The Best 'Prometheus' Analyses So Far

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by Matt Singer
June 18, 2012 11:35 AM
30 Comments
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"Prometheus."

The following post, along with every single link it contains, includes SPOILERS for "Prometheus." Like here's one right here: SPOILER -- alien gods from the ancient past have amazing abs. But they're as stingy with their dieting secrets as they are with the origins of life in the universe.

Despite the best efforts of the Worst Theater Ever, I finally saw "Prometheus" this weekend. I didn't repeatedly try to catch this movie because I'm a huge Ridley Scott fan (I'm not) or because I loved screenwriter Damon Lindelof's TV series "Lost" (I didn't) or even because I'm obsessed with "Alien" (more of an "Aliens" man, myself). No, I was finally stirred to see "Prometheus" after months of skepticism when it became clear that its cinematic merits were irrelevant; good or bad, the film was provoking some very good writing and even better conversations, and I wanted to read all of them. So, yes, I basically paid $17.50 in order to read several dozen articles online for free. This is why my wife manages the family bank account.

My own thoughts on the film can come later, probably in the form of the review-slash-thinkpiece that's bubbling away in my brain like so much black goo. In the meantime, though, let's enjoy some the best "Prometheus" analysis posted online so far -- and I say so far because I imagine this movie will be provoking debate for a long time to come. Perhaps centuries or even millennia from now, some ancient race will discover these words, penned on a cave wall or like an 8-inch floppy, and use it as an invitation to come find us, presumably still in a movie theater lobby debating how the hell the squid baby got so big in a matter of hours with no food supply. Until then, here are:

The Best "Prometheus" Analyses So Far (With Lots of SPOILERS)

1. Adrian Bott on "Prometheus"' Mythological Motifs

"We know something about the Engineers, a founding principle laid down in the very first scene: acceptance of death, up to and including self-sacrifice, is right and proper in the creation of life. Prometheus, Osiris, John Barleycorn, and of course the Jesus of Christianity are all supposed to embody this same principle. It is held up as one of the most enduring human concepts of what it means to be 'good.' Seen in this light, the perplexing obscurity of the rest of the film yields to an examination of the interwoven themes of sacrifice, creation, and preservation of life."

2. Jon Korn on the Film's Literary Ancestry 

"Examining Lovecraft and Clarke's own takes on ancient astronauts also allows us to see where, in macro terms, 'Prometheus''s narrative stumbles. Both the older authors succeed by limiting our contact with the superior races they describe, rendering them fittingly unknowable. In contrast, 'Prometheus' tries have it both ways, giving the Engineers a lot of screen time while keeping their intentions frustratingly opaque. It becomes hard to parse their reasoning for initiating life on Earth, then returning often to the planet during early human development, and ultimately wanting to destroy the same beings they created. While it probably would have run counterintuitive to the studio notes, I think the film's plot would be vastly improved by an injection of the same mystery that Lovecraft and Clarke so artfully deploy. (And it would lead more organically to the sequel so artlessly implied.)"

3. Drew McWeeny on What Does and Doesn't Work About "Prometheus"

"Ultimately, my biggest question about the film is 'Why didn't Ridley just make the 'Blade Runner' sequel instead?' It's obvious watching the film that David is the character he's most interested in, and the questions he explores with David would work just as well in the 'Blade Runner' world.  If Ridley wanted to play the game with a character who might or might not be a Replicant, as it appears he's doing with Vickers, then why not do that in the actual 'Blade Runner' world as well?"

4. Steven James Snyder Decodes "Prometheus"' Mysteries

"This is why David extracts, analyzes and manipulates the metallic orbs found in the cargo holds, why he drops a bit of the black goo into Charlie’s drink. David is trying to do anything -- everything -- to these precious alien artifacts to resurrect mankind’s ancestors. It is here where David utters the memorable line “big things have small beginnings,” and indeed the entire 'Alien' universe as we know it can be traced back to this single decision -- the mingling of this exotic DNA with human DNA."

