This piece intends to comment on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus in relation to its allusions to deities, creation and religion. Being that I come from a Christian background, however, much of this article (unavoidably) relies on Prometheus’ supposed Biblical allusions — as it appears to have been Ridley Scott’s intention to draw from such themes. Still, because I axiologically write from a Creationist perspective, it is in no ulterior way meant to challenge secularist interpretations of the film.
This is not an essay. As of now, there is no structure, MLA formatting, citations, or working thesis.
Leviticus 22:3 / LV-223
Say to them: ‘For the generations to come, if any of your descendants is ceremonially unclean and yet comes near the sacred offerings that the Israelites consecrate to the Lord, that person must be cut off from my presence. I am the Lord.’ (via Erin Roberts)
Shortly after its debut last weekend, In Harsh Light colleague Mario Munoz discussed his experience with Prometheus. One particular segment of his review strummed a few of my ever-discordant epistemological nerve endings, which goes thus:
There has been some critique of the film’s thematic approach toward the origin of life. It is quite clear early on that this is a question that is being explored. However, the movie doesn’t get lost in a lot of philosophizing, and its treatment of that question, in the long run, is inconsequential. (Sort of.)
Much like most discussions on belief, these topics tend to spiral out of control without much room for a middle ground. In this regard, I am glad that the film doesn’t try to deal with it directly.
As to Mario’s last assertion, I felt relieved too, once I got around to processing the film myself (you don’t just watch a film like Prometheus — you witness it, and process it afterwards. For days, weeks, perhaps months to come).
Of course, one can only justify that relief for so long (sorry Mario) — as the very subject of life’s origins on Earth proves far too seductive to pass up, at least for the sake of sheer entertainment.
At first glance, my aforementioned relief escaped me. As the credits rolled, I was left with 1. curt characterization; 2. unanswered questions regarding the Engineers and their hatred of mankind; 3. generic dialogue; and 4. the ambiguous motive behind David (Michael Fassbender) poisoning Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) with the black goo.
Nevertheless, I soon realized that my scruples with the film (as a narrative) were petty. Far outweighed by its ambition, vision, art design, and spiritual-cum-philosophical undertones; characterization and linear exposition take a backseat to Prometheus‘ fair unwillingness to assume answers to questions that man has been asking of the universe for thousands of years. As Don Draper once put it in Season 1 of Mad Men: “I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent.”
Per item 2, we rue this soulless indifference in the Space Jockey’s crude-oil eyes, completely uncaring of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and Elizabeth Shaw’s (Noomi Rapace) pressing questions of existence, of potential immortality — the moment before it responds with shameless, blatant violence.
Does this prove a cheap ploy to avoid scripting a more thought provoking dialogue between Engineer and Human? The short answer: Not really. The marriage of power and knowledge is a funny thing. Human nature is riddled with random acts of chaos and order, oftentimes void of undimmed purpose or rationale. Sometimes our motives, our very reasoning, is lost in the process. Why create chaos? Why create order? Why create at all? Eerily enough: If we can, we simply will.
Out of chaos comes order (Friedrich Nietzsche).
In the presence of exposition, mystery is a bumbling idiot. In terms of film, a lack of narrative certainty often works to strengthen the exposition that does occur. The purpose of living is one of man’s most prodigious conundrums — an eons-old Rubik’s cube. As far as the universe goes, any respectable sci-fi film relinquishes story exposition just short of total omniscience. The cheap ploy would have been writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof spelling it out for you, coming up with ineludibly inferior answers to the puzzle of creation and the Engineers’ subsequent hatred of us.
Trust me, in the breviloquent scope of a two-plus hour film, those answers were bound to satisfy no one. A writer’s imagination is never that fertile. In fact, 20th Century Fox’s decision to hire Lindelof as co-writer is an interesting move, as prior to Prometheus, he’s best known for his work on Lost, a sci-fi/adventure TV series notorious for asking big questions of the universe without answering them.
