Saturday, December 29, 2012

Prometheus -- alien beginnings, atheistic musings

Director: Ridley Scott, 2012 (R)

Three decades ago, Ridley Scott directed Alien, featuring Sigourney Weaver as a cold-as-ice, kick-ass heroine who went one on one with a killer alien discovered on a distant planet. Over the years sequel upon sequel followed, with James Cameron’s Aliens being perhaps the best of the bunch. But none quite matched the innovation and sheer suspense of the original. But here Scott returns to his creation, to bring us a prequel of sorts. Sadly, it does not measure up to the original. Yet, it does raise a number of questions, some of which it even attempts to answer, but with deeply unsatisfying answers.

Like Alien, the star of the film is a female: Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) plays Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist, who with fellow scientist and lover Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), discover archeological writings on cave walls.  They deduce what they are: “Not a map. An invitation.” From whom, they are asked. “We call them Engineers. . . . They engineered us.” Apparently, these beings created us.

To follow up on this momentous discovery, Peter Weyland, a reclusive billionaire, funds an interplantery voyage about the spaceship Prometheus, to the planet that the cave-drawings point to, where seemingly these Engineers are from. He has his own agenda, though. And he reveals it early, to the band of travelers:
“There's a man sitting with you today. His name is David. And he is the closest thing to a son I will ever have. Unfortunately, he is not human. He will never grow old and he will never die. And yet he is unable to appreciate these remarkable gifts for that would require the one thing that David will never have. A soul. I have spent my entire lifetime contemplating the questions: Where do we come from? What is our purpose? What happens when we die?”
So, Ridley Scott through Peter Wayland, wants to give us an origins story, a cinematic cosmology. And we will come back to discuss his views a little later.

Like Alien, the crew includes a robot, David (Michael Fassbinder, Inglourious Basterds) in this case. There is also an ice-queen, though this time it is a suspicious superior, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), rather than the heroine. But Shaw is no Ripley, though she tries. And the villain is an alien, or rather two aliens.

There is so much similarity to Alien, but that is not surprising. The planet they land on is the planet from the earlier movie. As in Alien, Scott takes his time getting to the alien, choosing to build the tension slowly. Where Alien had the memorable birth scene in the ship, this has a novel cesarean-section alien abortion, which is not for the faint-of-heart. But, whereas in the former film he was merely creating a film, here he seems to have an atheistic agenda, even if his heroine has a faith of sorts, as evidenced by her ornamental cross.

On the planet, in the dark caverns an oozing primordial sludge moves with reptilian parasites. Scott may be alluding to the Darwinian sludge from which most evolutionists purport that humankind came from. Moreover, when the Engineers are found, we come to realize they are not the original creators. Like the metaphysical cosmological argument, we must look beyond for the Prime Mover. If these Engineers really made us, but are likewise creatures, we are left asking who created them. The chain continues ad infinitum into eternity past. There was a beginning for the Engineers, and they were not the idyllic gracious loving creators they were thought to be. Scott’s anti-religious framework emerges.

In contrast, the Bible gives us an account of creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).  This is a fundamental tenet of theism in general and Christianity in particular. More than this though, Christianity posits that Christ was pre-existent, the actual Prime Mover: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (Jn. 1:1-3). In these two biblical books, Genesis from the Old Testament and John from the New, we find a cosmology worth believing in.

If Scot has rejected biblical creation in answering Weyland’s first question, he reiterates this in answering his second question, namely, what is our purpose? In an interchange with the robot David, Charlie begins, “What we hoped to achieve was to meet our makers. To get answers. Why they even made us in the first place.” David asks, “Why do you think your people made me?” Charlie answers, “We made you because we could.” David replies, “Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?” And Charlie understands, “I guess it’s good you can’t be disappointed.” For Scott, there is no purpose to mankind’s creation. If we consider creation, we can only be disappointed as there is no purpose, only random chance.

What is our purpose? The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks this as its first question (What is the chief end of man?). It gives us this answer: “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” This is a win-win: we glorify our maker and in doing so we enjoy him forever. This purpose is discovered in the New Testament, especially in the writings of the apostles.  Paul tells us, “with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6). Likewise, Peter commands us, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Pet. 2:12). Clearly, we have a purpose, if we choose to accept it.

Choice and faith also crop up in Prometheus in the form of Shaw and her cross. At various points she has, loses and then regains the cross, symbolizing a faith of sorts. Indeed, when asked about religion she replies, “It is what I choose to believe,” indicating a choice that perhaps might be personal but also might be wrong.

Faith and belief are different. Faith comes from God and is rooted in Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Indeed, Paul tells us that there is a “measure of faith God has given you” (Rom. 12:3). If faith is given to us, belief is then choosing to act on that. Faith is the cause, belief is the effect.

The third and final question that Weyland asks (“What happens when we die?”) is never answered in Prometheus. Apparently, Ridley Scott has no answer to one of mankind’s fundamental questions. But Christianity certainly does. And the answer returns to choice and faith.

Jesus gives us the answer in a parable he told in his Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25). He contrasted the sheep and the goats, those who followed the Shepherd (Christ) and those who didn’t. The latter will be told, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:41). Jesus concluded, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt. 25:46). Thus, the two ultimate destinations are heaven and hell. Entry to heaven is determined by choice to believe and follow Jesus. Entry to hell is determined by choice to disbelieve and ignore Jesus.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a titan, a trickster who created man from clay and brought fire from the gods to man. The film Prometheus is likewise a trickster, that tries to lay out Scott’s non-Christian agenda. Discerning viewers must be on their guard against this parasitic alien invasion!

Copyright ©2012, Martin Baggs

No comments:

Post a Comment