5. Jen Yamato on the Film's Biggest Unanswered Question

"Consider the legacy of the man at the center of David's favorite film, as seen in 'Prometheus''s sublime opening sequence. T.E. Lawrence was born in 1888, helped upset order in the Arab world in 1916, was immortalized on celluloid in 1962's 'Lawrence of Arabia,' and then, years later in the world of 'Prometheus,' inspired an android to not only imitate his blond coif but instigate the beginnings of the 'Alien' universe in 2093. Lawrence is really the key to understanding David; in helping Weyland achieve his immortality by way of launching the destruction of humanity, David is immortalizing himself, and a part of me thinks that a part of him yearns to express this measure of often foolhardy human emotion. Or maybe he's just designed to be a close, but not close enough, imitation of the humans who built him?"

6. Jim Emerson on the Sci-Fi Movie Origins of "Prometheus"' DNA

"A few years later, in 2093, a ship, the Prometheus, is sent deep into space to find out who visited Earth all those years ago, and what they wanted. The archaeologists refer to them (the large white humanoids) as 'the engineers' because it is theorized that they engineered humanity. Are they the gods who created us? And is any of this sounding familiar? Because it's meant to. It's the outline for Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968), inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's 1948 short story, 'The Sentinel,' in which humans discovered a beacon on the moon that had been left by voyagers from another planet long before homo sapiens had evolved. 'Prometheus' quite consciously piggy-backs on images and motifs from '2001.'"

7. Dana Stevens and Adam Kempenaar Debate Some "Prometheus" Spoilers

"The Engineers have somehow decided to destroy Earth; they're going to destroy the life that they created... I think that's one of the interesting thematic tie-ins back to Shaw. She can't have a baby, and she's upset about that. But then she finally gets to create life and she's not happy with the life that she created and she wants to destroy it -- just like the Engineers."

8. Brad Brevet's Extensive Annotations Based on Filmmaker Interviews and Production Notes

"Talking with T3, Lindelof says, 'The movie demonstrates what [the black goo] does in certain circumstances. So, here's what it does if it gets on worms; here's what it does if it gets on your face; here's what it does if someone just puts a little bit of it in your drink. Now we see that lots of this is headed to Earth. Now, you used the word 'weapon' -- you're extrapolating that based on the theory Janek [Idris Elba] has, because it looks like a payload to him; all these ships are loaded with this stuff, and they're headed for Earth. The intent has to be to wipe us out, or is it to evolve us, or is it for something else?'"

9. Frank Swain on the (Dicey) Science of "Prometheus"

"The alien DNA is a '100% match' to our own. I’m not sure what this means. That we’re them, obviously. But 100%? I share 99% of my DNA with a chimp. Does that mean they made chimps too? But if they’re a 100% match for us, where did they get the extra 1% DNA we don’t share with chimps? Do they use some other DNA that they manufactured? Does that mean the Engineers made all life on Earth or just kick it off and let it evolve? If the latter, why did they let chimps evolve but make us out of a mould? Doesn’t that mean, at the end of the day, that chimps have a better reason to meet the Engineers, as they clawed their way up from a protist to resemble their gods? This movie probably would have worked better if it had come out in the 1950, before Hershey and Chase published their ideas. Or maybe 1850."

10. Julian Sanchez on What's Wrong With "Prometheus"

"The movie opens with an alien 'Engineer' preparing to seed a primordial planet -- presumably Earth -- with life. He accomplishes this by drinking a black goop which causes him to die in agony, disintegrating at the cellular level. It looks cool, but forces you to wonder: Is this really the best means available for this incredibly advanced species to introduce genetic material to a planet? It’s a little like finding out that Prometheus brought fire to humanity by setting himself on fire despite the ready availability of kindling. As with many, many other bizarre moments in this movie, this makes sense at a thematic and allegorical level, but fails at the level of elementary plot logic. This is why doing allegory well is hard: Your story actually has to work at a second level without shattering the viewer’s suspension of disbelief on the first level."

PLUS: The Guys From Red Letter Media Ponder"Prometheus"' Puzzles:

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30 Comments

  • Ektoras Foussekis | August 25, 2013 6:53 AMReply

    THIS IS A MESSAGE TO ALL THE PROMETHEUS FANS. AFTER WEEKS OF STUDYING THE MOVIE CAREFULLY, I HAVE FINALLY MANAGED TO COME UP WITH A PLOT SYNOPSIS FOR THE SEQUEL THAT GIVES INTERESTING AND SATISFYING ANSWERS. VISIT THE SITE HERE AND DON'T FORGET TO LIKE!!!
    prometheus2-movie.com/community/forums/topic/27045

