This thread contains spoilers! You have been warned!
Director Ridley Scott may not be a trolling buffoon like Ray Comfort, nor a faux-intellectual shyster on the scale of William Lane Craig -- but his recent film Prometheus
is in some ways as lousy with religious pandering as any theist apologist's ramblings. It covers so many of the usual bases:
- painting science as short-sighted, near useless, and not really a good way to get anything done
- portraying skeptics as narrow-minded idiots who can't face facts
- glorifying blind faith as a virtue that will guide you through all problems
- evolution really is "just a theory," and turns out to be wrong
- endorsing the view of not just intelligent design, but also that the designer's morality is objectively superior to ours no matter what
- cautioning humanity that hubris will only incur God's wrath in the endMartin Wagner wrote a piece over on the AXP blog
, and I found myself agreeing with a number of his points. From the moment-to-moment questionable motivations and boneheaded mistakes of the characters, to the offensively preachy yet confusingly vague pseudo-philosophy, nearly everything in this movie brutally punishes you for trying to enjoy it as anything deeper than a superficial monster movie. Not that there's anything wrong with just enjoying a movie for what it is, but as Martin puts it, Prometheus
is "designed to make you think Big Ideas are on the table when they’re really not."
For me, though, the most irritating things about it are the preachy storytelling and the spiritual undertones masquerading as "deep" philosophy -- which are really just blind reinforcements of the same old religious values people already had when they came into the movie theatre.
First, there's this conflation of science and faith as a singular, mottled muddle. One of the main characters, Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) discovers that a bunch of ancient cave paintings all over the world all contain similar patterns which resemble a particular star system. Like she's found the face of Jesus burned into her morning toast, she somehow convinces a mega-corporation that not only do they have to go there to see what it is, but that it must be a sign that aliens visited their planet ages ago and were the original creators of human life. So of course, when Doubting Thomas challenges her assumption and asks if she has any evidence to support her hypothesis, she literally answers: "No. But that's what I choose to believe
." The self-satisfied smarm with which the movie portrays this idiotic line -- almost as if it's brave or strong -- is palpable. This character is supposed to be our heroine, and her faith a virtue.
I will say, it's kind of strange to see a scientist portrayed in this way, in a Hollywood movie. Usually, scientist characters are the skeptical ones, who won't believe in anything even when it's staring them in the face. They keep their noses in their books and test tubes, repeating the mantra that there's no such thing as ghosts, even as they get killed off by ghosts in the end. To see a scientist making professional judgments based on personal wish fulfillment like this is... well, not a step further, but at least the movies are now treating scientists like the good guys. Of course, they're still assuming that scientists make their decisions based on a kind of faith, or a hunch.
The best character in the movie is David, an android who is always just on the cusp of understanding what it means to be human, except that the humans around him keep doing stupid crap that doesn't make any rational sense. Throughout the story, he draws comparisons between the plights of he and his creators -- that they find themselves in similar existential situations and problems. When he asks "Why did humans make artificial intelligence?" he is told: "Because we could." Then he asks: what if humanity were to receive that answer from its
creator? As if the movie were dangerously becoming too smart
at that point, the question is just haughtily brushed off, because androids just don't get it
. It's like part of the movie was written by someone who was trying to make a profound point, but then the plot was reworked at the last second because somebody in PR realized that it implied humanity didn't have a special place in the universe.
At the conclusion, we finally come to realize a harsh lesson: that the entire mission to make contact with humanity's creator was essentially just a retelling of the story of the tower of Babel. Mankind tried to artificially use their know-how to know God and arrive at his kingdom by their own means, and for that they just get senselessly smacked down. While I enjoyed the core installments of the Alien
movies, and it's been a while since I've seen them, I do recall a faint strain of the theme of hubris permeating the core of it. Humanity made efforts to contain, restrain, use, or even clone the alien monsters in other movies -- but of course, the fallibility of their methods reliably results in disaster. In Prometheus
, the theme of hubris is not so subtle -- they literally go visit their creator and demand answers to life's profound questions, resulting in the immediate deaths of most of them. It turns out that the facility they found was not the alien home world after all, but rather some sort of ship on a mission to wipe out humanity.
After discovering that their alien creators eventually changed their minds about the creation of humanity, and that the aliens wanted to destroy their creation, there is much deliberation and hand-wringing about why
they would want to destroy us. Again, trying to raise the bar on the philosophical discussion a bit, David chimes in by asking whether it really matters why the aliens wanted to destroy humanity. Maybe we don't really need to know, and we should just get on with our lives. You can almost hear
the director telling us how atheists can't be moral, when Shaw dismisses David's comments outright, because he's just a dumb robot
. It's apparently the most important thing in the world
, why God is mad at me. What did I do to make him angry? How can I make things better? The whole meaning of life is wrapped up in figuring out what some higher power wants, and the only true and noble way to do that is by having faith rather than investigating for yourself.
Science is hubristic and only leads to disaster. Human life is special, and only has meaning if a higher power created it with a special intention. Faith is a virtue, whereas skepticism and "Darwinism" are always wrong and the tools of immoral cretins. Those are the messages of this film, and as much as I would like to just enjoy the movie as a fun sci-fi horror thriller, it's just not possible to do so unless I completely shut off my brain. Maybe the overwrought, ham-fisted, Sunday School parables will strike a chord with a lot of people, I don't know -- but the more I think about this movie, the more of a horror it becomes -- so much more so than any of the monsters inhabiting it.