Herein lie the spoiler filled thoughts on Prometheus from one atheist’s viewpoint.
So..you know…don’t click through if you would rather not read about plot points from the movie. You have been warned.
Taken purely as a horror/suspense film, I think Prometheus is pretty damn good. I’m not going to talk about that aspect of the film, however. I have other axes to grind.
Director Ridley Scott has more on his mind than just scaring the crap out of us with creepy as fuck biological bad guys. His film can be seen as a meditation on the origins of human life or, more accurately, the human desire to explain where we came from.
While I ascribe absolutely no credibility to the notion that ancient human beings were contacted by aliens, I don’t believe a movie has to believe the same thing that I do. Does Ridley Scott believe that aliens influence ancient people?
I don’t know. I don’t think it matters. In the context of Prometheus, they clearly did. In fact, it would seem they were responsible for the origin of all life on Earth. Maybe. That part isn’t really clear.
What is clear is that Noomi Rapace’s character, Dr. Shaw, is a devout believer in god and Michael Fassbender’s David is not.
David is by far the most compelling character in the film and his presence makes up for a lot of sketchy character development in other areas. While I would not say that David is the equivalent of Doc Holiday in Tombstone, he is the character I would imagine most audiences wish was on screen more. The movie feels a little less interesting whenever he isn’t around.
If there is a problem, it is in the way David is constantly challenging Dr. Shaw’s beliefs. One wonders why an android would be so interested in a theological debate. At times, it seems as if he is preoccupied with the notion of finding the chink in Dr. Shaw’s armor.
I’m not sure that David presents an extremely negative bias against atheists because his atheism seems more a function of the fact he is an android than it is of any reasoned conclusion on the nature of things. David knows where he came from. He doesn’t need to look to a god to explain his origins. He can go to the factory where he was built and talk to the people who designed him.
If belief in a divine involves the search for a creator, David needs to make no such search.
So are his questions of Dr. Shaw genuine curiousity or are they psychological warfare?
Do we even know Davids motivation? He is an android and he is following his programming. Does have any motivation beyond that? The film hints that he may without ever giving a convincing answer.
Some of the things he does are clearly done under instruction but others, such as dying his hair so he will look more like Lawrence of Arabia, don’t seem to originate from any obvious programming. Does he target Holloway because Holloway holds him in such contempt? Or it it just because Holloway’s drinking makes him a convenient target?
What I like about Prometheus is that it offers more questions than answers but I think that David’s “atheism” (if we can call it that) is troubling because he is the “villain” of the film. His moral compass is skewed and I could see the assumption being made that it is because of his godless nature.
If I had to guess, though, I would think that assumption would be incorrect. David’s moral compass is skewed by design. Weyland wants David to be able to do things that a human might not be willing or able to do. Like, say, infecting a crew member with some sort of nasty biological weapon just to see what it does.
David is not a villain in the strictest sense because what he does is all guided by someone else. That he is able to do what he has been asked to do certainly makes him the most dangerous character in the film but it would be difficult to characterize him as “evil.”
In the end, I come away uncertain of how to account for my feelings. As an atheist, I’m troubled that the one “atheist” character is engaging in condescending conversation about the nature of god with a theist.
Is that really how atheists are perceived? We all just wander around looking for theists to debate? Any time life screws over a theist, we challenge them to find out why the hell they would still believe in god? Because we don’t have anything better to do?
But I’m not sure that David qualifies as an atheist. And I’m not sure that he is being condescending. I think he is just curious.
Even so, why is he so curious about that one thing? It is troubling and while it didn’t ruin the film for me, I am always bothered when I see an atheist painted in a negative light and it feels as if their biggest character flaw is the fact they are an atheist.
Prometheus is a scary film but it is also a thoughtful film. I like that Ridley Scott made me think – even if I’m not always pleased with what I’m thinking about.
1) Yay, a place to discuss this film without spoiler reprisal!
2) I very much assume that David was modeled as closely after Peter Weyland as possible, while no doubt making him as superhuman as reasonable.
3) No doubt David is fascinated by Shaw’s beliefs, and considers them a riddle to solve, or even steal; he has not yet reached the point of pretending them, but might in the future.
4) There is no conventional villain in this film. P. Weyland is incredibly corrupt, but also very fragile. The titan is monstrous, as are the “aliens,” but they are not villainous. They are what they are, just as David is what he is, whatever that is. I found this film to be the most existential of the Alien films, and I loved it for that.
I saw Prometheus last night, and while I’m still digesting it, I think that the one thing “motivating” David (other than his programming) is not the search for god or his creator(s) (because, as Tim pointed out, he KNOWS who created him), but the question of “soul.” When Weyland’s “ghost” explains that David is the closest thing to a son he has, we see pride on David’s android face, which totally dissolves when Weyland states in essence “shame he doesn’t have a soul.”
I think while Shaw and Halloway are busy looking for their creators, David is most concerned with determining whether “soul” has any real meaning or not. The humans certainly believe so (thus their contempt/disregard of David as an equal).
What adds an interesting for me, especially in regards to the “atheism discussion”, is that while the humans disregard David because he isn’t “human” because he’s just a creation of humans, the “Engineers” likewise disregard humans. Makes you kind of wonder where Ridley Scott is coming down on the whole “god” question: If humans (David’s creators) disregard David because he isn’t human (doesn’t have a “soul”) and the Engineers (mankind’s creators) disregard humans (presumably because humans don’t have the equivalent of the Engineer “soul”, or at least don’t have whatever it is that the Engineers would value to make humans their equal), does this, in a universal sense, dismiss the value of the human “soul”? Humans are to the Engineers no more “real” than David is to the humans.
Considering how the characters treat each other in the film, I’m certain that comparison is intended.