Regarding item 1, Prometheus could easily be an hour longer to better flesh out the principal cast, who largely come across as pawns on the checkered board of the film’s conceptual and visual grandeur. (To me, item 1 is a fair complaint, and it begs Scott to release a longer cut once the film is released in DVD/Blu-ray format.) Let’s not forget: The Alien series is overwrought with extraneous, stock characters. Prometheus is no different.
Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw is just as viscerally compelling in Prometheus as Sigourney Weaver‘s Ripley was in Alien. The conspicuous difference between their performances is that strong female characters proved a rare breed in 1979, a cinematic malady that Ridley Scott (and later, James Cameron, circa Aliens) addressed head on. Weaver’s Ripley was quite the novelty, back then. There was an androgynous quality about her that could not be mistaken, and until Rapace’s Shaw, could not be replicated in terms of strength and intensity.
Still, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Prometheus is an experience, not a “movie.” It is a film about ideas, concepts, theories, intellectual agendas (perhaps), and sly parallels to various archetypal deities (I will get to those in a moment). The characters in this film almost stood as archetypal prototypes themselves, representing persons of faith (Elizabeth Shaw and her belief that life on Earth has a divine origin) and evolutionary science (Holloway and his adherence to Evolution/Darwinism as a better explanation for our beginnings).
By its final reel, Prometheus seemed to adhere to both, rather than one over the other.
A Doctrine of Apotheosis
For an in-depth analysis on Prometheus’ biblical themes, look no further than anonymous blogger “Cavalorn,” and his viral Livejournal.com essay, Prometheus Unbound: What The Movie Was Actually About. If like many reviewers of the critical canon (and laymen alike) you felt cheated out of a fuller, more comprehensive experience in the film, then I strongly suggest you read through all of Cavalorn’s essay to form a better understanding of the film’s religious parallels, in and outside of the Christian paradigm.
If such a read proves too great a chore, then be sure to catch one of the piece’s central theses, excerpted below:
They [the Engineers] could have destroyed us at any time, but instead, they effectively invited us over; the big pointy finger seems to be saying ‘Hey, guys, when you’re grown up enough to develop space travel, come see us.’ Until something changed, something which not only messed up our relationship with them but caused their installation on LV-223 to be almost entirely wiped out.
From the Engineers’ perspective, so long as humans retained that notion of self-sacrifice as central, we weren’t entirely beyond redemption. But we went and screwed it all up, and the film hints at when, if not why: the Engineers at the base died two thousand years ago. That suggests that the event that turned them against us and led to the huge piles of dead Engineers lying about was one and the same event. We did something very, very bad, and somehow the consequences of that dreadful act accompanied the Engineers back to LV-223 and massacred them.
If you have uneasy suspicions about what ‘a bad thing approximately 2,000 years ago’ might be, then let me reassure you that you are right. An astonishing excerpt from the Movies.com interview with Ridley Scott:
Movies.com: 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, “Let’s send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it.” Guess what? They crucified him.
Yeah. The reason the Engineers don’t like us any more is that they made us a Space Jesus, and we broke him. Reader, that’s not me pulling wild ideas out of my arse. That’s RIDLEY SCOTT.
Here, the idea that the Engineers’ quiet, homicidal disdain of humankind involves our race’s loathsome crucifixion of their one beloved emissary is palpable all throughout Prometheus. The Christian allusions are, of course, distorted — a nicer way to say it is that the Crucifixion (not to mention the Creation Story) is deliberately reinterpreted.
In the film’s subtext, Space Jesus was an emissary sent by the Engineers to monitor our moral and intellectual progress from within, but the progenitors of modern Western civilization (in “skirts and armor”) crucified him, as Scott notes above.
