NOTE: Minor Spoilers ahead.
Ridley Scott’s new sci-fi blockbuster Prometheus, a prequel to his 1979 Alien, doesn’t offer up the thrills and chills of its predecessor. Though entertaining due to strong performances and grandiose visuals, it fails to achieve the emotional tension of the cult classic because of its sluggish pace and existential focus. But this exploration into human existence also turns out to be the very thing that makes it enthralling.
Set in the year 2093, the story centers on Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist willing to “discount three centuries of Darwinism” to “meet her maker.” After discovering a collection of primitive paintings that all point to a mutual Creator, or Creators, she and a crew board the spaceship Prometheus on a mission to find them. Her hope: to answer life’s biggest questions like, “Where did we come from?” and “Why do we exist?”
Unfortunately, the exploration quickly turns bleak – both physically and spiritually. Despite starting as philosophical sci-fi in the vein of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film becomes a horror fest filled with death and destruction. Shaw indeed meets her makers, but they don’t want to meet her. In fact, they want her and the rest of humanity dead.
In this sense, Prometheus conjures up a hopeless vision. It portrays the existence of a higher intelligence or power, but it insists that this power has abandoned us. Even more it insists that, in the same way humans in the future created super-intelligent androids, this power only created us because it could – not out of love or with the intention of relationship.
Although common of today, such a conclusion proves fallacious and unsettling. In it, however, the film does hone in on a truth of humanity. Through Shaw’s journey, it identifies the universal yearning for meaning – for the Creator. As doomed as she seems, Shaw’s soul still longs to believe. The film even recognizes this longing as distinct to humankind. When an android questions Shaw’s intentions, she tells him he wouldn’t understand. Why? Because he’s a robot. It’s as if Scott hints at the Imago Dei but can’t quite put his finger on the idea.
Such is the center of Prometheus. Like the ship itself, it’s a wandering vessel in search of truth, while coming up short to fully find it. The result serves as a reminder of our culture’s broken state, probing the universe for meaning – for a God – while looking in the wrong place.
Prometheus is rated R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language.