Friday, June 1, 2012

Ridley Scott's Prometheus

Last night I did something I haven’t done many times before in my life. I attended the pre-premiere of a movie whose release I have been eagerly anticipating—Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. The film’s official release date in Norway is today, June 1st. But the Colosseum movie theater in Oslo showed the film last night (9pm showing only) to a packed house, which in and of itself was an enjoyable experience. The film was introduced by a young man who apparently works for an American company in Norway involved in the film’s promotion. At one point he asked for a show of hands for how many women were in the audience. I guess because men outnumber women when it comes to liking sci-fi films? Anyway, there were a lot of women in the audience. Never occurred to me before that sci-fi might be a genre dominated by men, since I personally know more women than men who enjoy sci-fi books and films. But never mind—I want to tell you about the film.

The story is somewhat intricate and uneven; the film opens with fantastic footage of what is supposed to be prehistoric earth; the 3D effects give the viewer the experience of actually moving over the planet in a low-flying spaceship. An alien human-like figure stands on the precipice of a huge waterfall, and drinks some kind of strange liquid in a pod. He is alone. Above him a spaceship hovers, apparently the ship that brought him there. After drinking the liquid, his body reacts violently, transforming into some strange-looking creature that falls off the cliff into the water; as he does, his body explodes, releasing the DNA that will be the precursor DNA to our own. Cut to 2089, where a group of scientists (among them Elizabeth Shaw played by Noomi Rapace, and Charlie Holloway played by Logan Marshall-Green) interested in the origins of humanity discover cave paintings on the Isle of Skye in Scotland that resemble cave paintings from other archaeological digs around the world. All of them ‘point’ to the stars; the patterns seem to be an invitation to visit that distant world, which is exactly what these scientists are dreaming about—finding the origins of man. Four years later, they are traveling in space on their way to this world, in a spaceship called Prometheus. They land on this new world, and all hell breaks loose, literally. That’s the point of these films, and also the fun of watching them. You know something bad or evil is lurking in the wings, just waiting for its chance to break free. I will definitely not spoil the film for you by describing what happens; it is well-worth seeing and you will be impressed beyond belief at the special effects and the 3D experience. I felt like I had traveled to that world after being in the theater for two hours. I found myself wishing the movie was longer, the effects were that good. The images of that deserted, barren, dark world will haunt you for hours afterwards. The fact that the plot has a few loopholes, or that there are some illogical occurrences, was not a problem for me, although I know it is for some others who have voiced their criticisms on IMDB. I am more interested in the atmosphere that these kinds of films can create, and Prometheus delivers.  It manages to create the world it set out to create, just like in the Alien films.

Mythological and biblical references are prevalent in this film. What can the story of Prometheus in Greek mythology tell us about the film’s plot? Prometheus was a Titan god who was given the task of creating mankind out of clay. Prometheus ended up in conflict with Zeus, who had given him this task, because he liked his mortal creations very much and wanted the best for them, a feeling that Zeus did not share. Zeus became angry at Prometheus for a number of things—among them that Prometheus had tricked the gods into allowing man to keep the meat from sacrificial offerings to the gods, whereas the gods got only the animal bones. As punishment, Zeus withheld fire from man; Prometheus decided to steal the fire back and deliver it to mankind, which he did. Zeus punished him by chaining him to a stake on a mountaintop where an eagle fed upon his liver, which grew back each day since Prometheus was immortal. In the film, the very idea that the scientists could obtain the knowledge of their origin can be seen as a ‘transgression’ against their divine ‘creators’ (Engineers). At the risk of over-interpreting the meaning of the film, I couldn’t help but think of the story of Adam and Eve. Like Adam and Eve in the garden of Paradise, who ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge that ended in their being banished from the garden, the scientists are ‘punished’ for trying to seek and attain the knowledge that will place them on the creative level of their creators. The ‘gods’ are jealous; they and they alone wish to hold the keys to (knowledge about) the creation of mankind. The gods of Greek mythology were not all perfect gods—they could be angry, jealous, and vindictive—just like their creations; there were any number of wars in the heavens. The universe was thus both orderly (good) and chaotic (evil). Christian mythology describes how Lucifer the archangel, whose name means ‘light bearer’ (interestingly enough when talking about Prometheus and his bearing of fire to mankind) defied the will of the divine Creator and was banished to hell along with his followers. Lucifer and his followers are the bad angels whose sin was pride and thinking they were better than God. It is clear in the film that the distant world that harbors so much chaos and evil for the space travelers was a repository of ‘life’ guarded by alien humanoids that were tall, strong and violent. Are these the bad angels? One gets the feeling that this dark world was more like hell, where transgressors against the gods, as Prometheus was, would have been banished.

So where then is the world of our creators? Where do they live, since they do not live on this dark barren world? This is the question Elizabeth Shaw has at the end of the film. How come our creators were so unsatisfied with their creations that they relegated them to a hellish world? What was the transgression committed by the original creations? Did they attempt to trick their creators or to steal something of value to them, like Prometheus did with Zeus? Did they try to become the creators? Why did the creators choose earth as the place for their creations? Why did the alien humanoid in the first scene die such a violent death in order that his DNA would be spread in the waters of earth, as a precursor to our own? When did this happen, before or after the settling of the world on which the spaceship Prometheus lands? Why did things go so horribly wrong on this world? Why do the Engineers on this world want to destroy earth as is the plan when the giant spaceship attempts to take off toward the end of the film, and what stopped them up until this point? These remain unanswered questions at the end of the film. Perhaps they will be answered in a sequel, or perhaps not. In any case, the film opens for different questions and interpretations. And in the final analysis, it is perhaps not so surprising that as we (viewers and movie directors alike) age and approach our mortal ends, that the questions of where we come from, how did we get here, and where we (might) end up after death, preoccupy us. We would prefer that our lives had meaning and that it is not the emptiness of the abyss that awaits us. We would prefer heaven to the barren, deserted and dark world that the Prometheus found. 

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