Prometheus And Faith, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 22 2012 @ 12:17pm

One of many viewers who got preoccupied with the plot holes (spoiler alert and probably NSFW):

A reader writes:

You write that Prometheus "was like The Tree of Life combined with 2001: A Space Odyssey. I quickly forgot the plot issues and marveled at its grand sweep." I know this has movie has been debated to death, but I think that gets at EXACTLY what I liked about it. I do think you slightly overstate just how "Christian" the movie is (I think you could even start an interesting argument about whether the movie is, in fact, suggesting that there is no God, despite what humans continue to cling to), but the fact that it can persuasively be read that way – and lead me to think about all the possible implications – is part of what I liked about it.

I also suggest reading Jim Emerson's highly-detailed look at the film, because he's arriving at a similar place from a different direction, writing that "when a film shows so little regard for the basic craftsmanship of storytelling and character, you have to consider the possibility that the filmmakers are telling you that they'd prefer it to be viewed in other terms." And ultimately, I think that's why there are two reactions to Prometheus: Either the "epic sweep" worked for you well enough that the plot-level stupidities could be forgiven, or it didn't, and they couldn't. They definitely did for me.

Well, it's good to know I'm not completely out of it. Another writes:

Looking forward to the thread, because, one, I loved the movie, and two, was really surprised by how many people disliked the film and thought it was vapid. The brilliance of Scott's film is its depiction of Life as Striving, and that Striving and Order are always intimately interwoven with Death and Chaos.  That creation and destruction are one.

The film is filled with depictions of striving for survival, growth, procreation, birth, and curiosity.   These forms of striving are what lead to all the death and chaos, which lead to, you guessed it, more survival, growth, procreation, birth, and curiosity. This is all done in a religious tenor, the idea being that we all need to take a real look in the mirror.  We are the engineers, we are the aliens, we are the black goo, and we are David.

In my mind the KEY to the film, its views on faith, and the big questions it asks is DAVID.   David shows us the central idea of the film, that Life is Striving and Striving is intimately wrapped up with Death and Chaos. David is our creation, just like the black goo is the creation of the engineers.  We created him in our creativity, in our striving, because we could. David is the pandora's box of our creativity just as the black goo is the pandora's box of the engineers' creativity. Think of David's role in the film.  David is always opening doors.  David is always discovering.  David is always curious. David is tinkering.  David is technology.

Three other depictions worth noting:

1. Every form of death depicted is involved with Life Striving for continuation, except one.  Charlie, when he is infected by the super-fecund black goo, lays out his hands like Christ on the Cross and initiates his own death.  He knows that for the continuation of those he loves, that this ever-growing life force inside must be killed, and this will only come about through the sacrifice of his own striving for life.  He lets go of his will to live out of compassion for others.

2.  It is no coincidence, that all of the aliens that emerge from the black goo are either Vulvic or Phalic, sometimes both as in the case of the snakes, that look like phalluses until they open and become vulvic.   Similar to the Hindu's use of the Lingam and the Yoni,  Scott is utilzing primal sexual symbols in his depictions.  In so doing he draws attention to the procreative nature of the thing which is killing the humans.    That this killing is primarily generative.  As we see perfectly depicted when the wedding of the engineer and the giant octopus alien give birth to the Alien at the end.

3.  We leave the film with the protagonists' curiosity about why the engineers want to destroy us.   If we take the perspective of the engineers the answer might seem pretty easy.  Their experimenting with the creation of life went horribly awry.  The black goo got out of their control, and the life forms it produced were so striving that they ultimately killed the engineers.  They learned the nature of creativity, and now their creation has an ability to build space ships, and robots, and travel throughout the galaxy.  For their own survival it might be wise to put an end to this experiment.
The answer is found when we ask ourselves, why do we want to kill Aliens?  Or for that matter, why do we kill other life forms in general?

Another adds:

I know that 3D can be irritating sometimes, but you HAVE to go see Prometheus in 3D. I have seen my share of 3D movies, and when the 3D is overdone, it is really annoying. But this film does 3D right, with nothing up close that  you need to pay attention to. The depth is mostly recessive, like you are looking in on a scene through a window. Even Roger Ebert, a notorious hater of 3D, thought it was decent: [I]t's a seamless blend of story, special effects and pitch-perfect casting, filmed in sane, effective 3-D that doesn't distract.

More reader discussion at our Facebook page. One commenter:

What surprises me is how so many comments express surprise about a religious or spiritual theme in science fiction. The tension between the spiritual and the material, the quest for precursors to the human race, or something beyond chance as the driver of human development, even the character who is unobtrusively religious but whose actions are driven by her religious beliefs – all these have been used again and again the literature of science fiction, and are no strangers to the cinema of SF, either. Shaw may be more overtly a woman of faith than the characters of Lois McMaster Bujold and Elizabeth Moon (among others), but her literary genetics owes a lot to Cordelia Naismith, Kylara Vatta, and the like.


Much of the plot is derivative of HP Lovecraft, who wrote of ancient aliens visiting earth and their megalithic cities in "At The Mountains of Madness" and other novellas. Visually it was stunning. The plot about "Space Gods" seeding earth with DNA to jump start human evolution is an old one in SF also – it's called "Panspermia" and has its own Wikipedia entry about its uses in SF, etc.