Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Prometheus - Whodunit?

This is a selective review of the movie Prometheus. I will focus on a particular theme that drives the movie narrative. WARNING: If you’re still planning to see the movie then stop here. This review will contain spoilers. But do visit again after watching. Enjoy.

Big Movie
Prometheus is big. Big on the box office (earning $50 million since opening). Big on special effects.Director Ridley Scott is big in Hollywood with such hits as Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner, the original Alien series et al. But the biggest things about the movie are the questions it asks. Questions that have serious practical ramifications (e.g. social, moral/ethical, legal, political) – “Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going?” Or as Weyland, a character in the film puts it, “Where do we come from? What is our purpose? What happens when we die?” These are questions that have haunted humanity for millennia. We humans are curios critters; we have an itch to “know”. We want to know. We want to know all that is possible to know.

C. S. Lewis states that “One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human.” 

And the questions that Prometheus asks are the bottom line questions; “the most meaningful questions ever asked by mankind” (a line from the same character), the sine qua non questions that may help us give some sense of the present and possibly give us answers to the pressing issues we face today. What does it mean to be human? How are we to live? Weyland seems to make this connection. He says that whatever power created life on earth also has the power to save humanity (of course he was thinking of his own desire to have his lease in life extended or perhaps even achieve that most elusive thing called eternal life or immortality).

Sadly, these questions are on the one hand largely ignored by the modern, image-driven, overly sensual, mindless pop culture, and on the other are given up by postmodernism’s intellectual equivocations. And thus Prometheus is a breath of fresh air in the often mindless entertainment that Hollywood dishes out. At least it attempts to raise truly crucial questions. However, when it comes to answers Prometheus fall dismally dull.

Designed Life?
The protagonist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is a person of faith. She “believes”. What? Perhaps in the Supernatural behind the natural? A Spiritual reality beyond physical reality? Perhaps she believes in God as the source of the universe and even the source of life itself—human life in particular? And the cross she’s wearing suggests that her Faith is Christian, though it’s not made explicit. However, what’s explicit in the film is an attack on faith. Just like her father she believes because she “chooses” to believe, with the subtle suggestion that faith is nothing but a matter of “choosing”; just the will to believe even in the face of contrary evidence, or choosing to believe even in the face of grim realities unfriendly to faith.

The film treads on the very weighty topic of abiogenesis (the origin of life on earth). The character Holloway critiques our protagonist’s (his girlfriend) faith by asserting that there’s no need to believe in some religious creator and that aliens could easily have done it; “There’s nothing special about the creation of life. All you need is a dash of DNA and half a brain.” I find this strange and even laughable. So where did that DNA come from?

In the prologue the movie shows that life was seeded by aliens in this planet (and the matching DNA between aliens and humans is given as evidence for that). And thus did not just develop naturally through some cosmic happenstance. And how to account for the “half a brain” (they call it the “engineer” in the movie) that engineered, designed, the creation of life? In their dialogue our protagonist correctly rebuts by asking, ‘Who created the aliens who brought life on earth?’ So it’s like, “Well, these are our parents. Sure. But who are their parents, and the parents of their parents, and…” You get the point. No answers here.

At least the movie says that human life was DESIGNED, even intelligently designed, and did not just naturally pop out of some steamy ancient soup somewhere. And this is where film becomes controversial (as some critics have pointed out). Naturalists or philosophical materialists who are aggressive in their atheism are nervous about the very idea of an “engineer” behind life. They cannot, indeed they must not, allow an “engineer’s or a designer’s foot in the door. It’s nature alone that produced life. They insist. No intelligent engineer. No intelligent designer. In spite of the fact that they can only assert this and cannot demonstrate this scientifically (arguing from ignorance), and in spite of the fact that nature itself seem to suggest the impossibility of life developing spontaneously, and that nature also seem to demonstrate Intelligence (both in the creation of the universe itself i.e. the Big Bang, and in the very structure of life (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVkdQhNdzHU), these reductive materialists aggressively assert that life is nothing but cosmic dust that happened to accidentally settle on this accidental planet, that happens to have the right kind of atmosphere, and accidentally is just located in the right kind of solar system, that accidentally just happens to have the right kind of sun and the right kind of moon, and of course all this in an accidental universe. And then the stardust supposedly assembled themselves and then suddenly, I dare say MAGICALLY, the inanimate turned animate, from dead matter to living, from non-life to life, from mud to Manny Pacquiao—all by accident! Just like a rabbit out of a magician’s hat. Hmmm. Now that’s what I call true faith!

