If you have not read my thesis on the film Prometheus, I recommend reading it first before reading this article. You can find it here.
I don’t really like to do this, but I felt it necessary after the comments I received in email, on the web, and through conversations with people. Not in a while has a movie been such a divisive topic of conversation as this one has, and never have I had so many people send me hate mail or praise me simultaneously before. So as I said, I don’t like to do this, but this article will continue my discussion of the film Prometheus.
First I want to say that since I released my thesis, I have received a lot of email on the subject as well as commentary for some things I have said, on this blog and on the web in general relating to the subject. I will try to fit as much of it in this article as I can so I don’t have to create a third part later to continue this discussion further.
If you haven’t read my thesis, I would suggest reading it first because it will give you a reference point to begin with, and understand some of what will be talked about in this article. It’s important to remember that although I draw many conclusions about the film Prometheus, they are not factual except where I have explained them as such and included reference to that point as I will do. All other references here and included in my thesis came from my own mind, based on inference made through watching the film. They are based in opinion and should be considered as such. And although some of the opinions expressed are clearly empirical, factual accounts from second or third-party observations are not reliable as evidence. That simply means that only those involved in the production of the film, know to any certainty what the motivations are, and what the content truly depicts, anything to the contrary is merely speculation.
So as I was saying before, I’ve spent the last week discussing the film and the topic of my thesis to many people, and have found some get it, some don’t and some don’t care either way. I will choose to ignore the people who don’t care, because if they don’t really care to discuss it, I don’t care to include them. So I will address to the point those who seem to get the film and those who do not.
To say that the film is a little intellectual is stating the obvious, but it’s something I have to be clear about. When a filmmaker makes a film like this he does so to create a buzz, get people talking, and asking questions. If he answered all the questions about the film, in there, what would be left to talk about after you finish watching it? Art is great because two people can walk into the same museum look at the same painting or sculpture and derive entirely different observations about what they have viewed. Movies are clearly meant to have the same motive. Interpretation is the lifeblood of art, if not for that we would have no reason to think upon it, or discuss it further. I could see something like this being the way a walk through the museum would go if we thought the opposite:
Joe and his wife walk into the museum, he sees a painting on the wall depicting a picture of a man in a boat sitting on a lake, a giant fish in the air, mouth open pointing at the boat. “Joe what do you see?” his wife asks, “A man , a boat, and a fish,” he replies. “Yeah I see the same, let’s go check out the sculptures,” she says.
Having said all that I’m sure that many people seeing that painting may think the same things, but there are others who want to know why the man is on the boat? Or why the fish is big? Or why does the painting depict a man fishing for lunch, only to possibly become lunch himself? What was the artist thinking? Nothing is truer of human nature than our ability to be inquisitive and anything that combines the creativity portions of our mind with those meant to derive truly intellectual thinking should be welcome.
What I realized was that not everyone thinks this way, and either they don’t care to figure things out, or merely want questions answered for them, in either case when presented with such depictions they break down and declare them as shit, because they do not understand them or choose not to. I’ve always derived my answers from observation, and it saddens me when others do not.
So now, on to the topic at hand, Prometheus and some questions that need to be answered.
What is the black fluid?
The black substance is an organic fluid that has superfluid-like properties.
David states the fluid is organic when he touches it.
Superfluids are a really strange behavior in quantum mechanics. Sometimes when atoms become compressed together they transform into a form of matter called a superfluid. Superfluids do not like to be contained, and will flow up walls, in cracks and anywhere else all trying to escape. Superfluids find a way out of containers, even when it appears they are completely sealed off. In the movie, we can see that the containers appear to be tightly sealed together and there are certainly no breaches at the top or on the sides that would allow any fluid to simply form there, so we must conclude that the fluid that appears to sweat from the canister has found a way out, a property of superfluidity.
It has the ability to detect emotion and respond to it.
I’ve explained it a little in my thesis and will touch upon it further here. When the chamber containing the canisters is first opened, David enters and the scientists concern themselves with the head of the dead engineer. The canisters seem stable at this point. When the scientists enter the chamber further, the fluid begins sweating from the canisters, and Shaw indicates human interaction is responsible for this by saying, “I think we have infected the atmosphere in here.” When David brings one of the canisters back to the ship and opens it, the fluid inside appears inert again. David even touches the fluid, placing it on the tip of his finger, and the fluid remains completely stable having no reaction to the touch of the android David. Now I have heard a lot of arguments but I believe my conclusions about this fluid reacting to emotions are correct.