  • LiverEaten | June 15, 2013 1:19 AMReply

    Allegory...I think that we are all missing the main point here in the movie's name Prometheus. The guy who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. Sentenced to be chained to a rock and have his liver eaten daily then regrown the next day to be feasted upon again. Any instance of humans having truck with gods (big or little g) tends to work out very badly for humankind. Suffering and death usually follow in quick order. A lesson in humility to accept that not all questions will be answered therefore a nod to accepting our fate. Don't ask the impertinent questions of gods, the answer may not be to your liking. When the engineer was questioned by David for a moment he stroked his head, at first tenderly then with anger at being questioned and petitioned by a mere robot made by his creation. Gods tend to order and demand. They do not negotiate or bargain with lesser beings. The nature of things. When humans presume to question gods or enter their realm they do so at their extreme peril.

  • titan | May 30, 2013 11:35 PMReply

    I think the big error of all Alien fans( I'm a big Alien/Aliens fan of course) is to expect a history about Aliens instead of the space jockey background(now named engeniers) and thank god Riddley at least tell us part of history about that unknown character on the Allien first movie. infact there are a lot of Xenomorph background , I believe the black goo is a variant of Xenomporh's DNA or whatever to create biological weapons( yeah don't tell me!) i liked your review is amazing! and for all those ppl complaining about the movie, this is just fiction don't blame this movie maybe is not the best, but hey is the prequel of Alien!

  • Ultimo! | October 14, 2012 3:06 PMReply

    Ok, so I liked the flim; however, there where a couple things that really could have been improved upon. The opening scene!, What planet is this Engineer (who is this guy?) on, and why is he drinking the kool-aid?? I looked up the answer online, and it makes sense, but in the movie it's not clear. The other thing that pissed me a little is the scene where the engineer wakes up, doesn't say a word in response to the android, and then just goes ape sh!t. I mean, say something! expain something! You wake up a 2000 year old dude and that's what goes down?

  • xaviersx | September 7, 2012 10:05 PMReply

    Enjoyed reading this. There's a lot said/read outside of the movie about what the movie is about, even by Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof, so take what you will to be canon inside of the film or what is only conveyed by just viewing the film sans that extra input. It was visually wonderful. It was scientifically sketchy, a definite OSHA violation on work environment and hazardous material handling, and red-shirt central. I look forward to its sequel, if for no other reason, the wealth of commentary it will generate and the families it will tear asunder.

  • Enrico | July 19, 2012 8:45 PMReply

    If it wasn't in the movie, it doesn't actually matter. Practically fan fiction. Come on people, jesus.

  • em | July 19, 2012 12:31 PMReply

    This is cool. thank you for putting these together. looking forward to reading them! just found this article thanks to /film's Page 2 feature. one aarticle that's popped up since you published this is this one over on CHud.com: http://www.chud.com/100388/stealing-fire-in-praise-of-prometheus/

    its long but the guy has really put thought into it.

  • Clever Monkey | July 7, 2012 4:25 PMReply

    There is much speculation as to why the "Engineers" want to kill their grand experiment. We have become imperfect, we have conflict. The original humans, "Engineers" have no concept of god or a grand, superior being as "The Creator". They just "are". We humans on earth suffer from they'd lucifer conflict. We have created beings that embody "right" or "wrong". We have created the notion of sin, penance,redemption, etc... They sent emissaries to "enlighten" us and we deified them, even crucified one. As Jesus tried to tell us, he is of god the father, created in his image as we are the same as him. We mixed it all up and created religion, the grand divider of mankind. Religion is the core conflict on this planet that spoils us now as galactic beings. We are sequestered here on Earth, unable to leave terra firma to mingle, possibly corrupt. We are simply an idea gone bad. The water was poison so we turned it into wine and have been historically drunk for a couple millinum, penning Bible, Tora, and Koran as fact to live by when they are simply hysterical illusion of drunkards.

  • scott | June 27, 2012 12:05 AMReply

    nicely asked - you covered it! I think the alien running into the 'worship room' ("Why did the Engineers build a giant human head 'sculpture' inside a pyramid?) was it to demonstrate technology made of a stone-textured material with embedded silicon (or palladium or whatever rock glows light and acts like a control surface and lasts for over 2000 years not 10,000... and how do you awake after a 2000 year hyper sleep? you get up cranky and murder everyone..) it's "3 centuries of Darwinism" (that biologist was a complete and utter tool - you NEVER touch the Serpent, even if it looks like a big dick!) - you could say that evolution of the most violent survives to discover FTL travel. Not survival of the fittest (although the Engineer sure was cut!) - survival of the most violent - which is why the original Alien survived so well in the original quadrillogy- perhaps WE ARE the real legacy here...