From Nothing?
Some scientists such as cosmologist Lawrence Kraus (A Universe from Nothing) are actually trying to argue that nothing can produce something. However, criticisms of his ideas have been merciless.* A major problem is that Kraus' "nothing" is not really NOTHING. He is sneaking in some very REAL THINGS into his "nothing". Kraus still doesn't have a rebuttal to the point in this story --

A scientist goes to God and boldly says, "We don't need you anymore. I can create a human from nothing more than a handful of dust."

"Alright then, let's see." God replies.

"No problem." Says the scientist, and he bends over to scoop up some dust.

"Hey wait a minute," God interrupts. "Make your own dust."

"Huh?" Reacts the scientist. "That's crazy. How the hell do you expect me to do anything!?"

"Exactly." God says.

Actually, in their more honest moments many of these atheists, faced with the staggering challenge of how can life spontaneously come out of non-life (see http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/on-the-impossibility-of-abiogenesis/), seriously entertain the theory known as panspermia i.e. that life did not originate locally but was in some way transported here by aliens or by extraterrestrial debris from somewhere else in the universe. 

Donald Johnson lists some scientists who suggest this: S. Arrhenius., Worlds in the Making, 1908. Francis Crick, “The Origin of the Genetic Code” J. Mol Biol: 38, 1968, p. 367-379. Fred Hoyle, The Intelligent Universe, 1983, pp. 16-17. Bernstein. Max, Jason Dworkin, Scott Sandford, George Cooper, and Louis Allamandola, “Racemic amino acids from the ultraviolet photolysis of interstellar ice analogue,” Nature”: 416, 3/28/02. Also Leslie Orgel (origin of life researcher) 

Even the outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins was caught suggesting this in the movie Expelled. (See http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4134259/richard_dawkins_vs_ben_stein_the_ufo_interview/)

Now this does not really solve the problem. It just moves the problem to some other planet. Who brought life to that alien planet? Who created those aliens? So we’re back to square one.

Now What?
So back to Weyland’s questions, 1) “Where do we come from?” Prometheus says aliens did it. And O my, very unfriendly aliens! Anyway, who created the aliens? No answer. 2) “What is our purpose?” Prometheus is hopelessly confused about this. Aliens supposedly created us and then when we were “born” they changed their mind and wanted us dead. Comforting thought! Hopefully Prometheus II will give answers. 3) “What happens when we die?” Absolute silence.

The character Weyland stated that the power that created us also has the power to save us. Suggesting that humanity needs some sort of “redemption”, a redemption that humanity itself cannot deliver.  But Prometheus tells us the opposite. The aliens that supposedly created us are now hell-bent on annihilating us! So the movie starts with good questions but then leaves us with more questions. Where to for answers?

Faith in an "Alien"
However, according to an ancient Faith, a Faith that does indeed claim to have made contact with an “Alien”, we really don’t have to travel far and wide in the universe to find answers to these age old question. The Faith tells us that a genuine “Alien” actually came and visited us. But he is not like the alien in the Prometheus movie. He is THE Alien, The Ultimate Alien, One who claims, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." (Rev1:8)

This Alien made many astonishing claims such as “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (Jn14:6) He also said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (Jn11:25-26)

C. S. Lewis, a literary genius who was an atheist turned Christian, perceptively observed that we really only have very limited options when it comes to the claims of this Alien. He writes, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” – Mere Christianity

