This piece discusses the plot of "Prometheus." Obviously, lots of SPOILERS follow.
“The trick … is not minding that it hurts.”
That quote might as well be a message to moviegoers painfully trying to find meaning in “Prometheus” (and it might just be the key to their understanding the film, as well). It comes from “Lawrence of Arabia” -- specifically, a scene featured in Ridley Scott’s new “Alien” prequel and also referenced in a supplementary viral video showing the billionaire industrialist character Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) as a young man.
Perhaps our search for answers in “Prometheus” is akin to extinguishing fire between our fingers. It hurts (our brains, not fingers) and really serves no purpose other than to be a parlour game or exercise in thinking. Some of you may enjoy this sort of puzzle even if there is no definitive solution, and some of you may be frustrated at the absence of vital pieces and an ultimate inconclusiveness (which sounds to me like life itself).
As for my primary interpretation, that “Lawrence” quote has me thinking about the act of life-giving, which is a major theme in “Prometheus.” Maybe it’s just that my first child is due in two weeks; I’ve been admiring my wife for the pain she will go through to deliver our son, and the trick will be not minding that it hurts, I suppose. Is there any better (known) answer to the question of life than the experience of childbirth? Anything else is just a belief or theory.
In “Prometheus,” the protagonist, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), is incapable of bearing children, which could be an unconscious reason why she seeks out other concrete explanations for the mystery of existence. This in spite of her claiming to be a believer, first of God and second of extraterrestrial “Engineers” who, as seen in the first scene, dropped off the primordial ingredients for Earth’s evolution (or at least for mankind’s).
Helping Shaw in the pursuit of finding both -- and therefore proving herself right -- is Weyland, who also seems to be sterile. He acknowledges that the android, David (Michael Fassbender), is as close to a son as he’ll ever have. Other external “viral marketing” materials associated with “Prometheus” state that David was given the name that Weyland had originally reserved for his own human son, implying that he could not actually have one.
As for Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the Weyland Corp. representative who is seemingly revealed to be his daughter, she is either also an android, perhaps one unaware of being such (similar to characters in Scott’s “Blade Runner”), or a stepchild, hence the different surname. There are other clues that she is one or the other -- but not Weyland’s biological offspring -- both in the film and in other “viral” bonus materials outside the on-screen narrative. For the sake of the story, though, it doesn’t actually matter which unless she shows up later in a sequel.
Weyland’s objective is to find a way to “live forever.” He’s 101 years old and not in good health, so we can assume he also means to find a way to rejuvenate his body. Or, maybe his goal isn’t so literal. Maybe he just means to live on through the passing of his genes, by discovering a cure for his sterility. That’s possibly why David conducts a reproduction experiment using Shaw and her partner, Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), as guinea pigs.
After all, there is no way Weyland could have expected the Engineers to know how to physically stay alive forever, but he would have expected they could provide an answer to the figurative idea of living on forever, that of creating in a biological, reproductive sense. Also, living forever isn’t just about forward time. Forever is infinite, in both directions, and the desire to trace the origins of our existence is relative to the desire to keep the lineage going.
But Weyland doesn’t reach the next step forward or back, as he is ironically beaten to death by his creator, the Engineer, who uses Weyland’s own creation, David, as a weapon. Symbolically, his end comes from both sides of the generative spectrum. And in death he at least technically gets an answer to one of the big questions of life: what comes next? He shouldn’t mind that it hurts to find out, even if it is insinuated that the answer is a disappointing “nothing.”
Shaw, in the end, will continue in reverse in an attempt to discover where we ancestrally come from. And for that we could end up with a never-ending number of sequels as she jumps back from creation to creator again and again through eternity. This rear-minded trajectory of the franchise could be a play on the very concept of prequels, especially when contrasted against the progressive-evolutionary focus of the “Alien” series that also branches out separately from the events of this film.
There’s an implication in the final scene that Shaw’s experimental offspring, the squid-like creature she has surgically removed from her abdomen, is an evolutionary link between her and the eponymous creatures of the “Alien” series. (that is, after another ironically symbolic death, this time of the ascendant (Engineer) by the descendant (squid baby), like a metaphorical visualization of Nietzsche's famous notion of the “death of God” and the idea that each generation is reportedly more godless than the last).
That unwanted “child” of Shaw’s is relative, meanwhile, to the Engineers’ plan to "destroy” life on Earth. Both creations are great disappointments, each revealed to be a monster capable of advancing enough to turn back on their creator. Some of this explanation comes from Scott stating that the death of Jesus was initially a part of the film’s story, while it is also clear in the film through the actions of humans, androids and the backfired biological weapons of the Engineers.
Yet neither the squid creature nor the Earth ends up destroyed by their makers, and I don’t think it’s really the point of the Engineers to end life on Earth so much as push forward its next evolutionary stage. Humans aren’t perfect, so as David implies we must be destroyed in order to create the next step. If “Prometheus” has any wisdom to impart, it’s that we have much to fear from both those who came before and those who come after, as we are just insignificant parts of the big picture. We just need not mind the hurt that comes with this realization.
Christy Lemire (AP)
The paranoia becomes palpable, and a lot of its impact comes from <a href="http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/movies/157053295.html" target="_hplink">how dramatic and dazzlingly seamless the special effects are</a>.
Katey Rich (CinemaBlend)
It's aiming to be both an epic space thriller and a spiritual treatise, and watching it almost accomplish both <a href="http://www.cinemablend.com/reviews/Prometheus-5887.html" target="_hplink">makes it all the more frustrating</a>.
Nick Pinkerton (Village Voice)
With this overreaching Prometheus, Scott seems a bit like David carefully arranging his hair in imitation of O'Toole's Lawrence. He can still mimic the appearance of an epic, noble, important movie -- <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2012-06-06/film/prometheus-ridley-scott/" target="_hplink">but the appearance is all</a>.
Rafer Guzman (Newsday)
"Prometheus" repeats many past glories, and its plot is squishy nonsense. But its grand sets and intricate effects are dazzling, <a href="http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/movies/review-prometheus-a-prequel-to-alien-1.3763919" target="_hplink">and in at least one scene, Scott almost manages to top himself</a>.
Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly)
Prometheus elicits Alien memories for viewers who have them, but works on its own, too, <a href="http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20483133_20587886,00.html" target="_hplink">as a model of a contemporary (and, as is the contempo mode, long-winded) sci-fi horror pic</a>.
Andrew O'Hehir (Salon)
"Prometheus" damn near lives up to the unsustainable hype, at least at the level of <a href="http://www.salon.com/2012/06/06/prometheus_ridley_scotts_dazzling_dumb_ass_theology/" target="_hplink">cinematography, production design, special effects and pure wow factor</a>.
Ty Burr (Boston Globe)
Watching "Prometheus" is like opening a deluxe gift box from Tiffany's to find <a href="http://www.boston.com/ae/movies/articles/2012/06/07/prometheus_follows_an_alien_path/?rss_id=Boston.com+--+Movie+news" target="_hplink">a mug from the dollar store</a>.
A.O. Scott (NY Times)
But Mr. Scott's sense of visual scale, which has often produced hectic, hectoring grandiosity (are you not entertained?), achieves, especially in the first hour, <a href="http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/06/08/movies/prometheus-by-ridley-scott-with-noomi-rapace.html?hpw" target="_hplink">something like genuine grandeur</a>.
Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times)
Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" is a magnificent science-fiction film, <a href="http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120606/REVIEWS/120609989" target="_hplink">all the more intriguing because it raises questions about the origin of human life and doesn't have the answers</a>.