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Thursday, June 14, 2012

He who liveth and was slain (Prometheus spoilers)

Notes on a few of the themes in Prometheus: that of survival and that of humans becoming gods. 

Vickers is the character Charlize Theron plays in Prometheus, a cold, capitalistic, survival-oriented woman who by default of the Alienverse's hatred of corporations seems to be a villain, but isn't really. In contrast to the other major female character, Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw, who is emotional,  earthy, and directed by her heart despite being a scientist, Vickers is all the things we associate with Alien films (hard edges, sleek lines, vague and encroaching menace). Eventually we find that not only is Weyland (Weyland Corp's CEO) alive, but that he is also her father and she harbors some serious resentment issues toward his desire to be immortal. Vickers too is driven by her need for self-preservation, and she acts out this theme in various interesting ways. In a scene which is a near-replica-with-significant-differences of one from Alien, she refuses to allow an infected scientist to come aboard the ship, but what's more, the scientist in question requests to be killed. And Vickers obliges, with the help of a flamethrower. In Final Girl terms, it really seemed that Vickers was going to be the one to get out alive--I was betting against Shaw, but that's what the movie wants you to do. Ultimately, the need to know and the need to survive intertwine--in effect the need to know becomes the vehicle for survival--and since Shaw possesses the desire to ask the question, she prevails.

My gent and I spent a good amount of time last night talking about whether Vickers was supposed to be a robot, and we decided that though she is human and actually Weyland's daughter, her demeanor and attitude might in part have been carefully constructed because Weyland was so overtly fond of David, referring to the android as the son he never had. Weyland and Vickers are consumed by the need to survive and the ways in which they go about it are different from how Shaw goes about her survival; the survival of humanity has always been a theme of the Alien films, and I think Prometheus added its two cents admirably. Vickers and Yanek, the ship's captain, are at first allied in their desire to keep the ship and by extension Earth free of any alien contaminants, but in the end, it's Yanek and Shaw who understand what must be done to save Earth, while Vickers concentrates on saving herself. (As a person who adores Alien and is somewhat less of a fan of Aliens, I have to say I was kind of nastily pleased at that development, as I tend to view the themes of Alien and Aliens as being at odds. Basically I hold that Alien is about human survival on a core level which manages to be both personal [Ripley has survived! Yay!] and wide-scale [humanity is safe from the Aliens! Yay!], while Aliens is about the survival of a specific set of humanity, in that case, the white nuclear family capable of enforcing the Company's agenda). 

Michael Fassbender's performance of David, the android, was one of my favorite aspects of the film. I'd like to see Prometheus again simply to watch David and his various doings very closely. He was a difficult character to figure out and it was quite enjoyable to watch Fassbender toe the line between innocent, your-human-emotions-baffle-me robot and knowing, I'm-doing-this-to-be-an-asshole posthuman. There's a lot left open to interpretation in David and how he functions in the film as a whole, which I appreciate. I don't recall if it's canon in the Alien mythology that Weyland Corp were the first to develop androids, but if that's the case, it brings a whole 'nother level of business to how David interacts with humans generally and Weyland and Vickers specifically. If Weyland's end goal is to live indefinitely, creating a totally human-like android is the logical first step. Not only that but in doing so, he makes himself a god, yet still turns toward his own god for the power of eternal life. There is an ancient pattern at work in Prometheus, summed up by Vickers' line: "The king has his reign, and then he dies." The only problem is that the Engineers don't seem to quite agree--they, like Weyland, have the interminable need to remain on top, employing organic weapons against those they've created if necessary. In creating human life, the Engineers have created their own destruction; in creating androids, Weyland has created his. Another line from Vickers, who is apparently the Theme-Speaker of the film: "Every child wants to see their parents dead." Shaw seeing her father dead was the impetus for her life's work; the death of Vickers' father would mean the Weyland company was at last hers; and the humans' interactions with their makers (who are also coded masculine) end up being deadly and full of regret. Lots of daddy issues! It is a Ridley Scott film, after all.

These two themes are twins, sides of the destroyer-creator coin. We are never quite sure if David is truly under the control of his father-creator, and the Engineers clearly lost control of both their human creations and their Alien ones. Given that the original name of the film was Paradise, after Paradise Lost, it seems that the filmmakers intended an examination of the relationships between deities and creators, perhaps particularly calling to the sections of that text where Satan asserts that the angelic race created themselves, as well as the theme of Adam and Eve seeking forbidden knowledge, which set them on par with God.

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