Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is unquestionably one of the most divisive films to come our way in quite some time. As you may have noticed, critics, fans, and plenty of casual moviegoers all have something to say about Scott’s latest. Some hate it with a fury; some pick apart each nook and cranny like a nervous yet excited med student conducting their first autopsy, and some simply sit back and marvel at the technical gleam of it all. Whatever your feelings are towards Prometheus, one thing is absolutely clear: it gets us all talking, bringing forth some of the most interesting discussions and debates centered on a film since perhaps 2010’s Inception. Even at The Awards Circuit, Prometheus has divided the staff considerably. We have seen a mixed review from Mike, a panned review from Robert, and now an unapologetic glowing review from yours truly. Prometheus is a thing of beauty in the way it divides us. How boring would it be if our opinions for a film aligned with one another without contention? Prometheus divides us all, perhaps more than any film we’ve ever reviewed at The Awards Circuit, because it’s littered with so much to absorb, so many ideas to grapple with, and of course…its correlation to the classic Alien franchise from which it’s based off. I warn you now, like Robert’s review, this dissection of Prometheus will contain spoilers, so please…put your helmet on, have your weapons by your side, and proceed with caution…
Prometheus tells the journey of a group of archaeologists, led by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Green), who get a vessel sanctioned for them to a make a trek out to the furthest reaches of space in the hopes of discovering mankind’s creators. This vessel, Prometheus, is captained by Janek (Idris Elba), whose command of the ship is kept on a tight leash by Weyland Corporation Officer Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Vickers’s assignment is to monitor the heinously expensive expedition, although there’s clearly something more insidious at work in Vickers’s mind. Charlize Theron is so effective in this role by doing so little. Simply by a suspicious glance or a furrow the brow, it becomes apparent that there is something amiss about Vickers, something dark and secretive that brews internally.
All of these characters, while strong in their own right, do not hold a candle to Michael Fassbender’s David, an android so complex in nature that he fascinates right up until the very end. Michael Fassbender is my favorite actor right now because he jumps into each role with total commitment and complete understanding. Every nuance that David provides so brilliantly in the narrative is thanks to this specimen of an actor. Lest we’ve forgotten, Fassbender reminds us of the great difference between a “movie star” and a “film actor.” He’s so merciless in his duty of getting David just right, that he evolves David from being a Machiavellian rapscallion, one who derives pleasure out of causing pain to others, into the single most sympathetic character in Prometheus. From the beginning of the film, where David attempts his best to mimic the mannerism and look of Peter O’ Toole’s T. E. Lawrence, we understand his unyielding desire to impress his human masters, to be embraced as the elite technology that he is. In some weird way, I believe David’s imitation of humans is an expression of his own inner longing to be “human.” When he is shunned by humanity — most notably by his father/creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) — at each turn in the film, his gleeful smile slowly diminishes, and a subtle hint of future scheming arises. Not being regarded as a father’s own son, regardless if you’re biologically linked or not, is but one of many catalysts that bring David over the edge. He turns instantly vengeful, hoping that the Engineers — the discovered creators of mankind — will come to embrace him now that humanity has all but rejected his magnificence. You can completely connect with David in this regard. It is why I have no qualms when David unleashed the alien bile in Charlie’s drink. He was so jealous of Charlie’s happiness that it consumed his rage, and thus he acted emotionally and brutally. Besides, considering how obnoxious Charlie was as an overtly happy-go-lucky kind of guy, I was glad that Lindelof decided to end his life in this manner. It serves as a good reminder about how people can be so self-absorbed in their own lives that they forget about everyone else in their peripheral spectrum and beyond. Had Charlie been more cognizant of David and the sorrow underneath his pristine exterior, he might’ve foreseen David’s villainous transition sooner.
To me, the highlight of Prometheus comes during a pivotal scene when David discovers the war room of The Engineers’ ancient ship. The scene contains little to no dialogue, just David taking in the grandeur of the space, artificial mind completely blown away by the ancient technology at hand. When he stands on the dais, in the center of the holographic galaxy map, you are instantly reminded of that “King of the World” moment in James Cameron’s Titanic where possibilities are endless because you have the world at your fingertips. In this case for David, he had the galaxy in his grasp. A screenplay with less originality would have had David cackling in delight, beaming at his newfound power. Instead, Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof play up David’s wide-eyed innocence and amazement of discovery. David’s feelings of awe and wonder, youthfully derived it seems, transcended my own perspective on not just this scene but the entire film itself. I sat in my seat for the two hour span, agape at the incredible visuals, elaborate sets, and stunning sequences that left me speechless. Never before have I connected so deeply with someone quite un-human, or inhumane for that matter, than with David in this intimate moment. Next to Toy Story 3’s “hand-holding in the face of death” sequence, this scene finds itself in my top five most cinematic moments of the millennium. Thanks to Scott and Lindelof, I was left with powerful feelings from a powerfully directed and stylized film.
To make matters even greater, I was completely prepared to see David play out his evil misdeeds in a dull and nefarious way. After all, isn’t that what most low-profile villain’s end up doing once all hell breaks loose? But no, dear readers, David’s plans for human annihilation and vengeance are cut short when the lone surviving Engineer beheads him in a most visually rapturous way. David realizes the error of his ways, and when the one human who has been kind to him – Elizabeth Shaw – is still alive, he is hit with the truest of realizations: it is the individual, not the species, who has the capacity to embrace or cruelly reject. The reformulation of David as an anti-hero of sorts marks a defining moment in archetypal complexity – to me, David is neither villain nor hero; he is simply…David – that could only be sprung forth by a spellbinding director like Ridley Scott, who so entrusts his vision with a storyteller who isn’t afraid to dig deeper, to deconstruct, and to pose new questions that boldly work against Hollywood and long-held genre conventions.
