So credit to io9.com for the interview that fuels this article. And for the excellent and appropriate picture to go with it.
First of all, that there are even articles like this one, titled “All Your Lingering Prometheus Questions Answered” is a problem for this movie. Prometheus does have mysterious elements but it is not a mystery. The seeding of the movie with mysteries that they had no intention of resolving does not make it more compelling, interesting, or a mystery where being open to interpretation is part of the intended experience. But if you don’t think I’m right about that, just look at the interview itself wherein Lindelof is being asked just as much about unclear bits of characterization and plot as he is about the flimsy philosophical underpinnings of the story. As I’m going to use his own words to point out, these things aren’t unclear because they are intended to be mysterious but because they simply aren’t handled in the movie. They are missing pieces, maybe cut for time or something, or just hastily hopped over during the writing process.
Hopefully this will be informative and fun, because I do aim to misbehave little and mock Lindelof and the other interviewees for the dumb fucking shit they are saying. Incidentally, if you buy this load of garbage and are one of Prometheus‘s misguided defenders, there’s egg on your face too.
The format for this will be: io9′s question in bold italics followed by Lindelof/whoever’s responses in italics and finally my reaction in bold.
What was David’s motivation for “infecting” Holloway with black goop?
Damon Lindelof: I’d say that the short answer is: That’s his programming. In the scene preceding him doing that, he is talking to Weyland (although we don’t know it at the time) and he’s telling Weyland that this is a bust. That they haven’t found anything on this mission other than the stuff in the vials. And Weyland presumably says to him, “Well, what’s in the vials?” And David would say, “I’m not entirely sure, we’ll have to run some experiments.” And Weyland would say, “What would happen if you put it in inside a person?” And David would say, “I don’t know, I’ll go find out.” He doesn’t know that he’s poisoning Holloway, he asks Holloway, “What would you be willing to do to get the answers to your questions?” Holloway says, “Anything and everything.” And that basically overrides whatever ethical programming David is mandated by, [allowing him] to spike his drink.
In the above, Lindelof is providing some example dialogue of what is exchanged between David and Weyland which we NEVER HEAR. So yes it may be “presumable” but it isn’t present and therefore, what exactly David is up to is unclear as is the “rules” of his character (a robot) needed for the audience to understand the progression Lindelof is describing. In short, if he has to answer this question then it’s something that he/they failed to convey in the film.This failure costs the film BIG as a large part of the second act is derived from David’s decision to “poison” Holloway.
Have they actually mapped out a motivation for the Engineers, is it supposed to remain ambiguous? Will they be mysterious forever, or can we figure them out if we pay enough attention? Was it deliberate or if they felt like they offered enough hints to the dedicated viewer, where we never really know what the advanced aliens wanted?
Lindelof: Ridley definitely had very specific answers to those questions and we talked a lot about how we wanted to put those answers into Prometheus. And whether or not we wanted to hold any of them back. It’s a little bit obnoxious to say, “well if you like this movie, we’ll give that stuff to you in the sequel.” So you have to have a fair shot at being able to extrapolate based on the information in this movie. But I do feel like, embedded in this movie are the fundamental ideas behind why it is the Engineers would want to wipe us out. If that’s the question that you’re asking. The movie asks the question, were we created by these beings? And it answers that question very definitively. But in the wake of that answer there’s a new question, which is, they created us but now they want to destroy us, why did they change their minds? That’s the question that Shaw is asking at the end of this movie, the one that she wants answered. I do think that there are a lot of hints in this movie that we give you quite and educated guess as to why. But obviously not to the detriment of what Shaw might find when she goes to talk to these things herself.
Yes Lindelof, it is obnoxious to say “if you liked this movie, we’ll give that stuff to you in the sequel” and that’s exactly what you did.
This bit is rich: But I do feel like, embedded in this movie are the fundamental ideas behind why it is the Engineers would want to wipe us out. If that’s the question that you’re asking.
Okay so they are embedded in the movie and they are fundamental ideas? Where are they? Aren’t you just coasting on that ambiguous prologue here, or an even more ambiguous and tentative gamble on the audience’s attitude toward humanity? It’s possible to read that the Engineers created us by accident and extrapolate that this would be enough of a reason for them to wipe us out. Then again, it could also be that we’re a flawed or failed creation or something. But which is it? If it’s so fundamental and embedded, where is it in your movie? That opening is evocative and great but it’s a promise you never fulfill. It makes a suggestion that’s never picked back up except for your boring space monster take on the last Engineer. And OF COURSE it’s the question we’re asking. It’s one of the “mysteries” of the movie. That Lindelof puts it this way is beyond telling.