- David has no emotions: Fluid has no reaction
- Humans in presence of fluid: Fluid has a reaction
It doesn’t get any easier to understand here and merely requires a little deductive reasoning.
It is both used to create and destroy life and is responsible for creating mutation.
The concerns of life and death flow freely throughout this film and can be felt at the very beginning. The engineer drinks the fluid; it destroys his life, and creates new life. But the fluid also transforms or mutates life as well. Although we don’t see the fluid create the snake-like creatures found by the two scientists in the chamber, in an earlier scene we see David step on some worms buried in the soil on the floor of the chamber. Either the worms were killed in the process of creating the snake-like creatures or they were mutated into the snake-like creatures, in either case the black fluid is the catalyst. Catalysts are responsible for causing reaction in things without changing themselves. There is nothing in the film itself that makes me believe the liquid alters its own state after interacting with something else. When the scientist and Holloway are infected by the fluid, they begin to mutate. We can presume the sperm Holloway leaves in Shaw’s womb carries this mutation. Mutation is a funny thing because by its nature, it’s a random roll of the dice. So you can see that no one really knows what will happen when you interact with the fluid or what you get.
What do I know for sure?
The engineer drinks the fluid, he disintegrates, falls into the water below, and DNA comes together.
What I surmise is happening?
I believe that the fluid is used by the engineers as a catalyst for life in this instance. The engineer’s DNA is separated, mixed with the environment of the planet he is on, and thus DNA recombines (his DNA + something on the planet, possibly in the water) making life possible on this planet. The idea of the primordial soup stems from the belief that all the ingredients for life are there in the soup, and just require a little something extra to put them together. So it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that the DNA of the engineer and the ingredients of the planet can be mixed together, however it’s the special properties of the fluid that are needed to actually create life.
Ridley Scott has some interesting things that may clue us into his line of thinking:
“Do you know anything about bacteria? If you take a teaspoon and drop it in the biggest reservoir in London … drop it in, and eight days later the water is clean and then suddenly on the eighth day the water goes dense and cloudy, but by then it’s been sent to every home and several million people have drunk it, you’ve got bubonic.”
My take on this comment is that evolution is an interesting topic, the idea being that you can drop something into something and get something else, maybe that was his thinking. I do feel like it’s a common theme throughout the Alienverse, squid impregnates the engineer, which then evolves into the first xenomorph. And presumably that xenomorph or another like it continues the path of evolution that result in the queen we see in Aliens, capable of laying the eggs we see in Alien, that birth the facehuggers that transform into the familiar xenomorph. I also find a particular line used by David when he has the fluid placed on the tip of his finger, a fascinating clue. He says, “Big things have small beginnings.” It’s a great line, and I believe a clue to the nature of the fluid.
Was the black fluid intended to be used as a weapon?
Once you realize the engineers do mean us harm, you can presume that the black fluid was going to be used as a weapon, however it’s unlikely that it’s what it was originally intended for. We don’t know its origin and so I can only surmise that either the engineers discovered the fluid, figured out its properties and its uses, or they engineered it as such. The fluid does seem to have many useful purposes, much like plastics, although these purposes are clearly biological in nature.
What do I know for sure?
The engineers on LV-223 were storing a lot of the stuff. The chamber was full of canisters.
Why would Holloway and the others remove their helmets in the pyramid, even if the air was breathable, couldn’t it contain microscopic life that could still harm them?
During entry of the moon LV-223 the Prometheus’ crew scans the atmosphere and determines that it’s comprised of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon-dioxide and other gases. Earth’s atmosphere is comprised of about 78% nitrogen, 20% oxygen and 0.039% carbon-dioxide as well as some other gases. LV-223, however is comprised of nearly 3% carbon dioxide and as one of the scientists says as they begin their descent that would make the air about as breathable as breathing through an exhaust pipe. (However, I find it only fair to mention that carbon-monoxide is far more likely to kill you coming out the exhaust pipe of a car than carbon-dioxide.) So this atmosphere although very similar is still different enough to make it unbreathable for humans.
