Okay, dear readers, I’m going to do something I haven’t done here at the pond before: I am going to discuss a film. As you have probably deduced by now if you’re a regular reader I am a huge sci-fi fan. I’ve been looking forward to seeing Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s new contribution to the Alien universe, for months. Trust me when I say that I was eating up every detail I could of that movie from behind my 3D goggles and I am confident that I have a plausible explanation for the major plot points of the film that seem to be confusing viewers and causing heated Internet debates. Here is my point-by-point explanation of Prometheus with my evidence. Be warned, from this sentence on there will be massive spoilers.
Why did the Engineers create humanity? This is the burning question of the film and I have an answer. The Engineers created humanity in order to be the perfect host for their gods, the Xenomorphs, the Aliens we all know and love. My evidence is based on two key scenes. First, the vase room includes a gigantic ceremonial stone head of an Engineer. If you look carefully you can see that the head is inscribed with runes which make the head look as if it is transforming as a result of black goo exposure (sorry about the name, black goo is the most descriptive one I can think of) but the expression is not in distress, it is calm. Furthermore, this head is centrally placed in the room around which everything is arranged, as if transforming due to black goo is everything. Behind the head is a massive mural that fills the entire rear wall of the cavern. During the film we don’t really see the details but very clearly and centrally we are shown a large relief of what seems to be a Xenomorph alien queen looking down upon the room. The stance is not aggressive, for instance her fangs aren’t showing, but the stance is nonetheless powerful, dominating the scene of the transforming head and drawing the eye. I suspect this mural is depicting a holy figure of power and awe that the Engineers venerate.
The second key scene is actually the first scene of the Engineer sacrificing himself using black goo. The moment is clearly a ritual. The Engineer is wearing a hood, a white loincloth, and is standing alone on a rock by a waterfall; his face is calm. Although I didn’t know what to think when I first saw the scene, after seeing the vase room I had a moment of “Ooooooh, that’s it,” because to me everything made sense. The original Engineer sacrificed his life to the black goo so that the perfect host DNA could flourish en masse and the aliens they venerated could survive in optimal conditions. This would benefit the Engineers in two ways. Firstly, their gods could be plentiful. Secondly, they could be plentiful at the expense of lives other than their own, namely human lives.
If the Engineers worship the black goo and the Xenomorphs why would they flee in terror from it if something went wrong at that installation? Well, why wouldn’t they flee in terror? Worshipful love of something/someone greater than yourself pretty much always involves a hefty element of fear. The major religions here on Earth all involve fear of god(s). Cult figures in history who inspired worshipful legions did so partly because they terrified those people with what they were capable of (Hitler, Jim Jones, and David Koresh, anyone?). Human nature is drawn to dangerous, terrifying things. The most fundamental of spiritualties, Animism, tends to put emphasis on big scary things like giant volcanoes, oceans, tremendous waterfalls, mountains, and giant predatory creatures like komodo dragons, bears, and tigers. Indeed the film is filled with lots of sweeping vistas and soaring mountains. I propose that the Engineers are like a cross between Davros (of Doctor Who) and Hitler. They worship what they see as deadly and powerful perfection: the Xenomorphs and their black goo. In the other Alien movies it is consistently remarked that the Xenomorph is the apex predator of the universe, the perfect killing machine equipped with redundant death dealing traits. It has multiple mouths and impossible speed; if you injure it you inevitably weaken yourself or your surroundings by getting sprayed with acid blood; its parasitic stage of development, the facehugger, can adapt to any host to survive in any form, and have enough cunning to problem-solve your demise. Much like a Dalek, the Xenomorph could be interpreted as the ultimate evolutionary achievement in simple ability to survive and destroy. Parasitism has a drawback of course. A parasitic creature requires an abundance of prey and would be dependent on the appearance of that prey in order to proliferate. However, since the black goo seems to be some sort of DNA or RNA retrovirus that can apparently survive any length of time in stasis until a host of any sort, earthworms included, approaches it, the essence of a Xenomorph would be incredibly difficult to exterminate.
