." I think the point of the movie is something a little bit different: We create in order to destroy. Every character in the movie exists to die, or to become an agent of death. The crew of the Prometheus arrives seeking answers, only to awaken long-sleeping weapons of mass destruction. Was this the intention of the Engineers, the purpose outlined for humanity shown on the cave paintings at the beginning of the movie? We don't know; the creature attempts to kill David and the rest of the crew before shambling off to deliver his cache of horror to Earth.
Answers are, at every turn, denied. What did the paintings mean? What were the Aliens created to do, specifically? Was the planet really a military institution, or something even more significant? How did the one Engineer manage to survive when the rest of his colleagues were killed? Why was man made in the first place?
"Why do you hate us so much?"
"Hate" is, of course, not entirely accurate. They have to kill the humans because killing is what you do to things you create. You raise animals to feed upon them. You make bombs to detonate them. You drive a car until you don't, and then you turn it into scrap. They made us and now it's time for us to go away, because that's the kind of decision you get to make when you build something. And it's worth noting that the rule works for the humans too: Elizabeth gives birth to a monster and she, ultimately, gets to use the monster to her own ends, much how despite all his resentment and attempts at sabotage, David is still, by movie's end, a thing to be used. It's a film with about the bleakest mindset I've seen in a major film in years: It posits that man, regardless of their ambitions, is not free from the driving principle of the universe, which is that one lives only and specifically to die.
People went into Prometheus expecting a sci-fi horror movie and instead they got a philosophical treatise about the cosmic, unstoppable death march that is the human experience. You went in being told that you should look to the left while everything of note was going on to the right. Divorced from its hype and marketing, Prometheus may come to be regarded as a truly important movie and, possibly, among the most vital of Ridley Scott's handful of masterpieces. Some movies will be honest with you; very few will tell you to be honest with yourself.
One final note.
Right before the credits, we see the emergence of what is presumably the first Alien to exist. My mom and brother wrote that final scene off as being something the studio stuck in to concretely tie the movie to the Alien franchise. That's probably what it was in practical terms, but I saw it as something more. I don't think it was an accident that we are introduced to the cosmos' greatest killer directly after Elizabeth narrates "My name is Elizabeth, and I'm still searching." We are not only being shown what she has left behind; we are being shown what her travels will always, eventually, lead her to.
Death will come for you until it doesn't have to anymore, and it will get better at what it does until it doesn't have to anymore. All paths, all journeys, lead to the maw of an ultimate predator, one that is without empathy and, most tellingly, without sight. For death, like justice, is blind.
(Besides thinking about movies a lot of people didn't particularly enjoy, CJ also writes the webcomic Boys and Girls in America)