When the crew enter the pyramid there comes a point when the air inside becomes breathable. Someone suggests the engineers were possibly terraforming, as the air is even cleaner than on the Earth. Concerning the idea that Holloway would remove his helmet and the others would follow as a gross error in judgment irrespective of their surroundings, I only have a few things to say. It’s possible that Holloway is somewhat of a dare-devil or risk taker and it might just be completely within his nature to do something so risky. One could also surmise that the scientists believed that if the engineers intended to make the air breathable enough for humans or anything else that could breathe it to be able to breathe it, they might make it safe enough for it to be breathed. A good way to look at it is that pool owners often task themselves with cleaning the pool and have a long scoop they use to grab the leaves and other gunk that falls into the water. But they also use chlorine tablets to kill bacteria in the pool, thus making it safe to swim in.
It’s not hard to believe that the engineers might value the same kind of processing in their air system, a filtration system that not only makes the air breathable but clean of microbes. Again, the scientist notes that the air is cleaner than on Earth, which can be taken two ways. It’s clean enough to breathe, and clean because it’s free of toxins and microbes.
What do I know for sure?
Holloway and the others remove their helmets; no one dies as a result of breathing the air in the pyramid.
Why does the biologist frighten at the sight of the dead engineers, but appear to be unconcerned when face to face with the living snake-like creature?
Fear motivates people in different ways and none of them are predictable. The way one person reacts in a given situation can differ completely from the way another person acts in the same situation. Having said that, biology is the study of life, not death. A cryptozoologist, pathologist, or paleontologist are all more likely to want to study the dead engineer than the biologist. When the biologist becomes aware of the living creature before him, that inquisitive human nature as well as the scientist in him, and his field of study of course, pushes him toward the creature instead of away. That does not mean he wasn’t afraid of course, only that his interest outweighed his fear. He begins playing with the creature, which likely relaxed him, making him less concerned, and causing him to want to touch it, which he does. I might also point out that a small snake might be a lot less of threatening concern than an eight foot long human-like creature, even if its dead.
What do I know for sure?
The man scares at the sight of dead things and not at the sight of living things. He wouldn’t be the first person. Ask yourself how many people you know that might run at the sight of a dead body but not at the sight of a stranger.
Why did David infect Holloway with the black fluid? And did Weyland have anything to do with it?
David opens the canister he has taken from the pyramid and removes some of the fluid. He then enters Holloway’s presence with a glass and bottle of liquor and offers it to him. He talks a bit to Holloway and asks him what he might do to get the answers he is looking for, and Holloway tells him anything. After pouring the glass full of liquor he taps his finger into the glass dropping in the fluid. Now there is a lot of speculation as to why David would do this in the first place. But I believe that although his motives are not entirely clear, it matters not to the plot in the end.
There are a few things to consider here.
- David is an android; he is programmed and follows that programming like any machine.
- He is as inquisitive as humans, emotional or not. He does more than a few things just to see what happens.
- We don’t know for sure that David was following the orders of Weyland.
What do I know for sure?
David comes from Weyland’s quarters having spoken to him through an interface of the stasis pod, we know nothing about the conversation they had other than what he tells Vickers when she asks him. He tells her that Weyland instructed David to try harder. David spikes Holloway’s drink with the fluid, infecting him.
What do I surmise happens?
Well first of all we know that from Aliens, the sequel to Alien, that Bishop tells Ripley that previous models of androids do not feature the behavior modifiers that present androids feature that do not allow them to harm humans. We also know that previous to Aliens, in the film Alien the android Ash tries to kill the crew. Knowing Prometheus is a prequel to Alien that establishes the fact that David predates the androids of Aliens which we know have the behavior modifiers, but also the androids of Alien which do not, meaning David is unlikely to feature such a device. We also know David has no emotional baggage thus would not suffer from the guilt of infecting Holloway. Knowing that David has been in communication with Weyland it’s reasonable to believe Weyland asked David what might happen when the fluid interacts with a human, especially if David told him what happened in the chamber when he entered and when the rest of the crew entered. It’s also reasonable to believe that David might have merely wanted to see what would happen if he infected Holloway, knowing that the fluid would not interact with him.
