Prometheus Review – Symbols and Themes

Prometheus, directed and produced by Ridley Scott, had quite a bit of hype, especially from me. It was great, and had a few plot holes in the second half that didn’t quite ruin it, but were unpleasant.

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Many viewers will not “get it” if they have not seen and remember the original Alien movie. It’s not just another shoot-em-up sci-fi movie, it’s a pretty big deal for fans of the series. If you plan on seeing Prometheus and don’t remember the 1979 Alien film or haven’t seen it, I think it’s essential that you watch Alien first.

The characters were good. Not phenomenal, but good. And the acting was excellent, for the most part. I felt sorry for the archaeologist, Elizabeth Shaw, and I just wanted to give her a hug the whole second half of the movie. The android, David, was also a memorable character. Elements of Blade Runner were present in this character, specifically the idea of the “tears in the rain” monologue. In fact, the actor for the android avoided watching the original Alien movies, and instead got the inspiration for his character from Blade Runner.

The two screen writers, John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (co-creator of Lost), did a decent job. Spaihts is somewhat new to the writing scene, but has experience writing sci-fi. He wrote the original script, but then Lindelof rewrote it, probably fixing some things while creating more plot holes. I think it was the script that took away the most from the film. I don’t know which writer is more responsible. But I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say Lindelof, considering he’s been writing about being stranded on a tropical island for years, and then suddenly jumps into the sci-fi genre. Seriously, someone who once wrote for a MTV show called Undressed–clearly a sign of writing just for money–has no business messing with the Alien universe. I just had to let that out.

The cinematography was amazing. Just as expected from a Ridley Scott movie. The intro shots were especially good, and the imagery provided in the opening scene let me know that Scott had not forgotten that important part of Alien. Most of Scott’s movies are deep and full of thematic elements. He did not disappoint with this one.

—SPOILERS BELOW—

The movie opens with a humanoid, pale alien standing on top of a waterfall on Earth, probably tens of thousands of years ago. He drinks a black liquid (which seems to be alive) and we witness rapid changes in his DNA, as the strands are twisted apart. His skin starts to deteriorate and he falls into the waterfall, with his limbs falling apart. He dies and supposedly plants his DNA in Earth, so it can have life. I think the purpose of this scene is to show that the humanoid aliens are responsible for life on Earth.

The first half of the movie is the best. I appreciate buildup. The two main scientists are trying to discover these “Engineers” on an alien planet, indicated by star maps found across Earth. The Engineers are assumed to be the creators of human life; the humanoid at the beginning scene was an Engineer. I find it funny that Meredith, the Weyland Corporation employee, is so controlling of their expedition. It’s allegorical to PhD researchers who have to deal with being controlled all the time.

Throughout the first half especially, it was surprisingly philosophical and spiritual. I know that Ridley Scott wanted to take it this way; he believes that most science fiction films don’t cover these topics, when they should. During their transit to the alien planet, which takes two years in cryosleep, David (the android) observes Shaw’s (the female archaeologist) dreams. In the dream she is a little girl with her dad on what seems to be a digging expedition. A cross necklace appears over the image in the dream a few times; this symbol becomes important later on. She and her dad discuss what happens after death, and her dad says it’s something like paradise. She asks why he says so, and he replies “because that’s what I choose to believe.”

David, being an android who is troubled by his existence, is the main cause of all the trouble that ensues. At one point he asks Charlie Holloway (Shaw’s love interest) why they created him. Holloway replies “because we could.” David goes on to ask if Holloway would be satisfied if he asked his creator that question, and got the same answer. There are many points like this in the movie, which help propagate the existential dilemma that exists in the human mind. The whole philosophical part of the movie is based around the “greatest question,” regarding who/what created us and why, who created the creator and why, and so on. I think the important conclusion in the movie to this question, is that there is no answer, and never will be. It’s about living with existence and enjoying it best you can.

It’s not exactly known why David infects Holloway with the black fluid. It’s either due to his immense curiosity or receiving orders from Peter Weyland, who is secretly hiding on the ship. After Holloway is infected by taking the drink offered to him by David, he visits Shaw in her room. She’s found that the Engineer’s DNA is a match to human DNA. Holloway says they’ve found their creators, and tells her she can take her father’s cross off now. She refuses to, saying that they don’t know who created their creators.

We learn that Shaw is unable to bear children, and she’s quite upset about it. The two proceed to sleep together that night. And it’s easy to see it coming that whatever was in Holloway’s system would be in her system now. On their next expedition outside, Holloway becomes too sick and ends up volunteering to be immolated, to avoid spreading the infection. The event was traumatic for Shaw, but Holloway’s death didn’t have much of an impact on the plot.

After Holloway’s death, David is checking Shaw for infections in the medical bay. David insists that she takes off her cross necklace for the body scan. She complies and David takes the cross. She learns that she is three months pregnant. It’s also revealed that it is “not a traditional fetus.” Almost immediately after learning this, she says “I want it out” and screams “get it out of me.” Just ten hours ago, she was desperate to have a child, and now she wants an abortion. She doesn’t know whether or not it’s dangerous, but she assumes it is. David reflects on the circumstances and says “it must feel like your God abandoned you.” The symbolism here is obvious.

The next scene is one of the most disturbing I’ve seen in a movie, not just because of the graphic aspect, but the emotion as well. Shaw escapes from the medical bay and finds the emergency surgery pod, in hopes to remove the developing fetus. She finds out that the pod is meant for male patients only, after requesting a caesarean section. I find it odd that it would be calibrated for male patients only. There’s a symbolic importance in this, I haven’t quite figured it out yet. She proceeds to have a “foreign body” removal surgery instead, and injects herself with painkillers and enters the pod. The painkillers are not enough for anesthesia, and the process is painful. Her lower stomach is slit open and a mechanical arm reaches in and pulls out the alien fetus, which begins squirming violently, trying to get back inside her stomach.

