#7 Loss and Death Make Us Human.
Death is seen as a connotative negative by the world at large. We cry at funerals, we miss our pets, and we all worry about what’s next. This is the fuel for a thousand religions. However, death is actually a natural positive, part of the overall “plan”. Without it, resources wouldn’t be at all sustainable. Simply put, without death there’s no cooperation or adaptation.
And so, when Guy Pearce (as Peter Weyland) goes off searching for “new life” (read: immortality) he’s very much upsetting the natural order of things. Without death, or the opportunity for death, morals get very cloudy, very quickly, in a zero-sum game toward sustaining individual life indefinitely. Death is often a teaching moment, and large-scale death is especially worrisome to humans, which tends to facilitate change. We look at Germany in the ’30s and ’40s and think, “we’re never letting that happen again”. But, if you take the moral hazard away from people, if they can act in any manner they please without fear of an “ultimate” price, then you’ve completely pulled out the rug on the process of emotional evolution.
Consider the following hypothetical: What if 100 people, worldwide, were impervious to death? They had a system wherein, upon their passing, their memories and knowledge were simply passed on to a new receptacle and they rebooted, good as new. This has been the fodder of sci-fi for generations, and it was recently broken down in “You Are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier. It’s a massive question, perhaps the biggest question around as we coast into the future, because how do you suppose those 100 people would act? Would they be nicer, knowing they had forever? Or would they become more ruthless, safe in the knowledge that everyone else, as a mortal, was completely irrelevant? You might see both methods employed, but it’s severely scary regardless. And keep in mind that Ridley Scott is broaching this topic as a man in his seventies. He won’t be around in 50 years to deal with this, but he’s clearly approaching the topic with dread. Instead of being afraid of his own mortality, he’s holding Peter Weyland’s quest for “God-dom” in a stark contempt. Why does the film have this take on the situation? That part is simple, actually, and it points out that Ridley Scott’s desire for morality is stronger than his desire for immortality.
Our culture has been built upon the premise of “be good now for a reward later”. If you lose that, again, we’re no longer human. We’re something else entirely, and the game is forever changed. Prometheus hints at this change, and it’s truly the scariest idea embedded within, regardless of giant human meanies or squid monsters that are placed front and center.
Consider the character of Meredith Vickers. Her sole purpose in the movie seems to be to beat this drum. Her quote, “The king has his reign … and then dies.” There’s another line later in the film that goes something like “Doesn’t everyone want their parents to die?” That’s putting too fine a point on it, as it’s clearly not that simple, and many of us love our parents dearly, but the natural order of the world is momentously shaken once father and daughter are forced to scramble for the same resources, as this particular shipboard family seems to be doing.
#8 What People Choose to Believe is Far More Important than Facts.
Faith. It’s a constant theme in the film, as even David seems to place “faith” in his creator, and Shaw references her faith to justify her blind optimism in seeking out an alien race. This, ultimately, comes back to haunt her, as it has for many a society. Still, what’s the alternative? Without faith in something, some belief system, you’ve got no culture at all. It’s not comforting to think about, but the very thing that makes humans strong (willingness to sacrifice, shared goals, blind optimism) is also an Achilles heal (suicide bombers, ideas that spread like a virus, always wanting more). Faith allows us to accomplish almost anything (St. Peters, the justice system). It also puts us in dire jeopardy of accomplishing something that is our eventual undoing (Nuclear warheads, seeking out an alien culture that wants to murder us). Shaw’s dilemma is our dilemma, but how do you reconcile such a thing? Would the world have been better off without Christopher Columbus? It’s flat out impossible to say, and it probably isn’t the most germane question anyway, especially given there will always be people pushing the envelope to better their personal situations.
The world is in a constant battle for balance, and when things head too far one way or the other you’ll often see a brutal course correction. But we can’t hope to dissuade faith, nor should we attempt to. As humans, we’re forever adrift on a boat, always looking over that next horizon for storm or shelter. Basically, in summation:
#9 Humans Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone
The human search for significance and meaning is the human condition. It’s the basis of art, discovery, and most of the good and bad things that have happened in history. In the case of Prometheus the laudable thirst for knowledge leads Shaw and her team into peril. As she herself says, “This place isn’t what we thought it was.” Yep, Ms. Shaw, there’s only one thing worse than not getting what you want. And that’s getting what you want. But humanity keeps puttering along, doesn’t it?
And the thing that occasionally dooms us, that insatiable appetite for more, also makes us great. And while we’re on the subject of great things …