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Film Criticism

Sex, Science, and Horror in Prometheus

Look, it’s as simple as this: Prometheus has other things on its mind besides airtight logic. Like sex. No, not the missionary reproductive sex of our two protagonists or the semi-prude nudge-nudge, wink-wink suggestion of Charlize Theron’s and Idris Elba’s off-screen encounter (admittedly, a pretty appealing suggestion). The sexual apex of Prometheus is in the impregnation of the Engineer by the squid being birthed by Shaw. This is the primal scene made alien, the climax which the film so desperately tried to resist but ultimately couldn’t culminate without.

Mind you, this isn’t even me being metaphorical — this is literally how aliens reproduce, which, by the way:


The whole endeavor of the Alien franchise hinges on this scene. That’s not just AN alien, that’s THE alien; that’s the Queen Mother (note the belly sac) that bursts from the Engineer, the same Queen Mother that is the final boss in Aliens (as opposed to the non-reproducing male of Alien, one of the Queen Mother’s offspring). She’s the one who leaves eggs (instead of the vases of black goo) in the original two films, eggs that continue the blood line of the creature newly fabricated by the boots knocking of the squid and the Engineer.

Science is boring. Scientists aren’t necessarily boring, but it helps, because the endeavor of carefully and slowly parsing data is just not that exciting. It’s certainly not for fidgety people who need excitement or whom frustrate easily. God forbid films sex up this profession but Prometheus goes us one too far with a key protagonist.

Enter Shaw’s boyfriend, Holloway. Look, hardly anyone is oozing major insights, exhibiting career-appropriate intelligence, or even really needs to be a scientist beyond the demands of the film’s central conceit. But Holloway really should not have been a scientist. Not only is he never called upon to be one, but if he weren’t a scientist, it would perfectly contextualize his dumb suggestion to remove the helmets. Holloway should have been Shaw’s arm candy, her young, dumb, handsome dick in a jar whom she insists come along with her on the trip. He could bumble and pretend to be useful but it would become quickly apparent that he has no real utility on this trip aside from his shipmates hired for their various specialties. That way when he gets all drunk and truculent about basically nothing once the storm waylays their first exploration of the Engineer cave (didn’t they come away with an Engineer skull?), it makes sense that he’s just this bored pessimistic guy whose only purpose there is to plant his tainted seed into his partner.

(An aside: whom amongst you hasn’t met a guy like Holloway while traveling? Snotty, entitled, way too easily given to black moods when things don’t go precisely his way. Anyway…)

In as far as Prometheus is genuinely concerned with science, it shows in the tenacious and unsentimental temperament of Shaw. She’s no heartless monster at the loss of her crew but she remains preternaturally focused on the most compelling aspects of her mission and, realizing what a shame it would be to let this opportunity go to waste, keeps her eye on the prize. She pilots a ship full of black goo bombs/vases (and, presumably, more hibernating Engineers) to the fucking Engineer planet for…answers. OK. It’s the most badass thing anyone does in this movie by a country mile, especially considering how scared literally anyone would be at that point. Which brings me to the last tentpole of this film…

The original Alien was a horror movie. Prometheus is a horror movie. That’s where it shines. The second those two red shirt guys fall prey to the HammerpedeMohawk and Bargain Basement Paul Giamatti, I believe they were called? — shit is on, and it’s really just a matter of time until chest-burster-o’clock. In the meantime, we see freaky hybrid mutants incinerated, grisly battles settled with flame throwers, and Charlize Theron crushed by a rolling starship.

It’s an eminently classy horror movie, though, like Event Horizon in a tux. There’s more friction than your average horror flick. In fact, it’s an almost stupidly optimistic movie. Check out the main theme. Even after everything Shaw’s been through, this cue sounds, reminding us she’s still turning coal into diamonds. It’s pretty damn overwhelming when you try to wrap your head around it and it touches on a theme shared with Interstellar: it’s going to take a lot of heartache and horror to even proceed an inch into the unknown. And there will be zero guarantee that it’s worth it. Kind of a phenomenal takeaway for two flawed SF epics: neither a dystopia or a utopia but an…untopia. Almost more horrifying…

Welp, sleep tight and don’t let the hammerpedes bite.