Prometheus October 25, 2012

At long last I got around to watching the movie Prometheus – aka Intelligent Design: The Motion Picture. It is a great film for those interested in the intersection of religion and science fiction. And I am therefore delighted to learn that there are plans for a sequel,

Prometheus begins with the discovery on the Isle of Skye the latest of a series of cave drawings depicting a giant being pointing to the sky and a particular configuration of stars. We then fast forward to the journey of the spacecraft Prometheus, which is seeking to find a planet in the star system depicted – and the beings presumed to dwell there, referred to as “the Engineers,” who are thought to have created human beings.

The journey is thus a quest for the creator, and as in any such quest, we find that different people are making it for different reasons.

Elizabeth Shaw is seeking answers to religious questions. She lost both her parents, her mother very early in her life, and she wears a cross that is very important to her. When it is suggested to her that she might want to take it off, having found aliens who created human beings, she responds by asking “Who made them?” As LOST famously put it, finding answers lead on to more questions.

David, her conversation partner, is a robot. He is like a son to the wealthy Weyland whose corporation is funding the journey, but a recording of Weyland says that David will never have a soul. Later David asks Charlie Holloway, who is pondering the question of why the Engineers made us, why humans made him, and Holloway says “Because we could,” to which David suggests that receiving such an answer from one’s creator is incredibly disappointing. David seems to be genuinely curious about the Engineers – so much so that he is happy to take risks that put the humans on the mission in danger. He is on a quest, perhaps, to discover the creators of his creators.

Weyland himself turns out to be on board, and wants to ask the Engineers to save him from death.

The movie thus explores the topic of what people seek their creators for. In some cases, it is curiosity. In some, it is existential, with the expectation that it will provide satisfying answers to the big questions about why we exist. For some, it is a desire to cheat death and attain immortality. If some scenes and plot devices in the movie are highly implausible, the motives that the characters seem to have for being on the mission closely mirror the motivations that drive people in religious questing on our planet.

There are deleted scenes that also touch on this topic, including one in which Elizabeth Shaw tells a traditional creation myth, which provides another possible answer for why a creator might create: to not be alone any longer.

Prometheus explores some very dark but profound religious ground. Who created the creators, if anyone? There is room to take this in a Gnostic direction – perhaps there is an ultimate source beyond the immediate creators – and those latter seem malevolent. Are we disappointing to our creators? Is that why they have sought to destroy us and left us seemingly alone and abandoned?

And can any answer to questions of this sort ever satisfy? The ending of the movie is striking both in its mention of “the Year of our Lord 2094” (an archaic way of putting things with explicit religious overtones), and in its very last words, “Still searching.”

At some point, I hope to watch the classic Alien movies with Prometheus in view and see what happens.

If you’ve seen Prometheus, what did you think of it, and in particular its treatment of religious themes?

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