Damon Lindelof, one of the screenwriters had to say on this:
That's his programming. In the scene preceding him doing that, he is talking to Weyland (although we don't know it at the time) and he's telling Weyland that this is a bust. That they haven't found anything on this mission other than the stuff in the vials. And Weyland presumably says to him, "Well, what's in the vials?" And David would say, "I'm not entirely sure, we'll have to run some experiments." And Weyland would say, "What would happen if you put it in inside a person?" And David would say, "I don't know, I'll go find out." He doesn't know that he's poisoning Holloway, he asks Holloway, "What would you be willing to do to get the answers to your questions?" Holloway says, "Anything and everything." And that basically overrides whatever ethical programming David is mandated by, [allowing him] to spike his drink.
Shaw tells Holloway that their tests on the dead engineer head prove that we came from the engineers because the DNA is identical to human DNA. But how is this possible, wouldn’t the engineers be more human if their DNA was identical?
This I believe is clearly where Scott and the writers blunder completely with the science. If the DNA was identical they would be human in every respect and so to explain what I believe the writers meant to say and not what they actually said was that the DNA is close enough to assume a common ancestor.
Evolutionary biology is based on the theory of the common ancestor. The belief is that all life derives its existence from the same genetic material and merely branched off into different lifeforms over time.
All life has DNA, and that means that humans share some part of their genetic code with the other forms of life on Earth including reptiles, birds, mammals, insects, and even plants. The theory is that if you were to go backward through time with each lifeform, reducing complexity, a reverse evolution of sorts, you would be able to find the common ancestors.
We have no actual idea when the opening scene takes place, but we can assume it’s before life begins on Earth. Assuming this is true, and then the engineers DNA mixing into the primordial soup allows the creation of the first microbes, which eventually lead to the evolution of humans, it is plausible to believe Shaw could have meant the DNA shared a common ancestor.
Why do the engineers want to kill us? Didn’t they create us? Was creating us some kind of mistake?
My thesis documents this premise quite well, so I don’t want to be too repetitive. I can only say that they do want to kill us, and they did create us. Whether it’s a mistake or not is all in perspective. Mistakes happen all the time, some are happy mistakes and some are the kind we all want to forget. The motives for destroying mankind are in the film if you can follow the clues to their logical conclusion.
What do I know for sure?
The engineers created all life on Earth. They nurtured us, followed our progress and even helped us advance. We drew pictures depicting their visitations to Earth on cave walls. Then about 2,000 years ago they suddenly stopped taking an interest in our development and instead decided we were not worthy of existence after all. Through an unpredictable occurrence, they failed in their mission of extermination and humans were allowed to advance further.
What I surmise happened?
The engineers made us, they helped us build all the things we needed to advance like tools, the wheel, roads, architecture, and with those tools we built the weapons of war. We turned the seeds of goodwill into a war machine and started on the path of destruction ourselves. Around the time of the Roman Empire, the engineers still believing humans worth redemption sent an emissary to help us named Jesus Christ, and we murdered him. The engineers deemed humans worthy of extermination instead of redemption and began a mission to destroy us.
What Ridley Scott had to say on this?
“…We definitely did, and then we thought it was a little too on the nose. But if you look at it as an "our children are misbehaving down there" scenario, there are moments where it looks like we've gone out of control, running around with armor and skirts, which of course would be the Roman Empire. And they were given a long run. A thousand years before their disintegration actually started to happen. And you can say, let’s send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it. Guess what? They crucified him.”
I do want to say that one of the questions I have received is in regards to the murals? What do they signify and such? I have answered this I believe quite adequately in my thesis, however I have updated it to include still images of the murals to give you a better look at them so you can see what I saw instead of wondering yourself. If you have already read the thesis and just want to see the two murals here is the first mural depicting the spearing of Christ and the second mural depicting the evil monster, Satan, or xenomorph, you choose.
I just want to say in closing that Damon Lindelof during an interview stated that he had just finished explaining a few things on the commentary of the DVD release for the movie. What that tells me is that many of these questions and more will be answered in that commentary. I would also like to say that people seem hung up on the idea that the film simply leaves too many questions unanswered. I believe the answers are there if you look, but more importantly this is a story that is unfinished. Ridley Scott has already stated as much saying at least two more movies would be needed after this one. So for that reason people are complaining about open questions having only seen part one in a three-part story. Relax and enjoy.
I’m sure there are many more questions you may have about the film and you are welcome to email me or leave your questions in the comment section of the blog and I will try to answer them.