As is commonly known, the Christ of the Bible had a different agenda. From the purview of Intelligent Design, man’s affliction is the incurable disease of “sin” (to secularize the term, namely our lust for power, control, violence, and apotheosis by way of humanistic, Machiavellian, utilitarian, and/or Hegelian belief paradigms). As the account (or “myth,” depending on which side of the spectrum you’re coming from) goes, Christ came to us in the form of immaculate conception as Redeemer — not Emissary. Recall that Prometheus, at least on one occasion, intimated Shaw’s barren womb, only to impregnate her by other, more abominable means (not so immaculate).
The ostensible conceit of the New Testament Bible is that the disease of sin had but one antigen: the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, of the Lamb (see the Canonical Gospels). Customarily, it’s what those pesky evangelicals refer to as the Plan of Salvation. In this way, Christ’s very purpose was crucifixion. As the canonical account goes, it did not come as a blood curdling surprise to a hairless master race of translucent super-humanoids.
God’s Old Testament wrath was tempered by the sacrifice of the Son in the New Testament, spelling the salvation of man from its mortal coil. Inversely, in Prometheus, the murder of the “Son” (the emissary) begot the wrath of the gods (the Engineers), and thus, spelled the coming end of the human race. As is often the case in occult ritual, to secularize a Christian paradigm is to present its message upside down. The most common example being the crucifix (countless examples in horror movie fare abound, a la The Exorcist and The Omen). The same is often true for the manner in which the Bible’s numerous parables and stories are secularized for exoteric consumption.
As stated in Cavalorn’s essay, one of Prometheus‘ underlying motifs involves the ritual of sacrificial death (better yet, self-sacrifice) to beget new life. Indeed, the very opening sequence in Prometheus involves the breathtaking landscapes of a planet we relate to as Prehistoric Earth. Here, we witness a hooded humanoid figure disrobe itself at the cusp of a rolling, frothy waterfall. With its cyclopean mothership passing overhead, it drinks the mysterious black substance that we are reintroduced to later in the film; and rapidly decomposes into the water below, into its most basic genomic building blocks, which, inferably, mark the helix-shaped beginnings of mankind.
Interestingly enough, it’s here where Roger Ebert recently argued against the thesis that Prometheus is a deceptive argument for panspermia (and rightly so). Panspermia is based on the hypothesis that life exists throughout the universe, and can randomly be distributed to inhabitable planets via meteoroids, asteroids, and planetoids. (As a self-diagnosed secularist, Ebert is a bit presumptuous about Creationists, but I’ll touch on that in a follow up post.)
Notwithstanding one’s interpretation of Prometheus‘ strange overture, it is rather clear that panspermia is a poor applicant for the film’s a priori conceits, which revolve around the intentional creation of human life (intelligent design). If Christians need to complain about Prometheus‘ inferences concerning the origin of life on earth, they’re wasting valuable minutes of their time with panspermia, and its gnarly cousin, alien life.
In Prometheus, alien life (namely, the lethal hunter breed, xenomorph) is a byproduct of intelligent life, not a narrative centerpiece (as it was in Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection).
This is the Destroyer who mirrors the Creator, I think – the avatar of supremely selfish life, devouring and destroying others purely to preserve itself. As Ash puts it: ‘a survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse or delusions of morality.’ (Cavalorn)
From the Christian purview, the xenomoph is the monster of sin. A moral vacuum. The result of our tampering with the preeminent laws of creation. To scrutinize Prometheus from a Christian perspective would be to scrutinize its reinterpretation of Biblical scripture; not its complete reinvention or discarding. One could note that the film never explicitly acknowledges the Engineers as the collective race we commonly refer to as “God.” The buck doesn’t necessarily stop with them. Do they have their own system of deities?
This brings us to the black slime, and its inherent reactive nature when faced with organic life other than its own:
The black slime reacts to the nature and intent of the being that wields it, and the humans in the film didn’t even know that they WERE wielding it. That’s why it remained completely inert in David’s presence, and why he needed a human proxy in order to use the stuff to create anything. The black goo could read no emotion or intent from him, because he was an android.
