Monday, June 11, 2012

Prometheus Explained - SPOILERS GALORE

WARNING: If you have not watched Prometheus and are intending to see it, you are STRONGLY ADVISED to not read any further as this will seriously degrade your movie experience.  

I watched Prometheus for the 2nd time over the weekend.  I was very surprised at the drop in tension second-time round, something Prometheus doesn't share with its cousins in the franchise (ALIEN, ALIENS and ALIEN RESURRECTION).

Despite watching the film for the 2nd time, some aspects have bothered me.  I've done a little research which has had a surprising result (beyond the nature of the possible answers themselves).  In my first review, I made a bold statement - calling Prometheus 'filmmaking at its finest' and 'possibly the best science fiction film I've ever seen.'  On second viewing, I wondered whether I was high on something when I wrote that.  Some folks on Facebook have echoed less than stellar praise, like this: "Prometheus. Same old story, different planet. Slightly disappointed. Visually acceptable. But that's just my opinion."

While I don't agree with that assessment, I did begin to doubt my own high praise.  But the interesting thing about researching some of the questions I had was discovering the rich fabric of forums and factoids associated with the mythos of this story. It's great to see so much discussion, curiosity and conjecture surrounding this - admittedly incredible - story.  To be honest, one of my dreams is to publish a film-worthy title, with the proviso that it gets people talking, perhaps inspires change, even stimulates improvements in our collective psychology and behaviour.  Promethesus does exactly this. Prometheus succeeds by being something exceedingly rare in modern cinema - an intelligent film.  There are three recent films which have achieved the almost impossible - which is to be runaway box office successes, and be brilliant and sincere in their messages.  These are Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, Jim Cameron's AVATAR, and Scott's Prometheus.  

To be perfectly honest, Prometheus hasn't done incredibly well at the box office - so far it is trading punches with the likes of Madagascar 3, and losing.  Prometheus opened with a credible $50 million in the States, about $10 million behind the animated circus animal franchise. 

But I do remain effusive about a film that challenges its audience in so many ways, and courageously puts to us some of the most difficult questions we face.  Without further adieu, let's look at some of them [SPOILER ALERT]:

1. What happens during the opening montage? Does the humanoid knowingly commit suicide, what's going on?

Firstly, ritual appears to be part of the process - something which feels right based on the humanoid's monkish attire, but also because the same ritual is hinted at later in the film when the android David activates a holographic display.  Here's another view that I found helpful:

It can be assumed that the Humanoid or "Space Jockey" at the beginning of the movie was standing on Earth, and the liquid that he drank was probably the same matter that David discovers (when he says "big things have small beginnings"). Supposedly this liquid dematerialises the Space Jockey's DNA which eventually combined with Earth's water gives rise to all living beings on earth, including humans. Why the Space Jockeys couldn't have extracted DNA from stem cells or even just manufactured it, remains a mystery. One theory is that that along with the mythology behind the movie title, the space jockey standing on Earth stole the technology from the biological weapons seen on LV-223, to create new life instead of destruction. This lone dissident having no means to add the space jockey/human genome to the liquid compound had to make do with what he had; his own body. Concept art of the film showed an extended opening scene involving two Space Jockeys. An elder SJ gives a younger looking SJ the cup of black liquid in a ritualistic manner. So the opening scene is part of a ritual to begin the creation of organic life on any given planet. The scene is rumored to have been shot so it may end up on the home release as behind the scenes or deleted footage. 

While the idea that a lone jockey stole technology to create life, rather than destroy it, sounds interesting, I'm not sure if it has any merit.  For starters, there was no life on Earth at the time.  And secondly, the ship hovering overhead implies that others knew what he was doing, and approved.  I suspect that it was a ritual act, which was done on perhaps a few planets as a form of 'seeding' the galaxy experiment. The aspect that is perhaps not done very well, or which implies something different, is the surprise and pain the humanoid experiences during his death throes.  You would think a conscious decision to sacrifice oneself would be associated with a more serene, almost expressionless decomposition.

2. Is Vickers an Android?

I didn't come up with this question, but came across it and found the reasoning compelling.  This is why Scott's film is so powerful and compelling, because obviously a lot of thought has gone into the details.  
It's never revealed if Vickers is indeed a android, it's left ambiguous, although there are a few hints at her being synthetic. Therefore, it's up to the viewer to decide.

Evidence for the android theory; (1)She refers to Weyland as "Father". Weyland seems too old to be her father, with Vickers being too young to be his daughter. She may call Weyland father in the same way David refers to Weyland as "father", in the sense that she was made by and serves Weyland. (2) Vickers also appears to throw David against the wall with ease, which would seem strange if Vickers is indeed human. We see in
Alien how hard it is to physically move an android, when Ash attempts to kill Ripley it takes two people to stop and restrain him. (3) The surgery-module in her escape pod only performs operations on males, as shown when Shaw attempts to perform a cesarean section, odd considering the point of such a device would be to heal injuries inflicted on Vickers or the entire crew (or possibly just for Weyland), suggesting that she doesn't need medical assistance. (4) While Vickers sleeps in a cryo-chamber for the trip and David doesn't; we are shown Ash in Alien to sleep in a cryo chamber as well; Ash was masquerading as human and so Vickers may have been doing the same. (5) She shows little or no emotion at the death of Weyland, although he is supposedly her father.

