Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On Prometheus and the Creator-Creation Dynamic

I had not seen Aliens and so for me, Prometheus stood apart as an original cinematic creation. The highly anticipated answers it was presumed to bring to thousands of Aliens fans were far from my mind when I watched and enjoyed it last week.

As to the questions it raised, they were many. The Guardian's take on the film's unanswered questions is thought-provoking but mostly hints at the superficial deficits in the production.

I decided to blog about Prometheus to offer a different interpretation. To begin, call me dense, but I glossed over those 'unanswered questions' in the film. I gratefully indulged in suspension of disbelief allowing myself to- in Ben Walter's words -endow the miracle medicine pod with strength-endowing, pain-suppressing supercharger qualities. Therefore it did not surprise me if Elizabeth, who by the way happens to be a highly trained astronaut living in futurescape, was running around after having her impromptu Cesarean.

The Eight Tenets of Prometheus
But putting aside the superficial, I want to blurt it out here. I saw Prometheus as rhetoric. I saw it as a set of philosophical possibilities, an exposition of what the film suggests as universal tenets, namely:

1. creations are arrogant, they inevitably come to believe that they are equal to or surpass their creator
2. creations are rare, and the act of creation is a miracle, a difficult process
3. creations want to live, they fear death
4. curiosity and scientific approach are two requirements for a creation to become itself a creator
5. creations will eventually desire to topple their creator, partly due to arrogance
6. a creator does not necessarily create out of a sense of benevolence or goodness, this is a myth; they may create out of personal ego, to defend themselves, to prove themselves or out of accident
7. considering the accidental and sometimes undesired effects of creations, a creator may destroy without feeling remorse
8. a creation may have an incessant, cult-like curiosity towards their creator that is often misplaced given the accidental nature of creation and given that creators destroy without remorse

These tenets- which I will say define the Creator-Creation Dynamic, -if accepted by the audience, can then be applied across all character relationships in the film solving all questions that concern them:

Meredith -> Father
David ->  Father
Newborn Alien -> Elizabeth
Meredith's Father -> Alien Ancestor
Humans in general > Alien Ancestor
and at the audience level we would have:
Audience ->   Unknown Universal Creator vs Known God

Resolving Prometheus
Seemingly, the primary preoccupation of the film's narrative is with the questions of where the Aliens come from, why they created us and why they would want to kill us.
But if we ignore the narrative and instead, readily accept the film's discourse with regard to the Creator-Creation dynamic, then it is possible to use the above tenets to easily answer the last two questions.
The problem with embracing those tenets, is that the answers they formulate invariably create much discomfort in the greater part of the audience.

This is because:
No one who believes in a divinity wishes to accept a tenet that human creation might have been the result of some defence-related, experimental and other non-benevolent motivation.

No one who believes in a divinity could readily accept the tenet that a lifelong search for one's creator would eventually bring us face to face with a soldier-minded tyrant and that this quest is therefore meaningless and wasteful.

No one who believes in a divinity would be happy to believe that their creator destroys remorselessly.

And, no one who believes in a divinity would accept that their clinging to life is an arrogant pursuit, that in the scheme of things, they are an accidental rarity that does not deserve the special attributes we give ourselves.

The Core of Prometheus
I would not rule out Prometheus as decidedly anti-creationist or anti-religious. But it does present tenets that are outright incompatible with many religions in the world and shake our sense of belief in the divine. They shake our sense of belief in the sacred nature of life itself. 
However, the interesting thing about the tenets presented by Prometheus is that they are not absolute. They are suggested as the way things might be, not as how things are or ought to be.
Some of these tenets are important because they lead to the core meaning of the film which I will now argue.

The Unjust Death
For some of us, like Elizabeth, death is seen as an 'unjust' happening, one that raises questions about the motivations of the creator.
Alluding to the alien 'ancestors', Elizabeth questions "What have we done wrong, why do they want us to die?" But ironically she kills her unborn alien child. There is this theme of an experiment (arguably David's) gone wrong. She saw no other means but to remove it from her womb. Yet is she not, like the newborn alien, in fact, a result of an accident? Are we then also an experiment if this parallel is true? Are we the accident?

Yes, we are.
Remember: Creations are rare, and the act of creation is a miracle, a difficult process

Based on this, is the life that we self-righteously prize and hold dear, the life that we believe we deserve and should not be taken away from us, in fact, just the result of extremely unlikely probabilities? Consider the revelation Elizabeth makes earlier: I cannot create life. At this, she cries, leading to pathos in the narrative but also at a discursive level, she highlights the fragility of life and the difficulty that is creation.

Consider too how improbable creation is beyond the film: the difficult sperm trajectory, even the universal creation process as a rare event. Yet when it happens, this rare event, this accident is perceived by us as normal. So normal that its product, life, should not, ought not to be taken away from us, hence our fear of death.
But going back to Elizabeth's questions. The same old questions are asked and have been asked for the entire humanity by those who believe in a creator: How can a god possibly send diseases, natural disasters and otherwise cause the death of people who 'seemingly do not deserve it' and who he/she has, after all, created?

Again, remember: 
Given the accidental and sometimes undesired effects of creations, a creator may destroy without feeling remorse

The film suggests that maybe we are being destroyed because we have become too dangerous and are a threat to the creator. Consider at another level, the threat David- himself a creation -poses. How much mischief can his curiosity cause to the crew? Has caused so far? Albeit at times, he shows genius but it is his arrogance-in-knowing that is cause for concern.
Does it recall our own curiosity? It should.

By setting out to highlight the heroism of a selfless ego-less death and contrasting it to the clinging for life, the narrative hints to something else beyond its tenets: it does not really matter if we die. It is inconsequential. If we cast our arrogance aside, death matters little.

Contrast Meredith's fear of death and the pilot's eagerness to give up his life in order to save Earth and the remaining crew. How quickly Meredith dons her suit and ejects herself while the pilot and his colleagues fly Kami-kaze into the Alien vessel. He shows no arrogance about living, does not cling to life as a God-given right, sees his own life as incidental, a commodity he can disregard for the greater good.
Death for him becomes a necessity, not a personal tragedy.

Ultimately, through the pilot's heroic death and the sense of goodness that this evokes- especially in comparison to Captain Vickers' jealous guarding of her own life, -there is a sense that the fear of death, self-interest and arrogance of living, all those things which Captain Vickers displays, is to be frowned upon.

Humility in Living
Might not Prometheus be suggesting that unlike the main characters in its narrative, and perhaps more like the pilot of the Prometheus, if we are to find true peace- and this, whether we happen to be 'creations' of either love, nature or some God, -we should remain humble about Life. True humility for this rare event that is Life ought to make us grateful, less fearing of death, less inclined towards dissatisfaction in relation to our creator, less indignant about the difficulties that are thrown our way.

Because death is an inevitability. It is Life that is the miracle. Because death does not necessarily mean that we have done something wrong or that we did not deserve to live. Even Life when we had it, may have only been just an accident...

Might not Prometheus be suggesting that we have become arrogant about living? And that it is our arrogance, the perceived injustice of our death, and our complete incomprehension that death should happen to us- us the special ones -which makes us fear Death in the first place.
An interesting message given the age of the director. Perhaps Ridley Scott might himself feel more at peace embracing its meaning.

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