I saw Ridley Scott’s Prometheus much hyped Alien prequel-of-sorts on the weekend. Without spoiling anything, I enjoyed and would like to see it again at some point. As sci-fi goes it won’t blow your mind, but it probably will entertain. It is in some ways quite a different film to its predecessor, while still sticking to a similar through-line. As a Cthulhu Mythos fan, I found it was a very satisfying film. Many people I have spoken to have wildly varying opinions.
The following is based on a single watching of film, so take it with a grain of salt. I found that whether the film works or not depends on what you make of David, and the major themes of the film. To understand David requires looking at the films themes. As a Lovecraft nerd two themes stood out clearly: Hubris, and creation/procreation. Lovecraft nerds will notice clear similarities to At the Mountains of Madnessi, more on this later.
Hubris is straight forward: The humans in the story launch into a gung-ho exploratory mission to meet the supposed creator-race of life on earth. They are ill prepared and can only envisage their impending success. Likewise, the creator race (the Engineers) have a weapon that they themselves cannot control.
Creation, Procreation and the Creator/Created, and Parent/Child relationships are the other major theme. The ostensible goal of the characters is to find the creators of live on earth. This theme is called out explicitly throughout Prometheus in the dialog with discussions about Faith, God as creator, etc. This theme has two direct metaphors: Android and Human, and Familial relationships, specifically Child and Parent.
David is an Android, the only one present on the Prometheus. He is also referred to explicitly by Weyland as the son he never had, making him Vicker’s nominal brother. Thus, the android, the creation of humans, is the child a human, filling both rolls in in the creation metaphor.
David has two competing agendas in the film. The first is the role he was created for by Weyland, this is programmed into him and he seemingly cant go against it. The second is his own human drives. A couple of scenes point to David being more than just a robot.
Firstly, Weyland makes a point of commenting that David has no soul. Second, David spends time while the crew is asleep studying the characters in his favorite film, mimicking their behavior, and in the absence of real parental figures this is where he learns what it is to be a person. Thirdly there is a strange scene between Janek and Vickers where Janek accuses Vickers of being a robot. This is an otherwise pointless scene in the film, so I think that that comment is intentionally intended to contrast Vickers, a human, with her brother David: Vickers acts like an automaton, while David acts human.
David’s human behavior is not that of an adult however. He acts like a child, he is curious and impulsive. As they explore the alien pyramid he sticks his fingers in alien goop, experiments with the controls for surveillance and doors without being sure of their purpose and takes a canister from the ‘Face of God’ chamber.
David’s interactions with Shaw are central to the plot. At the start of the film he is watching her dreams, later he kills Holloway (Shaw’s partner) with the genetic weapon he takes from the pyramid. Later he takes interest in the alien spawn that Shaw is carrying. Having only seen the film once, I’m less certain of this, but I think David loves Shaw, but like a boy who pulls the hair or tries to drown the girl he likes, he makes hamfisted (and downright creepy in places) advances. He uses the genetic weapon (whether he knows what it does is unclear) to remove Holloway. His response to Shaw’s alien pregnancy is particularly creepy. I think he views the alien as his own child with shaw due to his introduction of the alien to Holloway’s systemii.
Loose ends and the Mountains of Madness
As I mentioned earlier, Prometheus has strong parallels with H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness. In the film, the Elder Things are replaced by The Engineers, and the Shoggoth is replaced with Shub Niggurathiii. In both the protagonists peel back the curtain and catch a glimpse of the truths of the universe, but it destroys them, and their only recourse is to contain what they have found and persuade future explorers to leave it well alone.
The choice to make the elder race be protohumans was a wise move I think. In Mountains the Elder Things are horrific monsters that the characters (and Lovecraft) can (eventually) relate to as scientists and civilized creatures. In the film, the explorers foolishly expect the proto-humans to act as parental figures, and discover that they are viewed as pestilence to be destroyed. This flips things around, but the result is the same: The Creator sees the Creation is an animal that it has no compunction about destroying for its own purposes.
A more interesting change, and one that fits naturally with the aliens of the original film, is that of the Shoggoth to a Shub Niggurath aspect. In Trail of Cthulhu Kenneth Hite describes Shub Niggurath as:
[a] mass of immense fecundity, constantly swelling and boiling with new birth and growths. She comprises vegetable, animal, fungal, viral and bacterial matter … and her spawn are similarly multivarient. … obscene virility, impregnating worshippers and sacrifices alike with his excrescent suppurations…
In other words, a force of pure destructive procreation. The genetic weapon that the Engineers use in the opening scene, and is in the pyramid and buried ship, represents Shub Niggurath. The various horrors are her offspring. This is most blatant when the squid beast kills the engineer and in turn creates a proto-Alien-alien.
One final note on Lovecraftian angle: When faced with the truth of the awakened Engineer and his cargo, Shaw and Janek realise that there is only one choice left to them. They must sacrifice themselves for a human race that will never, and cannot, know of their sacrifices.
- I was first made aware of this by Guillermo del Toro’s post about discontinuing his At the Mountains of Madness project.
- This is the Shub Niggurath motive.
- If you are interested in this idea of taking a Lovecraft plot and repurposing it, check out Graham Walmsley’s Stealing Cthulhu.