Shaw’s comment when the urn chamber is entered – ‘we’ve changed the atmosphere in the room’ – is deceptively informative. The psychic atmosphere has changed, because humans – tainted, Space Jesus-killing humans – are present. The slime begins to engender new life, drawing not from a self-sacrificing Engineer but from human hunger for knowledge, for more life, for more everything. Little wonder, then, that it takes serpent-like form. The symbolism of a corrupting serpent, turning men into beasts, is pretty unmistakable (Cavalorn).
The same principle illuminates the darker secrets of the universe (the occult, the “esoteric”), and the manner in which the human mind reacts to what H.P. Lovecraft has dubbed “forbidden knowledge.” (Forbidden knowledge ["forbidden fruit"] rests at the heart of most of Lovecraft’s work.)
What’s man’s relationship to forbidden knowledge? Does it make monsters of men? Does it make gods of men? Here, the universal cautionary adage applies: True knowledge carries a terrific burden.
Let’s ask ourselves the obvious question: Is knowledge a good thing? Does knowledge draw the lines in the sand that separate civility from tribal barbarism? The wherewithal for technological, epistemological, scientific, and moral progress? What breed of knowledge are we talking about?
Any analysis of Scott’s Prometheus would be remiss without a synopsis of the titular myth itself, and how it directly ties into the plot of the film. In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan, hero and trickster. He is celebrated for creating man out of clay, for giving man the gift of fire, a dastardly act of treason against the Olympian gods. Fire, in fact, carries a long tradition of pagan symbolism. We’re not talking about prehistoric man’s discovery of fire in a Darwinian context. Fire (the Columbian torch) almost unanimously represents knowledge, intelligence, consciousness, autonomy from the gods (and/or God “the Father”), and the unveiled secrets of the universe — which in turn give way to the deification (apotheosis) of man. Man’s innate ability to transcend corporeal limitations and thus reach a state of godhood (see Transcendent Man; 2009).
Could apotheosis be too abstract a concept to consider when discussing film and culture? Not as abstract as you might think, especially when you identify its modern euphemisms. Scientology, often considered the “religion of celebrities,” is a popular belief system that sprouts from one immovable axis: self-deification. When Scientologists speak about the “Celestial Kingdom,” they don’t mean by way of God, but as gods, as fully actualized entities.
Moreover, apotheosis is commonly represented in science fiction (and pop culture) as transhumanism (“H+”), a widespread cultural movement that affirms man’s near-term grasp of developments in emerging technologies that will eliminate aging and exponentially enhance our cognitive faculties (indefinitely). These faculties include the intellect; physical capabilities; and psychological capacities — bypassing man’s fundamental limitations via artificial enhancements. This concept isn’t new. In film, we’ve seen it before, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) to Ridley Scott’s dystopian Blade Runner (1982) to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Do people think that because it’s been in a movie, it can’t happen? (The Singularity is Near)
Arguably, Scott’s Prometheus has a stronger kinship to the latter than it does Alien. To wit, 2001 centers around mysterious monoliths (“alien computers”) whose creators evolved into spiritual beings, leaving matter behind altogether. 2001‘s monoliths appear to promote “progress” in the midst of wherever they stand, as well as protect the life forming in its vicinity by surrounding it with electromagnetic (“paranormal”) defense mechanisms. As such, the captain of the ship is thrust into a cosmic reality (approaching their destination, Jupiter) and sees himself age at an accelerated pace.
HAL 9000 (the sentient computer that appropriated full control of the spaceship) supposedly communicated with these entities. Sound familiar? Sounds a bit like David’s advanced ability to speak the language of the Space Jockey (of the “gods”) in Prometheus. Comparatively, in 2001‘s final moments, the captain watches himself perish, reincarnated as a cosmic baby, reaching a state of godhood.
