“Where do we come from? What is our purpose? What happens when we die?”
These are the question pondered by Peter Weyland, the mysterious puppet master bankrolling a doomed space mission by the Prometheus crew to find the aliens who created us. The answer is this: Don’t ask, monkey.
“Prometheus” is about the search for life’s meaning, but only as much as “Log Jamming” is about a man who longs to fix cable. Really, “Prometheus” is a monster movie. Its characters, none of them sympathetic, get killed by increasingly scary alien creatures in increasingly violent ways, culminating in a one-sided fight between the hulking, sneering, bald, white humanoid beast who made us and a giant squid monster with numerous vagina-looking mouths filled with sharp, deadly teeth.
This flick is a creature feature. An angry zombie appears near the end, for no better reason than to wipe out several crew members in a single zany action scene. He attacks with his fists, crushing one guy’s skull through the helmet, and wields an ax. The zombie’s death comes after he gets run over by a space SUV, then blasted by a flamethrower and a shotgun simultaneously. It’s dumb, but it’s awesome.
This flick is a creature feature, but it has some fun with religious people who believe our lives hold higher purpose. Religion is referenced constantly in “Prometheus.” “Guess you can take off your father’s cross now,” a fanatic scientist tells his devout girlfriend, Elizabeth Shaw, after they’ve discovered the E.T. root of life on earth. Later, the same cross will be taken from Shaw by the android David, who says “it may be contaminated.” That happens immediately after her boyfriend walks voluntarily into death by being burned alive (which also feels like a vaguely religious reference), and immediately before she finds out she’s pregnant with a monster and begs to have it removed from her stomach immediately. Not so pro-life now.
Some of the crew, upon waking from two-year cryo-sleep and being briefed on their mission (before all the chaos ensues), become outraged. The zealots’ reasoning for taking them there was flimsy, and the mission ultimately amounts to a religious crusade. “How do you know?” Shaw is asked by a mohawked geologist destined to be assaulted by an oil snake and transformed into the burned, shot-up zombie.
“I don’t know,” she says, “but it’s what I choose to believe.” Any atheist can testify to how maddening, and ubiquitous, this response is. Because of what a few people “choose to believe,” more than a few people will die horribly. There’s a lesson there.
The best character in “Promethues” is David, who feels bemused hatred for the humans around him. David is an incredible movie bad guy – soulless and cruel, a fan of the film “Laurence of Arabia,” who can speak alien languages and fly alien spaceships and ride a bike in a circle on a basketball court while shooting hook shots. He’s like an evil version of Data, from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and Michael Fassbender gives a classic performance in the role.
Why is David evil? Unlike us, he never had to go on any long journey to meet his maker. He knows human beings are his creators, and we are pathetic compared with him. He’s totally unimpressed, which makes him willing to not only murder people but taunt them as he does so. Meeting your maker sucks.
Nonetheless, David goes with Weyland to meet the Maker creature, and asks in its language what the meaning of our lives is. Maker puts a huge hand on David’s head and looks at him strangely for a second. Is it petting the android? Is its look one of understanding and even pride in these creations, for having come so far both figuratively and literally?
Not even close. Maker lifts David up off the ground, twists the android’s head off, then smashes Weyland across the face and runs away to go destroy earth. Lying on the ground with a huge purple bruise on his forehead, Weyland says “There is nothing.” There it is, the answer to those questions. There is nothing, and asking was a waste of time.
(Also, there appears to be a growing anti-“Prometheus” movement taking hold in America. My dad sent me this clip bashing the movie, and wrote “You have to admit he makes some good points.” No, he doesn’t.
And there was a post I wrote here when Tool came to Albuquerque, about why Tool is my favorite band. “If you think music is art,” it said, “then Tool is my kind of art.” “Prometheus” is my kind of art, too. The two share a scary-science-fiction theme and a contempt for piety that’s totally refreshing.)