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Title Menu: 10 Minutes from Prometheus

By (September 1, 2014) No Comment

“The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”
–T. E. Lawrence to William Potter in the film Lawrence of Arabia


Directed by Ridley Scott, screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, Prometheus is the best sequel in the Alien franchise. The following is not meant to serve as evidence of its value, nor is this essay a review or a “best of” list.

1) 1:11 Aerial shots of Earth. Shots through clouds, mountains, gorges, textures—Koyaanisqatsi-like, an association reinforced by the undercurrent of Philip Glass’s score that hides in the bed of Marc Streitenfeld’s soundtrack. The sky-filled river shown in the last second of this minute is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining title sequence—from which Ridley Scott used outtake footage at the end of the domestic cut of his Blade Runner.

2) 5:40 An archaeologist on the Isle of Skye is sent from a cave by Dr. Elizabeth Shaw onto the green mountainside wearing a red jacket to summon Dr. Charles Holloway. Though he is small against the rock formation known as the Old Man of Storr, the red is bright and emphasizes the gray-blue hue that dominates the film. Dr. Holloway’s jacket is orange, bright, but not as bright as the red; his assistants, their jackets sky blue, their scarves gray and green, blend into the background.

Dr. Shaw’s discovery, a “pictogram showing men worshipping giant beings pointing to the stars…,” leads 3.27 x 1014 km from Earth aboard the ship Prometheus. It’s 3500+ years old and essentially identical to six other images found, drawn or carved by peoples who had no contact with one another. Dr. Shaw and Dr. Holloway were convinced the stars depicted an actual galaxy, and Dr. Shaw interprets the images as an invitation. She assumes an invitation by our creators to join them, but the events of the film challenge that assumption. When evidence to support her claim is called for by the expedition’s biologist, she admits she has none, but that “It is what I choose to believe.”

Is his belief noble? Is believing anything that relies entirely on faith or, to take it further, relies on a faith in something that requires the believers to ignore facts, noble?

3) 21:31 The palate of Prometheus is primarily blue, secondarily yellow.

Meredith Vickers, played by Charlize Theron, an actor I generally associate with the color yellow, asks Dr. Shaw and Dr. Holloway into her quarters. She sits on a cream-colored chair in front of an enormous screen displaying scenes from nature; when we first see the room, the scene is of a snowy wood; just before she sits, the image changes to the grasses of the Serengeti.


Vickers tells the doctors that she is in charge of the expedition, and that she is an atheist.

The Serengeti is famous for its population of lions.

4) 24:11 As Prometheus enters the atmosphere of the moon LV223, we are treated to aerial shots that echo the film’s start—and again a hint of Philip Glass in the score. At 24:27 there’s line of pink and tan circles—lens flare, that reminds us of the camera’s presence, like a brush stroke.

A crewmember: No radio, no heat source.
The slovenly biologist: Nobody’s home.
David: There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.

When David is asked where the line comes from, he replies, enigmatically, “Just something from a film I like.” We know that the film is Lawrence of Arabia, and that David has modeled his appearance after Peter O’Toole’s. David is a robot.


5) 35:27 Inside a great cavern on LV233, David is able to read the cuneiform-like writings on the wall and thus able to operate the control panels. He triggers a recording, which plays as a glittering hologram but looks like ghosts. Several astronauts run through the corridor to a door. The first of the holograph astronauts runs through David; he closes his eyes and smiles.

That David is not alive because he is not human is a belief held by everyone on board the Prometheus. He is sometimes referred to as “boy” and his maker—the financial backer of the expedition—who says David “is the closest thing to a son I will ever have,” which calls to mind Pinocchio, which in turn calls to mind Pinocchio’s quest to become a real boy. David’s maker states that David can’t appreciate his potential immortality, “for that would require the one thing that David will never have—a soul.”

Eldon Tyrell, the builder and marketer of replicants in Blade Runner, says, “Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell. ‘More human than human’ is our motto” in response to Rick Deckard’s question “how can it [replicant Rachel] not know what it is?” The implied criticism is that fooling a thing into thinking it is not a thing, but a human being, is cruel, or at the very least dishonest. The question raised by the exchange—and by the film—is, if a things believes it is a human being, why is it not a human being? In Blade Runner, memories = soul.

The fact that human beings have a soul is taken for granted by not only the characters in Prometheus, but by the audience. This difference cannot be demonstrated. Does a clone have a soul? Why would we ask that, except if we believe that the soul is something only a god can create? Is homo sapiens the better species because it’s the only animal with a soul?

David responds with subdued ecstasy as the hologram passes through him. Does he do so because, as the image / ghost shares the same space he does, he has—if only for a second—a soul?

subdued ecstacy

6) 38:21 At the entrance to a closed room, Dr. Shaw and Dr. Holloway examine a 2,000 year-old alien corpse, the corpse of one of the astronauts from the hologram. David, on a ladder, continues to explore the control panel on the wall.

Dr. Shaw: What are you doing David?
David: I am attempting to open the door
Dr. Shaw: Wait, we don’t know what’s on the other side.
[The door opens.]
David: Whoops. Sorry.