  • Tafas | June 24, 2012 12:20 AMReply

    The "questions" we really want to have answered are the questions Shaw asked her father - Why are we here? What happens when we die? Is there a heaven? Shaw hopes the engineers can tell us. Like all great science fiction, "Prometheus" explores a "what if" question: "what if we are not the creations of an omnipotent God, but creations of an extraterrestrial race of 'engineers.'" Shaw chooses to believe in God, even after she finds that our immediate creators may be another race of mortals. But not everyone reacts like Shaw does. So what does it mean to be created by God and what relevance does the identity of our creator have to our purpose, the meaning of our lives? If we were created by just another race of mortals, our first reaction may be to feel diminished, like robots created by flawed beings. At the pool table conversation David asks Charlie one of the questions Shaw wants to ask the engineers:
    David: Why did you make me?
    Charlie: Because we could!
    David: Imagine how disappointed you’d be if your creator said that to you…
    We certainly hope for a better answer ourselves if we could ever pose the question. Like maybe Charlie could have said, "we made you, David, so that you could use your superior intelligence to unlock medical mysteries and cure disease, so tha you could invent technologies that stop pollution and clean our environment - we created you, David, so that you could make the world a better place."
    In "Prometheus" we get answers that seem to head in darker direction. Weyland appears to have created David to help him live longer, remain king forever. And our creators? Yeah, they created us, but now they want to exterminate us. Harsh.
    Hopefully, Shaw can find a sub-group of those Engineers who have higher hopes for humans. Hopefully, when Shaw and David land on Planet Engineer, they get a little more optimism, maybe something better than "you serve no purpose; in fact, we engineers want you humans dead.
    Gotta be. There has to be a better answer. Why else would those "invitations" show up painted on the cave walls? Someone up there must care enough to try and save us. And whoever that is, they have got to have a better answer than, "we created you because we could."

  • Andy Gold | June 23, 2012 7:11 PMReply

    I waited for years to see an Alien prequal film that showed the back story to Alien and I left the cinema feeling really cheated by Prometheus. Looking back now, I actually hated it. It didn't deliver as a film on any level. The actors were a poor bunch and they had non of the class of the Alien or Aliens cast. The plot left me scratching my head which annoyed me as I wanted to finally know some answers. The scares were not there. Suspense were missing. The scripted dialogue was cheap and delivered badly. I was not impressed with the feel of the Prometheus craft and the shots from the outside of the ship of which there were not enough (for me that is). I was bored with David and I know he is important in the movie but I wanted to see aliens and humans on screen more then a posh, smug android mincing about!
    They could have made a fine film which fans needed after the last turkeys in the Alien bloodline but failed and I won't forgive Sir Ridley for shafting me out of years of hoping to know the aswers to what happened on the planet and ship before the 79 epic Alien! Have a word with yourself please Mr Scott. D-
    (The last hour should have had some aliens on the ship and had the crew getting wiped out one by one with some having aliens inside them bursting out. Not enough energy, blood or action was in this film. It's a 1 out of 10 from me with Alien getting 9 and Aliens getting 10. I appologies for being a bit of a simpleton and having poor grammer but hope I got some of my points accross?)

  • dennis roberson | January 27, 2013 11:48 PM

    I agree to a great extent. It was too much like Alien. Shaw served much the same role as Ripley. David served much the same role as Alien's robot. Both got their head ripped off but survived. Etc. I was left wanting much more. If Ridley Scott wants to get all deep with his religious allegory, fine. But you still have to produce something that delivers on ALL levels. It was portrayed as a movie that would give us answers, but in fact it only gave us many more questions, and left most fans scrathing their heads.

  • katiepea | July 2, 2012 5:50 AM

    @Andy Gold, so basically, you wanted the same movie we've seen? Your hopes seem to word for word describe an alien remake. For a story of origins it was precisely what I expected

  • anthony | June 22, 2012 1:47 PMReply

    I quite like the idea that the last of the engineers is just carrying out - completing a task for his version of 'The company'. His task (and his crew's) was to find a planet (Earth) suitable to grow a medium (humankind) so that they could breed Aliens for the company AND GET PAID !! I fancy that there is a bad 'company' for the engineers like the bad company in Alien (Weyland-Yutani). The first guy in the movie is just a dumb clone (i.e. not a true engineer) programmed to carry and disperse the dna on Earth.