She’s now trapped inside the surgery pod with the partially developed alien baby being held above her, as her stomach is stitched back up. She manages to get out of the pod and contain the alien inside. Since it was moving around in her stomach, it was probably gestated enough to survive on its own outside. I think Ridley Scott was referring to this scene and a few others when he was asked about the rating and said “the question is, do you go for the PG-13, or do you go for what it should be, which is R? Financially it makes quite a difference… essentially it’s kinda R… it’s not just about blood, it’s about ideas that are very stressful.”

What happened next really threw me off. She re-enters the medical bay and it is revealed that Peter Weyland, the founder of the Weyland company, is alive and aboard the ship. The main reason this threw me off is because the mood set from the last scene was completely lost and forgotten. There is no mention ever made by anyone of the alien fetus that was inside Shaw. But her pain is still clearly presented.

So Peter Weyland is much too old to be alive (obviously being kept alive by technology–transhumanism) and wishes to ask the Engineers to extend his life. His character is someone who has not accepted death, and is desperately clinging to life. In order for him to walk into the buried ship with the Engineers, he must have mechanical assistance from a suit he wears. He doesn’t even get to ask his question to the awakened Engineer before being pummeled to death by it. I guess he got his answer.

The Engineer that was awakened doesn’t appear that intelligent, even though they are presented as super-intelligent beings. He refuses trying to communicate with the humans and just resorts to killing them. He then readies the ship in order to go to Earth and spread the black liquid among the population, which appears to be a biological weapon at this point, which mutates humans into overpowered monsters. This is the part of the plot that’s annoying, it feels like it was just kind of thrown in there.

The captain back on the human ship decides to sacrifice himself to bring down the ship by suicide bombing it, to prevent Earth from being destroyed. The two other crew members on the bridge agree to sacrifice themselves as well. They had previously made a bet, and one agrees to pay up “on the other side.” The cinematography at work here is clearly stating the importance of their belief in the afterlife. They raise their hands, as if riding a roller coaster, before they collide with the alien ship. It’s noticeable that the daughter of Peter Weyland is also desperately clinging to life. We see her struggling to make it to an escape pod and put on a space suit in time. She makes it out, but is still crushed by the crashing alien ship, revealing that her struggle was meaningless.

Shaw manages to survive the crash and makes it back to the surgery pod room where the alien that she carried is contained. It has grown to be huge and resembles an octopus (which was actually Dan O’Bannon’s original idea of the facehugger). David, who has been decapitated but is still functioning, radios her and warns her of the Engineer who is approaching the ship. I’m not sure why the Engineer found it necessary to try and kill her. Maybe he was just angry after his ship crashed, or trying to eliminate all the humans that were left. When the Engineer enters, she opens the containment area and the octopus alien is released. I’m going to call it the Master Facehugger, since it’s basically a very large facehugger and starts the whole process of the queen alien, except it resembles a sea monster more than a crab or a spider. So the Master Facehugger grabs hold of the Engineer while Shaw escapes, and latches onto him to begin the process of alien gestation.

After Shaw finds David, she asks him where her cross necklace is. It seems that after finding David and putting the necklace on, she has regained her strength to keep going. Just before this, she was lying on the ground, telling David “I can’t do this anymore.” After that, she puts David’s head in a duffel bag and gets out of the ship (this generated many laughs in the theatre). Most of the ending dialogue between Shaw and David was weak and not well thought out.

Death acceptance and death denial are huge thematic elements. During the dream early in the film, Shaw as a little girl saw a man being carried in a funeral and asked her dad why he died. Her dad says, “sooner or later, everyone dies.” It sometimes seems, that part of the crew is clinging to their current life, and the other part may be clinging to the afterlife. It proposes the question–what does it mean to accept death? It’s symbolic to the never-ending struggle to find peace with existence.

The theme regarding motherhood and abortion is also important. A friend of mine pointed out an interesting fact in the Aliens film. When Ripley finds the queen alien, it’s kind of a horrifying scene, and she has all of her eggs around her and is violent, in a less-than-happy situation. That particular movie was released during a time when feminism was starting to become successful. The Alien franchise has always carried a subliminal message.

For those who don’t believe Alien movies have an underlying message, read what the screenwriter for the 1979 movie, Dan O’Bannon, said: “One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex… I said ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number.’”

So, in reality, there’s much more going on in movies than most people are aware of. Only certain people will see it, and some will interpret it differently. That’s alright, that’s what art is meant for.

Another thing worth mentioning are the snake-like monsters they found. Before those appeared, an earthworm was shown in the soil around the area. So after the black liquid was released, the earthworm must have been infected and morphed into the monster.

Also, the ending sequence of the Xenomorph (black colored alien) leaves more questions. It would seem that it is the queen alien, and it proceeds to lay eggs in the crashed ship, which they find in the original movie. If it’s not the queen alien, then there’s still the possibility of using the other live Engineers that are sleeping for gestation. Either way, it makes enough sense to proceed to the original movie. Although, the Space Jockey scene is not exactly explained. Note: these were my original thoughts on the Xenomorph at the end, right after viewing. It’s been confirmed that they are actually on a different planetoid.

There has been some speculation that the pale-skinned humanoid aliens are not the Engineers. I’d consider this a definite possibility, which opens up another great batch of questions. Looks like we’ll have to wait for a sequel to Prometheus to know for sure.

Overall, it’s a very thought provoking and stunning film. The visual effects and sound were incredible, and the use of CGI didn’t take anything away from the movie. In the end, however, the original 1979 Alien will always be the most memorable one.

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