Long ago in ancient times there was a trickster amongst the gods named Prometheus. Credited with creating man from clay, Prometheus sought to level the playing field between god and man. He stole fire from the gods and provided it to humankind, sparking a wave of new technology and advancement to come over the following millennia. Prometheus did not go without punishment and for his crime he was tied to a stone while an eagle came every day to consume his liver, which would regenerate each evening due to his immortality.
Director Ridley Scott’s new film, Prometheus is a cerebral knockout that not only considers the mythology of this titan but also further builds on to its mystery. Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have recently discovered the same “star man” figure from numerous ancient cultures that never would have been in contact with one another. Shaw sees this as an invitation to find out answers to some of mankind’s greatest questions: Why are we here? What is our purpose?
Fast-forward four years. The spaceship Prometheus glides towards its unknown destination. The ship has been travelling for two years while its crew are in hyper sleep. Only David (Michael Fassbender) is awake during the trip. He is an android that takes care of whatever needs to be done while the others slumber, blissfully unaware of their curious overseer. Along with Shaw and Holloway the team includes fellow scientists as well as members and hired guns of Weyland Industries, the company that has funded every aspect of this exploration. Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) represents Weyland on the ship and has final say on what this mission will ultimately be about and how far they will go to find their answers.
It’s this mystery to find answers long considered futile that intensifies Scott’s already impressive film. Like many great science-fiction thrillers, Prometheus raises more questions than it answers. For some this is cheating the audience because most people enjoy some sort of closure with their stories but if you know anything about Scott’s films you know this just isn’t going to be the case.
Easily the most intriguing aspect of this movie is the religious tone: over, under and throughout the narrative. Shaw represents this tone as she continuously fiddles with the crucifix on her neck. Flashbacks and dreams of her father explaining the afterlife as paradise further push religion to the forefront of this narrative. When asked how a scientist can continue to believe in God even after all she has seen on this new yet familiar planet, Shaw’s response is simply, “Because that’s what I choose to believe.”
There is a certain subtlety to this sort of writing that sets a fire in the mind and mouth’s of cinephiles. Shaw’s answer seems like a stubborn child’s nonsense but this is exactly how it is supposed to seem. A similar scene between Holloway and David attempts to answer the question why we came to be. David simplifies the question and asks why Holloway thinks he was created, to which he responded, “Because we could.” This brutal response clearly affects David as he mentions how terribly disappointing it would be to hear Holloway’s creator tell him the same answer.
Fassbender’s mercurial performance is striking in how calculated and cold he makes David to be. Fascinating scenes explore the idea of what it is to be human and the fear of androids becoming more human than human. There is a fine line between comfort and distress, which David is very aware of and does his best to smile when spoken to and show sorrow when a crewmember is killed. We have created androids in our own image because it makes us feel at ease to see someone who is like them. It’s easier for the mind to trust flesh — synthetic or real — rather than metal and wires. As the story unfolds there is no doubt David has his own desires for the expedition and the question constantly rises from his actions: What are we willing to do to find the answers we’ve been looking for? It’s no wonder his favourite movie is Lawrence of Arabia, the story of a man moving between cultures desperately trying to maintain control anyway he can.
Visually, this film is out of this world. Spectacularly disgusting set pieces are seen throughout creating more of a real atmosphere that green screens lack. But this film is larger than life and needs a bit of the grotesque to hearken back to the grit and slime of the Alien universe. But Prometheus is sharper, cleaner and more psychological thriller than horror.
As with many films, this too was slightly ruined by the constant barrage of marketing that surround its production. From its early inception Prometheus was branded as a prequel to Alien when this is plainly not the case. This is the reason I’ve not mentioned Alien until the previous paragraph. Instead, this narrative stands on its own though does share the same universe with its predecessors. The DNA may be the same but the stories are wholly different.
In the quest to find our origin and advance our civilisation how far should we be willing to go? Prometheus experienced a life of torment and pain for giving humankind the means to create further advances in technology. Mans’ desire to level the playing field with the gods is a story as old as time and the attempt at answers inevitably leads to more questions. Scott takes us on a journey into one of the many possibilities that explains the origin of our species. Before long, you too will share Shaw’s viewpoint of believing in whatever you choose to, because in life the truth rarely satisfies a curious mind.