The rest of that “answer” is just a recap and then this: I do think that there are a lot of hints in this movie that we give you quite and educated guess as to why. But obviously not to the detriment of what Shaw might find when she goes to talk to these things herself.
Care to share one or two of those hints with us? Those educated guesses? You can do that, you know, without spelling out what Shaw is going to find out in P2 or whatever. Other movies manage that balancing act just fine. You did it for years, with mixed results, on Lost. Lindelof probably knows that they erred on the side of not telling us enough but obviously isn’t allowed to say so. His cagey, vague answers are a big clue.
Is Prometheus anti-science?
Lindelof: It’s definitely not anti-science. In fact, if anything I think it’s pro-science because it advances the idea that part of our own programming as human beings, we’re many ways just as governed by our programming as David is. We have to seek out the answers to these questions, even though we know we’ll never get satisfying answers. We’re curious about what happens as we die. We need to know where we come from. What the meaning of life is. What kind of life we’re supposed to lead. These are all sort of nonscientific, philosophical, religious, and spiritual questions. But the idea that we can find some comfort in science, that science can sort of give us a path to follow in understanding our roots. I think we’re better off from understanding that we’re descended from apes than we are looking at some book that was written 2000 years ago that gives us an explanation for our own roots.
I’ll break up his two paragraph response for convenience.
The movie certainly DOES NOT advance the idea that humans are as programmed as David. No, it advances the idea that you gotta have faith even in the face of evidence that everything you have faith in is wrong. Shaw symbolically retrieves her cross, her symbol of faith, before going out after the Engineers to get her answers. This does not espouse her “programmed” nature. In fact, it’s flat out stated that the need to answer these questions is what separates humans from David. Wtf is Lindelof talking about?
The last bit about evolution vs. the Bible is complete incongruent with what’s in the film. Christianity, of all things, is the symbol for all spiritual inquiry in Prometheus so that adds up exactly how?
I’m most definitively pro-science, but I think that the movie advances the idea that, can the two live along side each other? Is it possible to be a scientist and maintain some fungible faith in the unknown? And are you rewarded for having blind faith? I do think that the movie is making the meta-commentary in saying well Shaw is the true believer on board, and she’s the one who survives. So what are we trying to say by telling that story?
I shouldn’t take potshots at a guy doing an interview but I don’t know what the circumstances were so he could easily have had time to prepare his answers. If so, I am within my rights to make fun of his repeat of “advances the idea” when he’s talking about a question, not an idea. Then he gets cute. What, really, are you trying to say except that faith > science, Damon? You have your incomprehensible “believer” survive, yes, and you could even have said something about how this would change her and maybe temper her. Maybe she’d leave that planet a true scientist and not some trumped up spiritual crusader. But no. I think Lindelof is confused about why Shaw survives and what it means for the movie. I mean, it contradicts what he’s trying to say in the first paragraph about the supremacy of science over religion which is also an idea that goes unrepresented in Prometheus because hackneyed science fiction always does that. It’s fucking common.
Do the Engineers want us to visit them? (interview with IGN)
Lindelof: That’s an excellent question and one that I’m not going to answer. But I will say that there’s something fascinating about humanity where we perceive it as an invitation. You look at a cave wall, there’s somebody pointing at some distant planets, and one interpretation is “This is where we come from” another is “We want you to come here.” Where are we drawing that from? I think another thing that’s interesting about the system that they visit is that the moon the land on in Prometheus is LV 223. And we know LV 426 is where the action takes place in Alien, so are they even in the right place? And how close are they to the place that these aliens on cave walls were directing them. Were they just extrapolating “This is the system that has the sun with the sustainable life.” So there’s a lot of guesswork.
