Set in the years 2089-2093, in the not so distant future in historical terms (I had the morbid thought that my children would be in their last years and might be great-grandparents), the story of Prometheus takes us on the journey of a group of space explorer-scientists to find evidence of the existence on an alien race that is likely responsible for starting life on earth. The justification for this belief in extraterrestrial progenitors comes from archeological discoveries of primitive art showing our earliest ancestors pointing upward toward a certain star pattern, that eerily happens to be the same pattern no matter the geographical location of the art. The scientists who make this discovery – Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway – interpret these findings as no mere coincidence, but as an invitation from our alien creators (who they call “engineers…because they engineered us”) to come and find them. Elizabeth and Charlie convince Peter Weyland, one of the wealthiest men on earth, to fund the endeavor, and two years and trillions of miles later, aboard the spaceship-research vessel “Prometheus,” they arrive safely with their crew at the planet (actually a large moon) the ancient maps guided them to.
There they soon discover evidence of intelligent life, though, of course, not of the kind they expected. The rest of the film consists of suspenseful, shockingly grotesque encounters with the beings they find, all while trying desperately to make contact with just one of them so that they can get definitive answers to the philosophical questions that are driving their quest. The financier Weyland lays these out plainly in a holographic message given to the crew when they arrive:
1. Questions of origin – Where do we come from? Who made us?
2. Questions of purpose – What were we made for?
3. Questions of destiny – Where are we going? What is our final destination?
At this point, I will not disclose anymore plot details, except that the scientists do manage to get a DNA sample from one of the aliens and analyze it to find a perfect match with human DNA (it is this discovery that motivates them even more to get answers from these creatures). My purpose, as usual, is to explore the philosophical and religious themes of the film and to interpret these in the light of Scripture. Rarely does a film, especially one the aspires to blockbuster status, raise and attempt to address such questions so overtly.
There are two themes in Prometheus I will reflect on in upcoming posts this week. The first and primary theme is that of the origins of life. I will explain why questions of origins are so significant in shaping our understanding of the universe and of ourselves, and why thoughtful people, even prominent scientists, have speculated quite seriously that life on earth originated from extraterrestrial sources.
The second theme, which is more of a subtext in the film, is about knowledge and belief: how should we go about answering such questions and how can we know which, if any, answers are true?
Even if you haven’t seen the film (it was enjoyable and thought-provoking, but not so great that I’m telling everyone I know that they should see it like I did with Inception a couple of years ago), I hope you will find these reflections worthy of reading and that you will comment with your own ideas on these themes.