Sunday, July 01, 2012

Underneath Prometheus

Now that I've had a second chance to see Ridley Scott's Prometheus I'm more sure of a few things.

First, the gist of it: in the near future a bazillionaire, Peter Weyland, funds a space trip to a distant planet based on a couple of archeologists' finding a stellar map. Since this is Ridley Scott, the guy who gave us Alien the quintessential blending of horror and sci-fi and also the moody, existential Blade Runner; things go bad quickly.

The ship lands on the barren planet and under the thrumming soundtrack we enter the haunted house. It quickly becomes clear that this place has more in common with the Nellis Testing Range in Nevada or Chernobyl in Russia than any mythical garden of creation.

Contrary to what most film critics have said, the supporting cast are not stereotypes. We have a black ship's captain with a Eastern European name who speaks with a Texas accent and is fond of accordions. There's also a geologist with a punk hairdo and tribal tattoos who looks like a roadie rather than a scientist. Scott is forced to move the film along at such a brisk pace we don't have time to really know who any of these characters are.

The aliens are equally enigmatic and raise lots of questions. Why do they all look like the product of a white supremacist eugenics project with freakishly perfect physiques and superman strength? Most importantly, why are they all male?

And then there's the leads: Elizabeth Shaw played by Noomi Rapace of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fame and David, an android, played by Michael Fassbender. Both actors seem right at home in dark, moody films with depressing story arcs. Fassbender described his character as asexual. I disagree. David, despite his not being a "real boy" has all the trappings of an angst-ridden 21st century man. He's conflicted, vain and seems to remember he's supposed to empathize with and interact with his fellow explorers a few moments later than he should -- just like your run-of-the-mill geek prodigy.

At it's core, Prometheus is a love story. Early on David gently strokes Elizabeth's cryogenic chamber as he watches her dreams via the magical technology of this future world. The android also watches Lawrence of Arabia and pantomimes Peter O'Toole's dialogue. It's no accident David is attracted to a film where the lead is other worldly and sees himself as alienated from his fellow English men. For a being incapable of emotions and lacking "a soul" he does a hell of a job convincing us otherwise. Underneath his conceit, David is desperate to fit in and win approval of his team members and creator, old man Weyland. David even has a couple of sibling standoffs with Vickers, one of Weyland's corporate execs who is clearly envious of David's position as the No.1 son.

And he does what every male lead inevitably does in every love story. He betrays and disappoints Elizabeth and, she in turn, has to forgive him if they're both to survive when the sky starts to fall.

Some of the most nuanced scenes in the film are between David and Elizabeth. When he realizes she's accidentally been "impregnated" by the weapon they find in this sterile Eden he's impersonal and efficient but there's a hint of envy when he asks Elizabeth if she's "recently been intimate" with her boyfriend, fellow archeologist Holloway. And the scene after Elizabeth gets the monster removed is especially interesting. Elizabeth wanders bloody and drugged through the ship and finds David gently fawning over his creator, Weyland. When David sees Elizabeth he gallantly tosses his lab coat over her and then makes an awkward pun as though her physicality, her femininity, is at once fascinating and scary to him; just like a regular man would.

This film is about the dislocation between the head and the animal body, between the intellect and it's creative science and the body with its drives and appetites for oxygen, food and sex. It's a metaphor first brought up when one of the characters asks David why he's putting his helmet on even though he doesn't breathe. It's echoed again when the explorers find a decapitated alien and in the finale.

David is an intellect who tries to rise above his albeit manufactured physical self and fails. Just like he tries to separate himself from any possible emotions for Elizabeth. Prometheus is a meditation on the quintessential male and female archetypes and what they're compelled to come together to do: create. And destroy.


NolaB said...

Now I have to watch Prometheus, so I can comment intelligently on your review.

Ms M said...

It appears I was right. Lindelof admits in this interview that he wrote David as having a sort of android crush on Elizabeth.