Was Jesus an “alien”? He said these words Himself, "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (Jn8:23) The man Saul of Tarsus whose name was changed to Paul after he personally encountered this Alien, came to the shocking realization that this Alien who transformed him from a murderous religious fanatic to a humble servant, was actually humanity's Maker. He wrote, “Christ is the visible representation of the invisible God, the Firstborn and Lord of all creation. For in Him was created the universe of things in heaven and on earth, things seen and things unseen, thrones, dominions, princedoms, powers--all were created, and exist through and for Him. And HE IS before all things and in and through Him the universe is a harmonious whole. (Col.1:15-17)

And unlike the alien-creator of Prometheus that seeks humankind’s annihilation, Jesus “came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (Jn12:47)

“I have come as a light into the world, so that no one who has faith in me will go on living in the dark." (Jn12:46)

Jesus Christ claims to give the ultimate answers to those age old questions. “Where do we come from?” From the Personal God who, out of love and generosity, created the universe and breathed life into it. “What is our purpose?” To know God and to have the chance to live with, and enjoy Him for all eternity. “What happens when we die?” We get to meet God personally and give an account of our lives before Him.

One day we will all stand before this Alien who claims, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Rev22:13

*Kraus was eaten up by Craig in a recent debate. Here's a review http://www.randyeverist.com/2011/03/review-of-craig-vs-krauss-debate.html

Also here http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html?_r=4

A scathing critique of the movie’s script is here http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2012/06/howard-waldrop-and-lawrence-person-review-prometheus/


  1. I won't read this till I watch the movie.

  2. It has been a long while since i have last asks questions like this Sir. haha. i have read the first 4 paragraphs and ive already stopped. i will have to watch the movie first. then ill get back to this...

    where is this button where i can follow ur blogs? is this ur first entry sir?


    1. Hi Nat. Yes this is my first attempt to blog (thanks to friends who pushed into this). Not sure how to answer your question on the "button" to follow my blog. I will have to ask how i can make that available. Maybe you can help me :). I guess for now you can just just bookmark this site. Sorry about that.

  3. Wow. Quite extensive a review for a film with a simple plot. I watched it this time. I think the film is bent more on entertainment rather than trying to answer a metaphysical question - where do we come from? The alien's merciless decapitation of the robot's head suggests that Prometheus II will be packed with actions than solving the riddles of life. Recall how the movie ends - an alien creature ripping out from a carcass. Some write that Ridley Scott in this movie is tracing the beginning of that movie "Alien". So then, it's all about entertainment. And the seemingly serious metaphysical musings? They are just spices to entice audiences seeking a worthwhile story. Personally, I find the movie disappointing. I thought it would be one that leaves you wondering about life long after you're out of the theater. This has similarity with the movie "Apollo 18". The latter starts with a very interesting idea, "why we did not go back to the moon after the Apollo 11", that ultimately winded down to a pathetic ending - hostile alien creatures on the moon attacked and killed all the astronauts therein. I think the movie "The Fourth Kind" is more thought provoking than "Prometheus" and "Apollo 18" combined.

    1. Of course. It's Hollywood. A link i provided even suggested that the movie suffered (even with Ridley Scott) because of the quest behind the movie -- the almighty dollar! But at least those existential questions were explicitly raised in the movie and the very basis that drove the movie narrative (i.e. the exploration to find answers). Also, hotly debated issues today are explicitly mentioned in the movie e.g. faith, science, origin of life, evolution, intelligent design, et. al. I chose to pick these interesting elements in the movie and not on the more mundane stuff typical of the genre. There's nothing to discuss about the "gory" stuff. Nothing new.

      "just spices to entice audiences", that's SOP for Hollywood. But it's worthwhile to engage these things for Hollywood does attempt to "preach" their "message" by stealth using their medium and MANY, even if unconsciously, get their perspectives in life from such sources. And Hollywood is, i believe, quite successful in influencing the minds of people.

      There will definitely be Prometheus II, and probably a III, as prequels to the original Alien. Noomi Rapace is the new Sigourney Weaver!