In Prometheus, when we speak about fire, we speak about man’s intent to reach total godliness. To certain sects of Christianity, here lies the very lifeblood of Darwinism — where its most potent allure lies. That is: modern man’s technocratic eventuality, its final doctrine. Let’s not forget, however, the punishment that Prometheus (the Greek titan) received as a result of giving man the fire of knowledge. Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods, sentenced Prometheus to eternal damnation. The titan was bound to a large rock, where each day an eagle (Zeus’ emblem) would come to feast on his liver, only for it to grow back and be eaten the next day. As Cavalorn notes, Scott’s film, in turn, makes this allusion to “Promethean” self-sacrifice visually consistent:
The crew of the Prometheus discover an ancient chamber, presided over by a brooding solemn face, in which urns of the same black substance are kept. A mural on the wall presents an image which, if you did as I asked earlier on, you will recognise instantly: the lifegiver with his abdomen torn open. Go and look at it here to refresh your memory. Note the serenity on the Engineer’s face here.
Here, we come back to one’s call for self-sacrifice to yield new life. In the Book of Genesis, God takes a rib from the side of Adam to form Woman. On the cross, Jesus was pierced on the side by a spear — the Crucifixion an act of sacrifice that redeems humanity in the face of total extinction and annihilation. In the Greek myth of Prometheus, the Titan’s liver is torn out from his abdomen by a ravenous eagle. In Scott’s film, Elizabeth Shaw uses a programmable surgery pod to perform an emergency Caesarean section on the abomination in her womb. Later, the captain of the titular ship, Janek (Idris Elba), forfeits his own life (as well as the lives of his co-pilots) to save our world from destruction by the hands of the Engineer (an impromptu kamikaze mission that, unfortunately, presents a few script-related weaknesses. The viewer has a hard time reconciling this action from a character whose exposition was superfluously limited).
Coming full circle, the Greek myth of Prometheus emphasizes a type of self-sacrifice that ushers in the cognitive salvation of mankind, almost as a point of pride (or obligation). In fact, certain aspects of occult philosophy heavily touch on the rejection of one’s “rightful death”, and its consequences:
In [Aleister] Crowley’s system, the magician who refuses to accept the bitter cup of Babalon and undergo dissolution of his individual ego in the Great Sea (remember that opening scene [in Prometheus]?) becomes an ossified, corrupted entity called a ‘Black Brother’ who can create no new life, and lives on as a sterile, emasculated husk (Cavalorn).
As a resilient matter of course, the Greek myth of Prometheus draws bold parallels to Lucifer’s fall from God’s auspices in heaven, as (depending on which version you’re reading) is made implicit in the Bible (Isaiah 14:12; Revelation 12:9). Conceptually, and particularly within Gnostic belief systems, Prometheus and Lucifer are cut from the same cloth. Often referred to as the Light bringer (the imagery of “fire” thus coinciding), Lucifer offered Eve the fruit of knowledge and good and evil (Genesis 3:1-6) — the secret doctrine of universal laws. Upon accepting Lucifer’s offer (or “temptation”), Eve concurrently accepts mortality, that is, bodily dissolution. If fire represents knowledge, then its encapsulating nature sparks the beginning of her slow, gradual immolation.
The same applies to Eve’s other, Adam, upon accepting this forbidden gift. Here, knowledge enlightens man as much as it destroys him. As discussed earlier, in Gnostic and occult circles, Christian paradigms are typically inverted (I reiterate: turning the message “upside down”): Lucifer is hailed as the savior of mankind, by gifting us with knowledge, while God, the “sadist,” preferred that man remain chained to the pitch dark, utterly benighted. One can’t help but conjure Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
Luciferianism represents a radical revaluation of humanity’s ageless adversary: Satan. It is the ultimate inversion of good and evil. The formula for this inversion is reflected by the narrative paradigm of the Gnostic Hypostasis myth. As opposed to the original Biblical version, the Gnostic account represents a “revaluation of the Hebraic story of the first man’s temptation, the desire of mere men to ‘be as gods’ by partaking of the tree of the ‘knowledge of good and evil'” (Raschke 26).
