Is it possible to go home again?
Even if you can, should you? What if you don’t find what you’re looking for?
These questions and more lie at the heart of Prometheus, a sci-fi horror (?) film that has divided audiences everywhere due to its heavy mythology and open-ended narrative.
Still, these questions become even more important when one considers that Prometheus is also Ridley Scott’s much anticipated return to the Alien series, a franchise that he pioneered with the first entry back in 1979. Since word broke that Scott would come “back to the future” if you will, the internet has been abuzz with rumors and conjecture as to the nature of his film. Is it really an Alien prequel? If so, how prevalent will H. R. Giger’s now-famous beast be?
Prometheus begins with the discovery of numerous “star maps” around the globe. Believing these to be a message from an alien race that may be responsible for the origin of the human species, a research team is sent to attempt to connect with their perceived creators, even naming them the “Engineers.” Led by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), their ship—the Prometheus—lands on the distant moon LV-223 and the team begins their research. As they explore their surroundings in search of answers to life’s biggest questions, the crew quickly realizes that they are in over their heads when they unleash biological terrors that threaten their lives and, potentially, the very existence of the human race.
By now, much has been written about the difficulties of the film, be they the numerous unanswered questions or the “lack of action.” Still, I found myself drawn into this film in a way that few other sci-fi adventures (?) have done in many years. By broadening the scope of the mission, Scott adds an entirely new existential element to a franchise that had almost become a parody of itself. (I’m looking at you, Alien vs. Predator…)
This philosophical context is especially played out in Scott’s examination of human existence. By suggesting that the reality of the human experience lies within the tension between creation and evolution, it would have been extremely easy for him to simply offer a sense of bleak emptiness as his conclusion. In other words, by arguing for a sense of randomness to humanity’s existence, Scott could have focused his attention on the pointlessness of the battle itself. In fact, it’s even likely that his fans would have applauded him for it. (After all, that theme, in many ways, is more in keeping with the previous Alien films.) Instead, however, he opts to challenge society’s commonly held assumptions by framing the conversation around issues of faith and creation. This is easily best emphasized in the character of Elisabeth Shaw. As one of the key leaders of the expedition, Shaw’s goal is simply to get answers. When their ship reaches its destination, she eagerly seeks the truth about the origins of humanity. Understandably, Shaw’s convictions are quickly dismissed by other crewmembers that claim that she is “ignoring 300 years of evolutionary theory.” When pressed as to why she maintains her beliefs, her response is simply, “Because I choose to.” These types of characters are often dismissed in contemporary films, portraying them as irrelevant religious zealots. However, rather than judge Shaw for her conviction that there must be a reason for humanity’s existence, the film applauds her for it. Even with her faith, Shaw’s character is portrayed as one of both intelligence and deep conviction.
Further, Shaw’s journey exhibits a high value that our very existence holds some form of larger purpose, especially in regards to a connection with the divine. Hints of this over-arching theme come first through the film’s title. For example, in ancient Greek mythology, Prometheus is a titan who is credited with the creation of man. In addition, he is also responsible for stealing fire from the gods and bestowing it upon man in order to begin the cycle of progress. Credited as a hero of mankind, Prometheus was punished severely by Zeus for his crime, being sentenced to eternal torment. With this in mind, it is not lost that Shaw’s primary mission is to meet our ‘Engineers’ and ask them why we were created. She is adamant that our lives are part of something much larger than ourselves. In our post-modern world, one’s personal belief in God or external spiritual meaning is frequently viewed as either outdated or inconsequential. Nevertheless, Shaw’s ideology is held up with a respect by the film’s script. Yes, things spiral out of control and her questions are reshaped—“What did we do wrong?” she screams—yet she still manages to retain her faith in something bigger.
Interestingly, in many ways, I believe that Prometheus can be viewed as a metaphor for Ridley Scott’s own questions about the nature of humanity. Similar to Clint Eastwood’s exploration of the afterlife in his film Hereafter, Scott—now 74—may be coming to an age when he’s beginning to wrestle with issues of the human existence. Proof of this idea becomes particularly clear when Prometheus is contrasted with Alien, Scott’s first endeavour into the franchise. For example, whereas Alien presents the… well… alien, as an unknown force of nature, Prometheus’ newly expanded backstory begins to flesh out the creature’s history in a way that gives the evil that it represents relevance to today, even tying our lives directly to its creation.
No, Prometheus isn’t a perfect film and I can understand why so many find it frustrating. It asks a lot of questions and does not seem concerned with its lack of answers. (In fact, in a weird way, this narrative ambiguity almost leads to an inherent celebration of mystery within the film.) Personally, though, as a science fiction film—and entry into the Alien franchise—Prometheus contained all the elements that I had hoped for, including several nods to the other films in the series. However, what most stood out for me was that I found myself swept into a conversation that both surprised and captivated me.
Maybe, sometimes, you really can go home again.
Even if not everyone is happy when you do.
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender By Steve Norton
Rated R for violence and language Rating: **** (out of 5)