Evidence against android theory; (1) While Weyland might be considered too old to be her biological father, it's not impossible nor unheard of for men in their later years to father children with younger women; it's also possible that she had spent a good part of her life in cryo sleep while Weyland was not, so she could very well be older than she has aged. (2) She sleeps In a cryogenic chamber, which an android would not need; it's possible that she is designed and instructed to act like a human, especially if she is there to carry out the will of Weyland discreetly. Sleeping in a cryogenic chamber would be good cover and would remove any suspicion. (3) Vicker's first appearance has her recovering from cryo-sleep doing sit ups and just trying to work off the "cryo hangover". When the only person awake was David, therefore she wouldn't need to pretend to be human at this point if she was indeed an Android. (4) It's implied that she has sex with Janek, if she was an Android she likely wouldn't have done this. (5) She shows strong emotions such as anger and despair. She becomes angry with David and panics when towards the end of the film. She shows frustration and exhaustion when she is running to her escape pod, this wouldn't be present if she was an android like David. (6) Vickers is also visually annoyed when Weyland mentions that David is like a "son" to him; if she is human then it's very understandable that she is jealous of Weyland relationship with David. (7) She becomes angry with Weyland's quest to beat death, which suggests that she is human and capable of showing emotion rather than David blind desire to follow his orders. (8) Vickers mentions that back on Earth, her and Weyland constantly argued about who was in charge of the company. It seems unlikely that Weyland would leave his company to be run by an Android. It seems to stand that Vickers was actually his biological daughter. In Weyland's hologram at the beginning, he said David was the closest thing he ever had to a
son. He never says he didn't have any daughters. 

It is interesting that Vickers emerges fairly strong from her Cryo-sleep, has no sympathy for Christmas trees, and doesn't hesitate to immolate one of her staff.  That said, she appears a tad too passionate and emotional (given the very limited scope of her feelings for others) to be a robot.

3. Why is there always a robot on board?

Fans of the franchise may be surprised to learn that the synethetic's names run alphabetically through the series.  So the first film starts with 'A'sh, followed by 'B'ishop, then Winona Ryder as 'C'all and now 'D'avid.  As to the point of having a synethetic on board - all of the ALIEN films excel in having us confront our innate lack of humanity.  The alien in question is not really the monster without, but the monster within (which is literally in us, and is us).  It is this rich repertoire of metaphor that gives the series its raw power.  The perhaps never more so than now do Scott's sentiments resonate - the psychopathic greed of the company, the danger of unbridled ambition allied with advanced technology, the folly and fragility of human endeavours when venturing into the unknown, and then the incredible (but perhaps ultimately fickle) fight for survival.  There's a final point worth making given this framework - and that is the evolution of complexity, whether it is the evolution of a monster, a company, a human being and his toys, or - perhaps most pressingly - the evolution of systemic failure.  How do things fall apart? 

4. Why did Janek help Shaw?

This is another question that didn't particularly bother me, but is nevertheless worth asking.  Here's an interesting take on that:

At first glance it seems odd that Janek, his pilots Chance and Ravel would sacrifice themselves so willingly. Janek does tell Elizabeth Shaw that he will do anything to stop the Engineers, it is likely that he also told Chance and Ravel his feelings off screen. In addition, their motivation is not only because of Shaw's brief convincing argument but because they have nothing to lose from the time they left Earth, effectively on borrowed time. This is hinted when Meredith Vickers asks David if anyone died during the hyper sleep, substantiating that Janek and crew knew they may not even reach LV-223 alive in the first place. Therefore, for Janek and crew to stop the Engineers spaceship using the Prometheus, especially given their military background, for the greater good of mankind was not beyond possibility.

There's a lot more to say, and speculate, but for the sake of brevity, I'm going to conclude here with this final paragraph.  I maintain that Prometheus is deserving of the accolade 'finest science fiction' ever made by virtue of the absolute visual beauty and the strong currents of intelligence that permeate this film.'s Ben Kendrick writes similarly: "Prometheus delivers a sci-fi experience and story that is nearly unmatched in a modern movie theater experience..."  Kendrick adds that Prometheus delivers a plot that has horrors "with Earth-shattering consequences for humanity."  This imaginative look at our origins (and perhaps our destiny) is very rare in modern cinema. Aren't we supposed to go to the movies to escape our conundrums, not confront them?  It is impossible not to watch Prometheus and not feel at turns extremely uncomfortable.  I would say that is exactly how we ought to feel inside the cinema, and outside, in our present circumstances in the real world.  And if we do, perhaps we can be propelled to doing something constructive to change the course of human history, for the better.

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