Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green
Director: Ridley Scott
Runtime: 124 min.
Verdict: Virtually a criticism of parent/child, i.e. Alien, and its methods. The underlying message might be tad rehashed, but then there’s David. And it looks like mortality will be the dominant theme this year.
Genre: Sci-fi, Thriller
Much like the core of science-fiction, the question is not about the whys, a sneakily misleading interrogative pronoun that invariably makes us look outwards rather than inwards, reflecting a false sense of complete self-satisfaction and inner peace that we need to meet the “external” device that’s responsible. Mr. Scott, instead, probably wants to inspire within us, a sense of what, so that we may look inwards, and understand what we are. And maybe, all the answers to all those cosmic questions are right here, amongst us. It greatly bothered me, the existence of a cut every 4-5 seconds, not the spiritual/cosmic/metaphysical aesthetic that’s caused by the-cut-as-an-event approach. Here, it is blunt harsh cutting coupled with classical composition, reducing emotion to information, and destroying any hope for cosmic rumination. What the aesthetic rather inspires is the familiarity of the daily grind of life. As in, the industrial-reality/ structural-philosophy of everyday existence as against the mythology of our cosmic significance. As in, setting my expectations. As in, asking a “what” might lead to a behavior that might improve our ratings before our maker. As in, meeting an extra-terrestrial being for the first time in the history of humanity is just about as shattering an experience as meeting a person from another country, and the endeavor ought to be truly meeting (understanding) our own people.
Consider the opening moments, which do not present a patient temporality of the earth ala 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the Darwinian nature, in all its forms, is primarily temporal over and above spatial, and where it waits with limitless patience. As opposed to Mr. Kubrick, whose composition is from the nature’s perspective, Mr. Scott aligns himself with the aggressive instincts of the human, both in their quest for knowledge and survival. He flies over mountains and valleys and rivers, and reaches just-in-time to bear witness to the point in our genesis where a humanoid drinks some black liquid from a vial and disintegrates and falls into river. Dear reader, I’d read of this moment prior to watching the film, and in my imaginations there was this great black image of molten lava where darkness pretty much filled the entirety of the image, and where a figure (for a frame of reference imagine the moment from V for Vendetta, where V walks out of the burning prison) merely jumps into the waters. Of molten lava. It’s probably more metaphorical, this image of mine, although metaphorical of what I don’t know, and Mr. Scott, with his moment set in bright sunlight and deep composition, wants to have none of it. It is a blunt fact of life, though unhinged with respect to both space and time. And although a great deal of the first hour is spent in the service of lofty ambitions – the very basic variety – the absolute de-mystification of the genesis, at least for me, inspired only one question – what might be the black liquid. And as it turns out, that remains the film’s central thread, and which, in many ways, shapes the question that’s at the heart of Prometheus – what are we?
No less than four living forms come in contact with that liquid, which includes the humanoid upfront, and the results are varying. I wouldn’t want to divulge what happens on each of these occasions, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s just keep it to the fact that things disintegrate and when they integrate the basic properties are significantly amplified. The liquid thus becomes a sort of mirror, something like the ocean in Solaris, and Mr. Scott’s choice to keep almost all his characters mostly archetypical, symbolic figures described almost wholly by their traits, productive (thematically) and counter-productive (dramatically). Which brings us back to the aesthetic of the opening moments, and the inherent aggression, and the quest is for survival and proliferation. And yes, there’s the inherent narcissism. It’s doubtful whether the convenience of a few star-maps being construed as an invitation is merely a plot device or self-criticism, but it does miss the opportunity for an awesome jump-cut, from a few aligning cells to a giant industrial spacecraft wanting to align with its maker. So yeah, considering that we’re merely a reflection of the humanoid, and considering that the old man here isn’t the virgin pure astronaut (Dave) but a man pursuing his maker (oh yeah, it’s more than a nod to that ultra-white multi-dimensional room from 2001) to desire eternal survival, Mr. Scott basically has that pretty negative viewpoint of humanity. You know, the capitalism-is-greedy humanity-devours-everything viewpoint. Which can also be cause for any indulgence for the Alien-related psychosexual male-penetration gender-politics-reversal blah-blah you can find anywhere, and for which I’ve little patience. It’s one of cinema’s most grating subjects, like Hitchcock and sub-text, or Spielberg is a genius, in the service of which a million essays have already been spent on the internet. And counting. Let’s leave it there and change a paragraph.
What’s commendable here is that Mr. Scott strikes a balance between the more commercial obligations of whetting the appetite for the Alien-universe and the political implications, where there isn’t the excessive presence of the “symbolic” tangible manifestations leading to the “Other-fication” within the frame, and where the pre-baked drama is derived more about the dynamics between the team and the decisions they make. You know, like holding up a mirror. The humanoids are muscular overtly-masculine men, and I suspect Mr. Scott wants to tell us why he believes that humanity is inherently patriarchal in nature. As in, the patriarchy is within our DNA. The old man favors his artificial son over his real daughter, and a surgery bed has artificial procedures only for men. The gender equation leads to where, I’ve little idea now, and that there might be the extent of Prometheus’ thematic relevance/richness, and courtesy of those archetypes, Mr. Scott’s discourse doesn’t go much beyond the obvious. His scientific endeavor is merely a façade while he most purposefully pursues/presents his religious beliefs as absolute historical facts. As in, Christianity and mythology is real. Ms. Elizabeth Shaw (Ms. Rapace), the devout Christian here, who mentions dates in terms of “Year of the Lord”, almost commits two sins – abortion (a particularly amusing rendition of the Rosemary’s Baby predicament, and which she calls a Caesarean) and suicide – and both do not work out, keeping her sanctity intact. There’s the mural of a Prometheus-inspired humanoid with his abdomen ripped open, and the birth of the creature within the film coincides with the birth of Mr. Scott’s lord, aka Jesus Christ. I mean, Mr. Scott contrasts the act of the humanoid dying to create us, with that of the selfishness of the old man, who looks more ancient than old, the texture of the skin more fossilized then wrinkled. The humanoid himself, gigantic and opaque, feels a product of the Biblical variety of angry God than a product of Darwinian evolution. It’s all fine and dandy, but what bothers me is the white-man’s narcissism amongst all this. I might be guilty of getting a little touchy here, but why does the humanoid have to be a pure white dude? I know, I might pose the other question had he been a little colorful, but then a white muscular man jumping into a river in Africa after drinking a black liquid (inference by association) just simply strikes me the wrong way.
But then there’s David, possibly our projection, and while he walks amidst the humanoids abode, the idea of the little child walking amongst his grandparents is palpable. It was unique emotion I felt in a film that was rampant with rehashed themes, an idea that wasn’t critical or anything, but merely there, standing on its own. I still have no idea of what to make of it, but the purity of the curiosity, not of the son who’s corrupted by his own agendas but of the grandson who doesn’t have any such nonsense within him, and who represents, within a movie universe, a victory for HAL as far as first contact is concerned. It’s a great performance from Mr. Fassbender, making him both likable and sinister, and making him a creation not limited by the absence of limbs. He holds a projection of the earth in his hands, and I couldn't help but be reminded of the star-child gazing at the earth. In a movie filled with elliptical information, David is the most enigmatic of beings, seemingly much more intelligent than his grandparents. In a strange way, he exhibits the traits of everybody within the film – from seeking inspiration from the father to behaving the way the Ash described the xenomorph (that no remorse no morality blah). And although the lofty questions posed by Prometheus lead only towards one way – that of a sequel – I would remain curious about David, and what’s beating within him. I sincerely hope he’s one of cinema’s great creations.