Review: Prometheus

Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba
Runtime: 124 min.
MPAA: R

There exists a perception that religion and science are in a perpetual state of war. One cannot maintain faith in the scriptures of their respective dogma while acknowledging the strengths found in the Big Bang theory … at least, insofar as those that seek some sort of ubiquitous truth are concerned. To those that seek the answers to those questions that have been pondered for as long as history itself – where did we come from? why are we here? – it is essentially inconceivable (if not offensive) that there may not be a single truth, or that the truth may be in stark contrast to the beliefs that one holds dear. Questions, to some, are not meant to be open-ended. To others, considering such issues is a paramount aspect of life, as a mind is a precious thing to waste.

The ability to appeal to the viewer’s philosophical foundations, in the most intrinsically beautiful sense of the bounds of the human mind, and subsequently challenge them is the defining characteristic of Prometheus.

This appeal to reason, or open-endedness to some, is set forth at the outset of the film, with a viscerally beautiful scene that contextualizes all of that which will follow. The cycle of creation (or, perhaps more accurately, a cycle of creation) is presented in its most fundamental form – the bookends of existence. That is, birth and death. However, the viewer is left unawares of what exactly is created … and thus begins the dogmatic challenge of Prometheus.

In a practical sense, Prometheus follows in the footsteps of its forebears (specifically, Alien and Aliens). Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are scientists following a trail of impossibility to all ends of the Earth, as they discover distinctive star maps among the ruins of cultures separated by hundreds of miles and thousands of years. Such may well be evidence of the origins of life on Earth, and, with the assistance of the trillionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), a group of scientists embark on a journey to meet our potential makers.

The very essence of Prometheus is epitomized by Shaw and David (Fassbender), the android caretaker of the Prometheus and its crew. Shaw is a woman of faith, believing that there is some higher purpose to life and existence. To her, this is a journey to discover not only the origin of humanity, but also the reasoning behind our creation – an answer to ‘why are we here?’ in its purest form. For Shaw, the purpose of the journey is to substantiate her beliefs, or at least conform the fruits thereof to her beliefs.

David, on the other hand, is inquisitive and open-minded. Despite the purported limitations of his android construction, he gleans a clear sense of purpose and enjoyment in learning languages to attempt contact with our creators, exploring the ruins on the alien world, and discerning the properties of the discoveries therein. Whereas Shaw is seeking confirmation, David is most interested in the journey itself and the acquisition of knowledge.

Noomi Rapace is superb in her role, displaying remarkable range with respect to the human condition. She is flawed, to be sure – she is somewhat iron-minded and perhaps overly dependent on her companion. At the same time, though, she demonstrates remarkable grace under pressure in constructing a believable (and relatable) character.

Despite this, it is Michael Fassbender that shines brightest in the darkness of Prometheus. Fassbender is equal parts witty, sullen, and off-putting, displaying an endearing sense childlike wonderment. There is an eerie sense of calculation to most everything that he says and does, particularly where his jaw is set and his gaze fixed in consternation, giving him the vaguest of robotic qualities while making the viewer wonder what, if anything, is dancing through his thoughts. Where Rapace is a testament to the human condition, Fassbender is an outsider’s bastardization of humanity, so much so that it begs the question of what it means to be human.

The remainder of the cast, save for Charlize Theron and Idris Elba – both of which were underutilized despite strong characterization and fine acting – was essentially disposable. This is a weakness, to be sure, particularly when viewed in contrast to Alien. However, when taken in concert with the faith versus reason quarrel between Rapace and Fassbender, it seems almost necessary.

As may well be expected with a Ridley Scott film, the grandest star of Prometheus might just be the filmmaking itself. The landscapes are lush and desolate, the color palette is remarkable, the caves are ominous, and the music is pervasive and haunting. The sheer visual scale of the film is awe inspiring, with rich details soaking up every bit of sight and sound. When held in concert with heartbeat and breathing provided by the score, each setting comes alive as a character of sorts, as something that the viewer is always aware of, lurking and hiding, ready to pounce.

To me, the true beauty Prometheus lay in the metaphysical. The viewer is presented with a series of questions and, while there may not be clear answers for each inquiry, information is given in such a way that we are left to decide what to believe. There are obvious links to the Bible throughout the film, as well as references to On the Origin of Species and Enlightenment thinking. We are given scientific explanations for most everything, and yet the specter of something akin to Intelligent Design rarely strays too far.

Prometheus is a very ambitious film that finds itself in the wheelhouse for those of us that enjoy asking questions and appreciate the vagaries of life. It is certainly not for everyone, as it is wholehearted science fiction that relies on the viewer’s ability to take in the scale of existence and appreciate that which cannot be answered. It is a philosophical meditation on the perception of faith and fact, and it is wholly rewarding from credits to credits.

It is, in short, one of the most beautiful filmgoing experiences in recent memory.