  • rm.mohmand@gmail.com | June 19, 2012 3:54 PMReply

    Shaw is going to survice without food and water because she had sexual intercourse with Holloway, who was infected by the drop of black goo.

  • Ripley Connor | June 18, 2012 10:26 PMReply

    I'm just so glad we aliens aren't the only evil ones in the film. Humans can kill too! I'm part alien, part human and part terminator, and we're a completely normal family living in a suburb! Let's hope aliens are the heroes in the sequel.

  • David | June 18, 2012 9:34 PMReply

    What amazes me is that everybody is missing what is blatantly obvious. The white Humanoids are not the original Engineers.They are seed planters. I willing to bet that the next movie will show what the Engineers really look like, and when everything is said and done it will all make sense and wonderful to watch. I bet David said something to the Humanoid that correlates to what David is to his relation to the humans as being synthetic. Just an idea.

  • Justin | July 2, 2012 10:34 AM

    Excellent point, I didn't think of this..

  • Jose | July 2, 2012 12:19 AM

    I think you are spot on, notice that the first ship is a saucer, not a croissant.

  • JT | June 21, 2012 10:57 PM

    Actually David says something like this to the Space Jockey, "this man (referring to Weyland) doesn't want to die, he believes that you can help him live longer", judging by his reaction, the Space Jockey isn't thrilled with this.

  • LindelofsAdvocate | June 18, 2012 6:59 PMReply

    http://elitiste.blogspot.com/2012/06/prometheus-explanation.html

  • Jill | June 18, 2012 6:38 PMReply

    I think a lot of people's theories are really interesting, but I notice a complete lack of discussion on the Frankenstein(or The Modern Prometheus) parallels.
    The Monster's main quest in the story was to find Victor Frankenstein and ask why he made him and abandoned him. The whole "everybody wants to murder their parents" thing is far more Frankenstein than Prometheus. Especially since when Shaw finally talked to her "gods" they only wanted to kill her much like Frankenstein wanted to destroy his monster.

  • Storefront Jenius | June 18, 2012 3:33 PMReply

    Quick question: How is Shaw supposed to survive ( food and water) aboard the new ship she and David are aboard in search of the Engineers' Maker?

  • Andrew | June 19, 2012 4:29 AM

    Too bad there is a xenomorph on Vicker's lifeboat lmao.

  • David | June 18, 2012 9:37 PM

    She probably stopped back by Vickers lifeboat and picked up the massive supply of food and other necessities before leaving on the other ship.I can't imagine they would've been in that big of hurry to leave

  • Bryan | June 18, 2012 2:57 PMReply

    What needs to be done is NOT a Blade Runner sequel. What needs to be done is a Blade Runner prequel that shows Deckard when he was young, just out of the "Academy" (or whatever it is Blade Runners go through before they become Blade Runners) tracking down Replicants. That would be something.

  • Arpoutygoop Mugmooshi | June 26, 2012 12:12 AM

    Or even better, no Blade Runner sequel OR prequel. Blade Runner is a work of art that holds up to multiple viewings. Doesn't need to be cheapened with additional films.

  • Alan Dreher | June 19, 2012 10:43 AM

    Blade Runner Spoilers:

    There is some question as to whether or not Deckard is a replicant, and more recent interviews with Scott suggest that he is of the opinion that Deckard is a replicant. The Final Cut comes pretty close to just saying it outright with the entire unicorn dream sequence then tin foil unicorn left by Gaff(similar to how Deckard revealed to Rachel that she was a replicant by telling her about memories/dreams that only she would have known about).

  • Mark | June 18, 2012 12:21 PMReply

    I really, really wish Ridley had done the Blade Runner sequel with the brilliant Fassbender.

  • Ben Jackson | June 18, 2012 11:51 AMReply

    I've read a few of these but I'm looking forward to digging into the ones I haven't yet read. Meanwhile, this is my favorite piece I've read about the film so far. It comes from Bill Ryan's blog. http://wwwbillblog.blogspot.com/2012/06/youre-tired-of-yourself-and-all-of-your.html

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