Big things have small beginnings.
Prometheus is in magnificent design, a complex and fascinating arrangement of ideas that qualify it more as science-philosophy than it does as science-fiction. Where do we come from? Where are going from here? What exists among the stars, if anything exists at all? These are questions all of us have asked ourselves at one point or another, no matter what culture, faith, or ethnicity you belong to. So too does Prometheus expand upon these questions, and even though it doesn’t provide many answers, it does explore the possibilities in endless detail.
Taking place in the future of 2089, archeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a set of strange cave drawings all around the world, all resembling the same image: natives, human beings, mankind, all bowing and worshiping towering humanoid beings who loom over them. These beings are represented as a higher authority to the humans, possibly representing themselves as mankind’s creators. As they tower over the humans, they all point to the same thing in the exact same direction: a quadrant in the sky, deeply immersed in space, signifying where they came from. Their home.
Fast forward to 2093. Shaw and Holloway, now part of a crew led by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), travel to a strange planet known as LV-223, where Shaw believes they will meet their creators and discover the origins of the human race. What they find instead could very well mean the extinction of mankind.
It’s difficult to review a film like Prometheus because the plot is so embedded in its mythology and premise that you threaten to review ideas instead of the film itself. Originally conceived as a prequel to Alien, Prometheus has since then stretched its roots out to embrace wider, more ambitious ideas, elaborating on themes such as creationism, mortality, Godhood, human nature, and spiritual identity. What started as a story relating to science-fiction horror has since then branched out into a quest for humanity and for existence itself.
It’s interesting to see this film as it tackles these ideas headfirst, focusing on its themes first and entertainment second. Director Ridley Scott, who helmed the first Alien film back in 1979, does just as well here bringing breathtaking production value and applying it to thought-provoking content. In most summer blockbusters, directors are usually satisfied with throwing spectacular visual effects at us from the screen without having it immediately relating to the plot or its characters. Not Prometheus. Here, Scott smartly and subtly uses the visual effects as a gateway to the film and its larger narrative. Put simply, the visuals enhance the cinematic experience in the way that it is supposed to. It is not the experience in itself.
In the opening scene for instance, a grey-skinned giant swallows some sort of black liquid as his brethren boards an aircraft and flies away. As the giant stays behind, he begins to cough and choke violently as his skin begins to disintegrate. As he falls into the waterfall and his body dissolves into nothingness, the camera zooms up close to his remains, showing remnants of human DNA generating in the water.
What we are witnessing is, of course, the birth of humanity: the creation of “Adam” and “Eve”, if you will. The idea on its own is interesting and unique to other portrayals of creationism, but I’m more interested in the visual layout of the scene. Everything worked here. The elaborate makeup and costumes, the dark gray and blue coloring, the opaque and dreary landscapes. Everything culminates to form a visceral visual experience inside Prometheus: mysterious, ominous, and haunting, yet eerily beautiful in its own way
And out of any summer blockbuster to come out this year, none has a more standout cast than Prometheus does. Yes, that list does include The Avengers and The Hunger Games. While they too sport an incredible cast that lends very well to their film’s purposes, neither utilize their performers in a nuanced method that feels as real and tangible as this. Noomi Rapace, for instance, is a great lead in this movie, demonstrating a versatility and fierceness to her character that is equal parts thoughtful and uncompromising. In short, she is the perfect protagonist, and all of the emotions she experiences through the film are emotions we share with her. Theron has a thick snide to her character that is equally uncompromising, but has a colder edge to it that makes her more harsh and relentless to her fellow crew members. She starts off the film feeling like she has an ulterior agenda, yet there’s no way you could predict where exactly that agenda leads us.
Out of anyone else though, I’m most impressed by Michael Fassbender portraying an android named David. His character is endlessly fascinating. Unlike the other human characters, he seems to struggle with his existence the most, feeling superior to his mortal crew members while equally unable to relish and brag about himself. He’s artistic, cultured, intelligent, thoughtful, and has a metrosexualistic vibe to his speech and manner. Yet, he’s ultimately two-faced, and out of any of the other crew members, he’s the one you know the least about in terms of motivations and intentions. He is easily the most chilling and intriguing character out of the bunch. I would love to see where exactly Fassbender and Scott choose to take this character, should they use him in future installments.
Like any film, of course, Prometheus has its weaknesses. For one thing, it’s more intriguing and thought-provoking than it is thrilling or exciting, and that will be disappointing to fans who are expecting another horror-filled Alien romp. For all of its intelligence, there are some scenes where the science just plain doesn’t make sense, and some characters make the most unbelievably stupid decisions. And for all of its deeply-explored questions, Prometheus does not reach an established conclusion for its characters, but instead teases us to the possibilities of where they go from here.
I, however, love Prometheus and its ending because it resembles so much of mankind’s own faith and imagination for where we came from. Such an ending is appropriate because such is life. There is no concrete way to approach the unanswerable questions we have before or after watching Prometheus. They are too big of questions for just simple answers. All we can do as a developing species is keep our mind open, our eyes alert, and our ears receptive to anything we might learn in our lifetime.
We may never know the mysteries of our beginnings or endings. Indeed, only God would know such things, if you believe in one.