In this vein, the term “Lucifer” takes on complex metaphorical significance, rather than a literal belief in the adversarial superbeing, “Satan”:
Lucifer represents Life … Thought … Progress … Civilization … Liberty … Independence … Lucifer is the Logos … The Serpent … The Savior. (Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “The Secret Doctrine“, Vol. II).
From the Luciferian viewpoint, Satanists are primarily focused on the physical nature of man, exploring, experimenting and enjoying that nature while rejecting endeavors to rise beyond it. Satan is an emblem of carnality and materiality. Luciferians view Lucifer as a spiritual and enlightened being. And while Luciferians do embrace the enjoyment of one’s life, they accept that there are greater and more spiritual goals to be had (Catherine Noble Beyer).
The concept of a “light bearer” (a selfless giver of Knowledge) stands for an oppositely positive ideal, rather than the primitive schlocky clichés that Satanism has inspired in countless movies, television shows, and media shenanigans (see the Satanic Panic of the ’80s). Luciferianism is an intellectual euphemism for modern civilization — with an auxiliary belief in limitless actualization (evolution). In fact, to Luciferians (or Gnostics), one mustn’t believe in a literal Lucifer to be Luciferian. From a purely intellectual perspective, even the atheist practices (inadvertently or not) Luciferianism. As one’s “liberty” to exercise it as a cultural movement (“science above all gods”), it doesn’t require religious credence to any one deity. More than anything, it is an ideological construct — the rest is up to the individual to conjecture.
As delineated above, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus alludes to an unusual amalgam of biblical and Greco-pagan ideologies. Yet, its central theme is most assuredly the potential consequence of Promethean thought, of alternately, Luciferianism, and the notion that, despite liberated man’s adherence to his or her own innate deity, the “universe is [ultimately] indifferent.”
Recall the final act in Prometheus, and the Engineer’s total disinterest to Shaw and Weyland’s questions — questions we’ve been asking of God, gods, and science for ages — and how these questions remain untempered, licking upwards like eager tongues of fire. Perhaps, in the end, fire less represents knowledge than it does our inextinguishable desire for knowledge; to overcome mortality. More is never enough.
Granted, that Prometheus is largely dependent on the above themes is hard to digest. Before stepping into the movie theater, one should consider visiting the clever, lore-building Weyland Industries mock website (which looks so legitimate it’s eery), and while you’re there, watch a younger Peter Weyland discuss the very concepts examined in this post. Weyland, a futurist corporate tycoon (Ridley Scott’s charismatic rendition of Ray Kurzweil, no doubt), outlines his monolithic plans to change the world, using the Gnostic/Transhumanist language of Promethean Luciferianism:
The fire that danced at the end of that match, was a gift from the Titan, Prometheus [...] He gave us fire, our first true piece of technology [ .... ]
100,00 B.C., stone tools; 4,000 B.C., the wheel; 9th century A.D., gun powder; 19th century, ‘eureka,’ the light bulb! 20th century, the automobile, television, nuclear weapons, space craft, Internet. 21st century, biotech, nanotech, fusion, fission and M Theory. And that was just the first decade.
We are now three months into the year of our Lord, 2023 [recall: LV-223]. At this moment in our civilization, we can create cybernetic individuals, who in just a few short years, will be completely indistinguishable from us. Which leads to an obvious conclusion: We are the gods now [...]
Physically, words weigh nothing. Still, when paired just right, they carry worlds of Sisyphean promise for humanity, and with them: The implausible technocratic utopias that futurist visionaries paint of the coming decades.
*Note that the mock Ted Talk video I linked to above isn’t included in Scott’s theatrical cut of Prometheus. It is an adroit marketing campaign that assembles a quasi-de facto experience in and outside of the movie theater, and suggests that Scott’s plans for this IP won’t end with Shaw and David’s escape from the LV-223. Time will only tell.