Prometheus, in its most basic form, is a film about a group of scientists who go to a distant moon in search of their creators, in search of the origin of human life. While they do find this, it doesn’t quite stop there. They discover that their creators (called “the Engineers“) had planned to destroy humans for reasons unknown, but had fallen victim to their own weapon/ creation before they could do so. While this may sound like a typical science- fiction movie, there is much, much more at play which has led to incredible amounts of debate upon the messages, themes, and occasionally, science, in a film which seems to ask lots of cultural and philosophical questions without giving much of an answer.
As this is a science course, I’ll start with the scientific aspects of the film and their implications. For the most part, the science in Prometheus is very accurate. That being said, it is based in the 2090’s, so naturally there is technology present that is beyond what we currently have. But the planetary science, such as finding traces of life on a moon orbiting a large, gaseous planet, or finding conditions similar, but not identical, to those on Earth, is believable. One of the largest scientific debates is over the “black liquid” that appears throughout the film and appears to be the rudimentary weapon that the Engineers had planned to use to eliminate humans.
During the course of the film, we see this liquid in many different settings, and the effects that it has on people, or other organisms, seems to vary. There are many hypotheses for the nature of this liquid, but two that make sense in my opinion. The first is that it takes on the traits of whatever organism it comes into contact with by infecting and mutating the DNA of that organism. At the start, it is just a mysterious liquid that begins to bubble out of the above canisters when the scientists enter the room, suggesting possible instability that could have led to the overrunning of the Engineers. As the movie goes on, the form that the liquid and its creations take on are of an increasingly evolved state. I could go on forever describing each evolutionary instance and thoughts on the nature of the liquid, but for now I think it will suffice to say that the two main ideas are that 1) the liquid uses the genetic material and traits of whatever host it infects to create a more evolved offspring, and 2) the liquid mirrors the emotions and intentions of whatever host it affects and creates an evolved offspring that embodies those emotions. One example of this is the opening scene, in which we see an Engineer on a desolate planet (presumably early Earth) voluntarily drink this liquid, in apparent self- sacrifice. The liquid breaks down his DNA into the building blocks of human life. When one of the scientists later in the film also ingests the liquid, he turns into a murderous creature somewhat resembling himself. Another strong example of this idea is in the very last scene, when we see the body of an infected Engineer who was trying to kill Shaw, his intentions and emotions extremely malevolent. A creature very closely resembling the modern Alien xenomorph then bursts from his chest. Anyone who has seen the Alien movies knows these creatures to be extremely malevolent and bloodthirsty, so this lends credence to the mirrored- emotion hypothesis.
So that’s the science. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg. As we begin to turn towards cultural and religious themes, we start to see the real debates unfold. Among many others, a few of the main themes are the idea of God and belief and the importance of humans in the universe. There are many details in the film that lead us to question where, and if, God comes into the picture. Obviously there is strong symbolism in that the Engineers created humans just as God did. Also, it is mentioned that the Engineers intended to destroy humans after some event about 2000 years ago, implying the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This hints that Jesus was an emissary sent by the Engineers in an attempt to turn civilization around. But humans instead killed this emissary, thus leading the Engineers to decide it was time for humans to be no longer. So while there is the symbolism for God in the Engineers there is also the thought of who created the Engineers (as Shaw asks when David, the android, asks if their discovery makes her doubt her beliefs), leading the viewer to question where the line between religion and science lies and whether it needs to be so clear cut. Obviously we live in a highly scientific world, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for religion and philosophy. Then comes one of the biggest questions. Why did the Engineers create us? And why did they want to destroy us? What is the significance of our life and existence? One of the most striking scenes in relation to this idea is when David asks Holloway, another main character who is disappointed not to have found a live Engineer, why he thought humans created him, an android. This raises the question of whether human life really has any point at all, whether there is any significance to our existence or whether it is rather common, one of the main questions in the current search for life in the universe. (Also, although I didn’t mention it here, follow the link to the page on the myth of Prometheus and look at the connections there to the ideas presented in the film.)
While I have touched on a few points here, there is so much more out there. I encourage anyone reading this to watch the movie and think, read, and talk about its implications and messages. Many of the points it brings up are issues on the forefront of our scientific world that each and every one of us should be aware of.