Gonna split this one up to. So okay, I can buy that Lindelof et al were aware of what a stretch the Shaw/Holloway interpretation is but where is the acknowledgement of that in the movie? Where’s the key scene where Weyland is brought on board, for his own reasons of course, where this stuff is addressed? Yes, it’s guesswork but that’s not an idea that’s in your movie. Your movie pretends it isn’t leaving the discerning audience to be baffled by the thin premise for this mission and the decidedly unscientific approach of its scientists (which isn’t in itself a problem, it just compounds what is a problem). Basically, if the movie never actually asks the question “is this even the right place?” then why should we? Why should we do that work for you, Lindelof, if there’s no basis and no reward? We aren’t going to understand the film better by this exercise, we’re just going to be supplying weak fucking bandaids to your hemorrhaging script.
There’s a small line in the movie where David and Holloway are talking about David’s deconstruction of the language based on Holloway’s thesis, and he says “If your thesis is correct” and Holloway says “If it’s correct?” and David says “That’s why they call it a thesis Doctor.” And the reason we threw that in there is that we’re dealing with a highly hypothetical area in terms of who these beings are, what, if any invitation they issued, and who is responsible for making those cave paintings. And did something happen in between when those cave paintings were made — tens of thousands of years ago — and our arrival now, in 2093, 2,000 years after these things have perished. Did something happen in the intermediate period that we should be thinking about?
Yeah you threw that line in there but it’s just a line. It doesn’t naturally feed back into this notion of guesswork or questionable justifications for the assumptions made by these characters. Plus, the Engineer obviously understands David to some extent so it’s moot. Telling us we should be asking about “something happening in the intermediate period” when the movie never meditates on this is indicative of the kind of thinking that is the heart of the problem. So is answering questions with more questions. By now it should be clear that mystery for mystery’s sake is the point here, or that Lindelof doesn’t understand the movie (a distinct possibility) and therefore what it’s actually saying and not saying to us. Very frustrating either way.
Is that first planet in the prologue Earth? (movies.com interview)
Ridley Scott: No, it doesn’t have to be. That could be anywhere. That could be a planet anywhere. All he’s doing is acting as a gardener in space. And the plant life, in fact, is the disintegration of himself.
Fuck that. I mean, why even say this? Obviously the idea that he’s a gardener willingly sacrificing himself to seed the planet is not supported by his pained, paniced reaction to whatever the fuck he’s doing to himself. I’m sure the intention was for us to understand that the goop and the disintegration process was some sort of life-creation thing, even as a side effect, but that doesn’t explain a host of other issues like why exposure to it through sex equals squid babies or why exposure to it via worm in the mouth equals Rage Virus. This is just such a cute answer, Ridley. It’s obviously supposed to be Earth or what’s the connection to the fucking point of the movie?
Did the Engineers want to kill humanity because of Jesus? (movies.com interview)
You throw religion and spirituality into the equation for Prometheus, though, and it almost acts as a hand grenade. We had heard it was scripted that the Engineers were targeting our planet for destruction because we had crucified one of their representatives, and that Jesus Christ might have been an alien. Was that ever considered?
Ridley Scott: We definitely did, and then we thought it was a little too on the nose. But if you look at it as an “our children are misbehaving down there” scenario, there are moments where it looks like we’ve gone out of control, running around with armor and skirts, which of course would be the Roman Empire. And they were given a long run. A thousand years before their disintegration actually started to happen. And you can say, “Lets’ send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it. Guess what? They crucified him.
Yeah it may have been on the nose, but it’s at least a fucking statement. The issue is, you removed the heavy-handed statement but also all the subtext that would have supported the interpretation of the Engineers’ motives you were initially playing with. This suggests you may have changed your mind about what those motives are but since you didn’t put anything in Prometheus to replace it, it also suggests you fuckers have no idea what those new/altered motivations are. Hence: wait for the sequel.
And finally, io9 reveals that 30 minutes or more were cut from the film. I fucking knew it. You can also bet that the director’s cut will almost certainly be a better film. After all, it was Ridley Scott who released the mostly not good theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven only to then turn out a best-in-genre masterpiece with the director’s cut of same, one year later.
I think there is just as much missing connective tissue for any decent interpretation of what went wrong with this movie as there currently is for a satisfying experience of the movie itself. For now, it’s a “wait and see” situation and I will revisit Prometheus when I see a more complete version.
The point of going through these interview pieces was to highlight how both Scott and Lindelof are showing their asses. They do as much as any critic could in terms of revealing why their movie doesn’t work. Hopefully, if you weren’t convinced by my review, this will be illuminating for you.