WARNING: Spoilers ahoy!
Prometheus gave fire (life) to humanity, instilling humankind with the means of its own self-production and longevity. Does that make the Greek hero the ultimate God of the human race, or just another link in the chain of creation?
The eponymous movie, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, raises much the same question in the course of its own creation myth. As Prometheus is the newest release in the ever-loved Alien franchise, it is natural (and expected) that the release of Prometheus was met with both love and derision.
As I am writing a heavy-worded blog post about Prometheus, it should be fairly clear that I am one of the crowd who genuinely enjoyed the film. While it should be noted that I am a voracious fan of science fiction in general, it should also be noted that I am not a fan (in any way) of bad science fiction.
Bad science fiction includes works like Armageddon, Deep Impact, Star Wars (though I know those films aren’t technically science fiction), and Red Mars. This list could really continue on, ad infinitum, but that list would make up the remainder of this blog post.
The notion of “good” science fiction, on the other hand, is a slippery one. Sci-Fi is a very difficult genre to nail down into one good definition, and it is this self-imposed ambiguity of science fiction that allows it to express the big ideas without taking a pause. When genres become strictly defined by what they can and cannot be, they lose their ability to create new art with new ideas.
Science fiction avoids this pitball by ensuring that it maintains a proper sense of perspective through all of its grand works. When there is an outsider watching and commenting upon an aspect of humanity, good science fiction is made. The presence of an “other” forces a shift in perspective that assures the inclusion of important questions inside the narrative.
What is humanity? Why are we here? Where do we come from? What is our future? All of these questions have been asked, through the means of an “other,” by the great minds of science fiction, including Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Simmons, Sagan, Card, and (yes), Ridley Scott. (Of course, there are many others who should be in that list. Forgive me.)
Scott’s latest venture into modern science fiction through Prometheus upholds the true standard of what a science fiction work should be through its incessant questioning nature. While some movie-goers may be frustrated by the lack of answers provided in Prometheus, I assert that any movie which leaves the viewer with more questions than answers is a movie well worth watching.
This idea is clearly identified in the character of David, who is masterfully portrayed by Michael Fassbender. The viewer never knows where exactly the allegiances of David lie, and it is the uncertainty of David’s set of motivations that confuse and confound the audience (purposefully). How can we expect to possibly understand the thoughts and actions of a mechanical mind? We cannot. We are not meant to.
David is an enigma within the story of Prometheus who is meant to throw a literal wrench (or poison) into the gumworks. His questions of creation and parentage are absolutely central to the overall theme of Prometheus, which is a theme of choice and consequence. Does David choose to poison his crewmate, or is he ordered to? The answer doesn’t matter — only the question does. This insertion of doubt into the story further propels a tense narrative into arm-wrenching drama.
The drama in the film is well done, though there are some points where the characters fall into classic horror movie plot traps. There is some questionable logic apparent. Did the biologist really need to touch the monster worm snake thing? Was that good scientific practice? Clearly, it wasn’t.
That aside, though, the story of the film holds up very well through the course of the film. We want to know “Who, What, When, Where, and Why,” with the ever-popular “How” left by the wayside. Fortunately, the how does not matter as much as the act of questioning in and of itself.
Prometheus brilliantly illustrates humanity’s search for meaning and life in a dark and empty universe, devoid of apparent meaning. Would you have been satisfied for the true answer to a meaning for life found within a two hour movie? I doubt it.
If you have seen Prometheus, I would strongly encourage you to reflect on the questions that the movie raised in order to appreciate the incredible story-telling that took place within. If you haven’t seen it — go to!