David works for his creator, Peter Weyland, CEO of Weyland Corporation, who claims he funded the trip to meet his maker and get answered the fundamental questions “where do we come from” and “what is our purpose.” His motivations are not scientific.

Nor are Dr. Shaw and Dr. Holloway’s. The trip to LV223 is a pilgrimage. Science is merely along for the ride.

When the door opens, Dr. Shaw, et al, are distracted by the well-preserved head of the dead astronaut, and do not immediately notice the great stone head that dominates the room.

7) 47:19 In a laboratory aboard the Prometheus, Dr. Shaw and Dr. Ford (medical officer) examine the alien astronaut’s head. When the head shows signs of cellular activity, Dr. Shaw says, “I think we can trick the nervous system into thinking it’s still alive.”

Why trick the head of a being you think might have had a hand in creating you to think it is still alive? To ask it questions.

In the film The Thing That Couldn’t Die, the head of a long-buried warlock is able to control the people who unearth it with its mind.

From the awe inspired by the great stone head of a god to the horror of a reanimated and rapidly putrefying (“Oh God the smell!”) head of flesh.

Why are gods immortal? Because we are not.

prometheus head

8) 52:49 David and an intoxicated Dr. Holloway briefly discuss their makers:

D: Why do you think your people made me?
H: We made you ‘cause we could.
D: Can you imagine how disappointing it would be to hear the same thing from your creator?
H: [Laughs] I guess it’s a good thing you can’t be disappointed.
D: Yes. It’s wonderful, actually. May I ask you something? How far would you go to get what you came here all this way for, your answers, what would you be willing to do?
H: Anything and everything.
D: That’s worth drinking to, I’d imagine.
[David hands Dr. Holloway a drink.]
H: Here’s mud in your eye.

bigthingshavesmallbeginningsWhat Dr. Holloway doesn’t know is that David spiked his drink with a little—I dunno what it’s called, the black goo he found preserved in a canister he surreptitiously retrieved from room occupied by the stone head.

David asks Dr. Holloway permission to spike the drink—albeit, indirectly. If Dr. Holloway would do “anything” to find his answers, that would include allowing himself to be infected with genetic material made by one of his makers, in the hope that it will grow an answer. Demons often need to get permission to act, as they are in the employ of the Devil or are at least subject to supernatural law. The vampire must be invited before it can enter and destroy. David’s not a demon, of course. He is more free than a demon. There is no god for David to worry about, because he knows his makers.

Maybe I do know what the black goo is called. It’s mud.

9) 1:22:34 Dr. Shaw, who is barren, is pregnant. “It’s not exactly a traditional fetus,” David says. She tells David that, “I want it out of me. I want it out. Get it out of me.” David refuses her request—his goal is to freeze her and bring her and the things in her uterus back to earth. She violently defends her right to choose what is and isn’t done to her body, and gets herself to the med-pod she saw in Vicker’s quarters. When she tells the pod, “I need cesarean” the pod replies (with a woman’s voice), “Error. This med-pod is calibrated for male patients only….” Dr. Shaw is again refused an abortion.

Prometheus Shaw MedPodA woman’s right to choose, that is, a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, that is, a woman’s right to control her own destiny regardless of her ability to reproduce, is a central theme in the third Alien film. The Weyland Company wants an alien brought back for its potential military use, so Ripley has been impregnated (raped) with an alien parasite. She is trapped on an all-male penal colony that has developed into a cult. When she finds out she is carrying a baby she doesn’t want, she asks to die, but is told she cannot. She must fight for the right, against aliens, religious fanatics, and the Company, who all want her live not for her own sake, but as a human incubator.

Dr. Shaw works within the limitations presented to her by the med-pod and requests, “Surgery, abdominal, penetrating injuries, foreign body, initiate.” This request is granted, and a sort-of self surgery is performed, removing the proto-alien fetus.

10) 1:39:40 David speaks to a god in its own language, a trick it does not appreciate. The god—called throughout the film not “god” but “engineer”—twists David’s head off, knocks Weyland to the ground with it, then drops it. Weyland, with his dying breath utters, “There’s nothing.” David’s head, still very much alive, replies, “I know. Have a good journey, Mr. Weyland.”

Later, David’s head is collected by the fanatical Dr. Shaw, so he might help her continue her quest to know who made her, why, and why they hate her. David questions this and Dr. Shaw dismisses his inability to appreciate why she wants her questions answered by saying, “Well, I guess that’s because I’m a human being and you’re a robot.”

Once again, she is made to look noble, and David to look pathetic, but she, like Dr. Holloway, like Weyland, fails to consider her role in David’s creation, and that he is both not a human being and not a robot, but a being with motivations all his own.

Adam Golaski is the author of Color Plates and Worse Than Myself and the editor of The Problem of Boredom In Paradise: Selected Poems By Paul Hannigan. His poetry has appeared in a number of journals including 1913: A Journal of Forms (#6), Moonlit, Little Red Leaves, word for/word, and LVNG. Adam blogs at Little Stories.