Why were the Engineers going to fly a big ship of black goo to Earth to destroy us if they want to worship Xenomorphs? Well, let’s think about the word “destroy,” and let’s think about why humanity was created. According to my interpretation, humanity was created to serve a very specific purpose, the purpose of being hosts for the black goo. By any human definition, yes, the Engineers were coming to destroy our race. From the perspective of the Engineers they were coming to finally get their use out of the crop they sowed like raising foxes for fur or cows for leather. The archaeological evidence uncovered by Shaw and Holloway supports the idea of Engineers as farmers, they came to Earth at intervals to check the progress of the crop. David is my main evidence here. I found myself particularly drawn to the conversation he shares with Holloway prior to spiking his champagne with black goo (presumably at the behest of Weyland). David asks Holloway why humans created him, an android. Holloway is flippant, responding with “we could!” A most disappointing answer from a creator but also an inaccurate one: after all, Weyland did not build a robot he considered almost as a son just because he felt like it. Being a rich, despotic megalomaniac Weyland built David to serve a very specific and important set of purposes. David is necessary to getting Weyland and an army of human tools across the galaxy safely, finding the Engineers, communicating with the Engineers, and ultimately ensuring that Weyland got the thing he wanted more than anything else: more life. The entire mission would have been impossible without David. While David might long for a soul and the free will that comes with it he has a comfort none of the humans aboard ship have: he not only knows why he exists but he actually is capable of achieving his purposes, his meaning of life. Of course it seems that David doesn’t really accept his meaning to existence any more than the humans aboard ship accept the terrible reality of the Engineers; this might be the most human thing about him. To me this is an obvious narrative allegory for the human crew’s struggle to understand their own existence. From a human perspective it is a disappointing purpose, this being a host for predatory gods, more disappointing than David’s certainly but if you look at it from another perspective, that of the Engineers, it makes sense. Just think about the uniforms the Engineers wear. They are wearing synthetic, not organic, body armor that looks strikingly like the Xenomorphs. Remember the medical room scene where they “trick the head into life,” the Scottish Doctor points out that the helmet isn’t an exoskeleton it is synthetic armor. At the end of the film when we finally see the Xenomorph alien we’ve been expecting to see for the last 2.5 hours it immediately struck me that the alien looked more like the Engineer’s synthetic body armor than the Engineer itself. A lot of people are probably citing this as some sort of logical narrative inconsistency. I think otherwise. After all, the Engineers have the figures in the vase room; they would know what it would look like when an Engineer got parasitized by a Xenomorph. I propose that they modeled their body armor, and probably gobs of other things, after the Xenomorph because they knew it was deadly and effective.
Another point that fans are debating is the backstory of the black goo. Is the black goo a bioengineered weapon of mass destruction as Captain Janek suggests to Dr. Shaw? Or is it one big genetic experiment gone wrong? I propose that the black goo is more like fire, something useful, something wondrous and terrible, that the Engineers discovered a long time ago and have spent untold amounts of effort proliferating in the galaxy.
Ridley Scott and his team have said in interviews that they hope Prometheus is just the first in a trilogy that follows Dr. Shaw and David as they keep exploring the answers to the Big Questions. I don’t know if the subsequent films will be made or if they will support my explanation of the events in Prometheus. I haven’t read any of Ridley Scott’s comments or anyone else’s for that matter regarding the film. No outside materials were used to come to the interpretation I have outlined in this blog; I only used my one viewing of the film to write this piece. I certainly think it would be cool if the movies did get made and I turned out to be correct but even if they don’t it doesn’t really matter. As a standalone film I think Prometheus can be reasonably interpreted the way I have outlined based upon the evidence of the characters, story, and the details of the production design which I have cited. I hope this explanation gets you thinking about the film in a different light and that maybe you can enjoy it if not more, at least in a different way than you might have expected.
All images were found using a Google image search, when I remembered to I linked to the Google Image.
If you want to see the film after reading this post, here’s a link to how to get it on amazon.com: Prometheus (Blu-ray/ DVD + Digital Copy)
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