Why does each plot point or character arc have to be resolved? Why must a film that shares the same universe as the Alien films have to unfold in the same manner? Prometheus is such a phenomenal film treasure because it is so restrained and unconventional. The first hour and a half is pure discovery. We have no idea what is going on, thanks to that brilliant introduction of an alien dissipating in the river on his mysterious planet, and all we are left to do is see how the tale progresses. Other than the obvious Alien references that pop up here and there, we have no more information about the adventure that lies before us than the crew of the Prometheus does. Normally, I can see where a film is heading before it does so. With Prometheus, nothing was certain, everything was unpredictable, and the unknown proved to be an elusive component to filmmaking that has been missing for quite awhile. The creationist questions posited by the Prometheus crew gave the film an extra layering of depth and complexity that one normally doesn’t witness in your typical sci-fi horror romp. The concept of discovering the makers of one’s makers is something I had never actually bothered to think about, but now that Prometheus has proposed it, suddenly the world seems more infinite and possibilities seem more endless than before. This problematic dilemma of human discovery that the Prometheus crew faces – never satiating their answers for mankind’s origins – precisely mirrors the frustrations that many viewers have over the film’s unresolved questions. No matter how many times you answer a question, one more will come up, and soon it’ll be impossible to define or answer anything at all, so what’s the big fuss about? What matters, as cliché as this sounds, is the journey and quest for discovery. Most of the fun we have in seeking answers to our questions comes from the creative theories derived from fragments of the film that we can expand upon. If everything were self-contained and insular, why bother going to the movies anymore? As a filmmaker and screenwriter, I would rather have my film polarize the glove than be one that’s loved but soon forgotten. The former is more privy to discussion long after the film has ended, which is precisely what is occurring in a post-Prometheus viewing experience. Lindelof has expanded this universe purely by the layers of questions that remain unanswered. Some may call this lazy, others may call it highly infuriating, but to me it’s nothing less than what Lucas or Tolkien did with their own self-created universes. It’s an expansion of a franchise that now seems more significant and thought-provoking than ever before.
The Alien films were great examples of the sci-fi horror genre, but they didn’t have the heavy mythology and complexity to branch out as one giant, involving world that fans could easily tap into. With Prometheus, Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof have accomplished just that. They’ve made me care about the universe of Alien, the characters that inhabit it, and the moments of fear and pure horror that is hidden in every dark cavern, every lonely hallway, and every human body that we, as viewers, encounter. Many have commented that the final scene in Prometheus — the reemergence of the Alien character we’re all familiar with — seems tacked on. To me, the ending serves as a necessary bridge connecting Prometheus with the rest of the franchise, and a reminder that the “sail off into the sunset” moment witnessed beforehand is but a brief reprieve before the horror ensues once more in the coming sequel.
Before I end, I want to briefly mention Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw. Some have called her unconvincing as a tough leading woman. So, are women only tough when they have muscles and a quick barb at the ready? Or are tough women simply synonymous with an American heritage? What I love with this casting choice is that Rapace is so atypical, both in looks, physique, and nationality that she serves as a template for all future science fiction heroines. Rapace is equal parts emotional and strong, embracing all aspects of what defines an empowered woman. Women are often considered stronger than men because of their ability to endure childbirth. So what does it say about Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth for enduring the birth of a freaking alien?! If that’s not the most inflicting trial a person has to go through, I honestly do not know what it is, and Rapace holds her own in these scenes with focus, accurate displays of emotion, and the will to survive. When Shaw and Vickers were running together at the end of the film as the Engineers’ ship was shadowing over them, ready to fall at any given moment, I had to take a snap shot of the sequence in my mind. How many films have two women, side by side, running together as the last humans standing when all the other male characters (not including androids) in the film have died? Not many, I can assure you. The scene was an unspoken sisterhood moment between our two tough ladies, slightly reminding me of Thelma and Louise’s bond before they drove their car off the cliff and into the Grand Canyon. I love films that not only bring forth a great story but strive for deconstructing long held stereotypes and behaviors of underprivileged groups in society, the obvious here being the female gender.
In total, what you have with Prometheus is a film that holds in its palm a jar with all of your expectations and genre assumptions, turns it upside down, and smashes it onto the floor in millions of shattered pieces. Why should the science fiction and horror genres be so rigid and narrow that new ground cannot be paved, for fear of criticism? It’s this rebellion against the norm that I find so utterly fascinating about Prometheus. Here is a film that doesn’t zig — it zags. It refuses to be cornered into a singular entity by which all want or need it to be. Stunning visuals aside – and trust me, there are few films that can measure up to Prometheus in this regard – Prometheus is, at its core, a film that searches, discovers, explores and ultimately finds. It is the Christopher Columbus of filmmaking, moving forward into uncharted movie territory and seeing what new methods of storytelling and universe building can be found. Whether you love or abhor Prometheus, I can promise you this: this film will continue to play on in your mind long after the credits roll. It’s that subconsciously powerful, so don’t be afraid even though you may be confused and slightly infuriated. Tackle with Prometheus, because it yearns to be dissected in all of its wondrously layered beauty.
Tags: Charlize Theron, Damon Lindelof, Guy Pearce, Horror Films, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Prometheus, Ridley Scott