A Movie Review
by John David Ebert
There is so much going on in Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel that it is difficult, even for me, to know which angle to approach it from. It is an exceptionally rich film, packed with ideas, and I think it is safe to say that it is also the best science fiction film made in at least fifteen years.
The first thing that strikes one while watching it is that Scott’s handling of science fiction, as originally evidenced by both Alien and Blade Runner, is so effortless that one wonders why he squandered so many years of his career as a filmmaker creating one drab, mediocre movie after the next. This is the genre that he is clearly most at home in, and he never should have given up on it in the first place. Prometheus makes recent science fiction films like Moon, District 9 or Pandorum look like they were made by a tribe of monkeys hammering away at a typewriter trying to create imitations of Shakespearean plays.
The film tells a cosmological tale that describes how life on earth was created by a race of alien beings known enigmatically as the Engineers. As in the cosmology of Rudolf Steiner, in which creation begins with the sacrifice of the bodies of angels whose substance is then woven together to create the astral body of the human being, so too, the film begins with a primordial sacrifice of an Engineer who offers himself to the ancient earth’s rivers, seeding it with his DNA, from out of which the earth’s first microorganisms will arise.
In the film’s present timeline, the crew of the spaceship Prometheus is sent to the moon LV 223 in order to find and communicate with these Engineers who, meanwhile, have created a sort of temple with a cult of genetic engineers who have set about creating the ancestors of the Xenomorphs as weapons which they plan to use in order to wipe out the human race. We are not told why, nor, given the present state of depravity of human life, do we need to be told.
It is, of course, a reworking of the Book of Genesis, in which the angels who descend to teach humanity the arts of civilization are later traded out for the wrath of Yahweh when he changes his mind about his progeny and decides to wipe them out with a Flood. When, in 1 Enoch, Noah’s ancestor Enoch is taken up into heaven by the angels, he sees the great gates where Yahweh keeps all the floodwaters that he plans to unleash upon humanity, but in the present film, the floodwaters are traded out for serpents as the prototypes of the Xenomorphs. Serpents, as in Indian mythology, are a well-known analogue for water. In Indian myth, they are known as nagas, and they are the enemies of Garuda, the sun bird upon which Vishnu rides and pecks them off one by one. In this film, the spaceship Prometheus is traded out for the Garuda sun bird, which descends from the heavens onto the surface of LV255 as its technologized equivalent, where its crew will then go to war against these new science fiction nagas.
But, of course, the temple in which the Engineers are creating these serpentine Xenomorphs resembles an ancient burial mound, like a Buddhist stupa — itself an adapted and modified kurgan tomb — in which the prototypes of what will later become the eggs of the aliens in the other films are here cannisters that are shaped very much like the ancient Egyptian canopic jars in which the viscera of the bodily organs were kept at the time of mummification. The larval creatures that are kept inside these containers do, indeed, resemble bodily viscera.
So, on one level, the film looks back at, and retrieves the ancient cult of the Elders and their ritualized traditions of death and burial and contrasts it with the electronic technologies of the West’s cult of the Wonder Child, whose miracles in the form of floating, disembodied computer screens and self-luminous sukshma technologies are evident throughout the film. Indeed, it is as though the film were dramatizing the West’s twinge of guilt at tossing the cult of the Elders aside in favor of culturally disintegrative and destructive electronic technologies that have, in the meantime, liquidated traditional culture forms everywhere. The film seems to function as an oracular reminder that the Dead cannot be simply tossed aside, or else, as at Halloween when they don masks and trouble our doorsteps, they will wreak revenge in the form of the various catastrophes which do indeed seem to be surfacing nowadays all around us.
The U-shaped spacecraft of the Engineers which is headed for earth pregnant with seeds of death and destruction should be contrasted with Elizabeth Shaw’s (played by Noomi Rapace) obstetric abortion, who refuses to give birth to one of the nagas. The Engineers who have created a technology that has escaped from their control like the Titans and Asuras out of ancient myth who escape the overcoding of the arborescent systems of the state apparatus which attempts to suppress them (and which always code for multiple ethnicities in ancient myth) should recall to the viewer’s mind a technological system created and given birth to by the West which is now tearing out of the grip of our control and slowly turning against us.
Soon, the Earth, too, will be spawning its own nagas, asuras and Xenomorphs which it will send against us in the form of the various nature disasters that will slowly dismantle the edifice of technological civilization piece by piece, bit by bit. The alien that burst out of the technological exoskeleton that has confined it is a direct parallel with the Earth’s ecosystems that will burst out of the egg of the planetary scale technoskeleton that we have built as an attempt to capture, encode and control it by systems of dominant engineering.
In short, Prometheus captures and compresses the entire history of Western civilization’s technological project, including even dire warnings about its future, into a 2 hour and 4 minute popcorn movie.
I look forward to the sequel.