Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Prometheus (2012)

So I saw Prometheus a few days ago and enjoyed it, despite having some mixed feelings.  I won't do a detailed review because I'm still digesting it, but I came across this interpretation on some blog shared by someone on Facebook.  For now I just want to offer some reactions to the reading the blogger is pushing.

It's an interesting piece. However, some Facebook commenters expressed disappointment with the film in light of this piece, and I don't see why its interpretation reflects poorly on Ridley Scott or the movie. 

It seems like the blogger is suggesting that Prometheus has lots of rich religious and mythic symbolism. In my opinion, that's cool and interesting. This is especially so since the blogger had to bring in lots of stuff most people have probably never heard of to explain and defend his reading. Maybe I'm being too low-brow here, but that fact makes his repeated jabs at Scott for being "unsubtle" seem pretty silly and overdrawn.  But I digress.

I guess the mythic/religious symbolism could be seen as making the movie bad or "worse" if we take Scott to be endorsing some kind of narrowly pro-religious message, though come to that, I would wonder why that fact makes the movie bad. And I doubt that idea is really fair to Scott, as he is outspokenly atheistic and claims the Christ-centric reading appealed to him as an anti-religious message. After all, on the blog's reading, the crucifixion is seen by God (the Engineers) as an indictment of the human race, not the instrument of its salvation -- even indirectly and despite ourselves, as in Christian theology (or the Mickey Mouse version of it we Facebook critics were relying on). If we wanted to align the Engineer's point of view more closely with the Christian God's, maybe we could suppose that they were disappointed by humanity's failed uptake of the meaning of Christ's self-sacrifice? But that doesn't square with their supposed resolution to destroy us as soon as the crucifixion occurred. Don't we get at least a few centuries to respond to that event? And besides, the blogger's supposition is that the crucifixion was not intended by the Engineers.

But anyway, the Christ-was-a-Space-Jockey scenario isn't the only possible explanation for why the Engineers supposedly changed their minds about the human race. For one thing, Scott chose not to endorse that reading or promote it in the film, despite having considered it. And for all we know, the Engineers didn't change their minds. Maybe all along they were breeding the human race as fodder for their biogenic weapons, which they simply lost control of on LV-223 as they prepared to cull the human population 2,000 years ago. After all, ostensibly all-powerful agencies having grand plans that blow up in their faces is a big theme in both Alien and Blade Runner.

Which reminds me, I'm not convinced at all that the Engineers are simply celestial "gardeners" of life. To begin with, the captain of the Prometheus, whose "just a grunt" standpoint is often more realistic and perceptive throughout the film, describes the installation on LV-223 as a military base. And the presence of the Xenomorph/"Destroyer" creature in the mural the blogger makes so much of suggests that the Engineers have had prior dealings with these beasts. Does it really make sense to suppose that the proto-Xenomorph we glimpse at the film's end just happens to almost exactly resemble the image in the mural, if that image was merely a figurative representation of death thought up by the Engineers?

Anyway, basically I liked the movie because I like translucent, 8 foot tall bodybuilders that bash puny insect humans with severed, still-alive heads without batting an eye. FTW!

***Follow-up: August 13, 2012***

I saw Prometheus again tonight and I'm more sure than ever that it was dismissed far too hastily by lots of people.  There's lots of cool nuances I missed the first time through, including:
  • A lot of dense interplay between the roles of creator and created being along an unstable and indefinite spectrum of humanity -- richly interwoven and sometimes incompatible roles that are occupied by all the central characters and often by the same character at once.  
  • The android character, David, as the story's opaque center of action around which all else revolves, just as he is figured visually as the center of the cosmos he conjures in awe when discovering the navigational array in the cockpit of the derelict alien craft.  And as the medium of (mis-)translation between 'god' and 'man,' being neither, himself.  And finally, like the human race in relation to their extraterrestrial progenitors, as an instrument that has taken on its own, unforeseen purposes at odds with those of its creator.
My friend Dan Levine said something recently about how theologically-oriented writing about violence and 'peacekeeping' (I think) is typically more insightful than secular theory of war.  In a similar way, I think this movie might exhibit the tendency of the "secular imagination" to run aground.  I'd like to hear somebody's thoughts about it who is not a prideful, desiccated, godless wretch like me.

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