Our Need For Answers: A Review of “Prometheus”
Despite some misgivings and after reading a great deal of criticism from my fellow free-thinkers and atheists about the movie, I decided to go see “Prometheus” anyway. I’m a sucker for scifi, especially when it’s related to the “Alien” movies and frankly I was curious as to whether I’d find myself being disappointed as much as others had noted. There’s no opinion I come into contact with that I’m not willing to have a contrary one to, it’s part of being the special person I am.
I didn’t find it difficult to note where much of the bugaboo was centered on concerning potential anti-science elements. Certainly there’s the comment by one crew member faced with finding out that aliens had designed human beings, declaring 2000 years of Darwinism to be thrown out. That this is a patently absurd conclusion to be noted only shows the character’s lack of education and likely that of the writers as well, since evolution is about the means of said development of biology, not the cosmological question of origins. Indeed, this question of origins is precisely what ends up being focused on immediately, with the ubiquity of the cross symbol being a constant reminder that even in the future of interstellar flight there will still be those who adhere to mythologies. With this in mind, it is not so far-fetched to hear the scientist’s response to whether she has proof of her hypothesis, “I don’t know, I choose to believe.”
With all due respect to my brothers and sisters lamenting the inclusion of creationist-type pseudoscience into hollywood movies, I do not see what all the furor is about. The themes of the movie seem to be two-fold: one, humanity’s incessant search and perseveration upon the questions of their origins and two, in wanting something badly enough it is quite possible to make data fit into one’s desires and forget other potential interpretations until doom comes snarling down your throat.
We Crave Answers
The demand and seemingly innate need to answer questions of origins is the heart of “Prometheus,” with a scifi twist positing guided germination from the heavens. That there exists a religious element in this quest is far less surprising than if there had been none. Scientists, regardless of the stereotype from conservative-minded charlatans of sophistry, are not robots, coldly calculating data towards a preconceived notion that serves to undermine basic human social systems. Scientists are, in fact, a largely conservative bunch, always eager to find the next great ground-breaking discovery certainly but decidedly wary of actually doing so. In every declaration of certainty there is always at least several hands raised declaring “yes, but…” That the archaeologist in question, notably not a biologist by the way, continues to dwell in the potential safety of religious dogmatism only points to her humanity, not her scientific pedigree. In questioning origins at the species level, there is every reason to respect the history of religious answers given to this, not in the sense of their scientific legitimacy, but as a means of pointing to the power and emotional weight that such questions have always possessed.
The second theme seems to mitigate the potential hazards offered in the first. In flinging themselves with dogmatic fervor into the uncertain waters created by their hypothesizing, the characters here do nothing short than eventually declare with fear-laced trembling words “we were so wrong.” This is not an indictment against science, but a grim reminder of our human tendency to forego rational discourse in favor of immediate emotional reward. Giddy the scientists stand with their picture perfect projections, mentally saturated with the notion that at long last they will find the missing parents that abandoned them at birth, ignoring the glaring point that sometimes those parents are assholes. “Why were we asked to come on this mission?” the archaeologist asks. The answer is telling: “Wayland was always a superstitious man and wanted a true believer on board.” A true believer, one who despite gleaming walls of darkness and rooms filled with death, will blindly go forth with childlike abandon into the very jaws waiting for them, all the while believing the teeth are pearls of great price.
There is a tendency here in criticizing creative license to project greater social drama into every facet churned up. Sometimes though rather than indicating an incursion of some diabolical scheme, it merely points to the roiling maelstrom within humanity of feeling cut off from nature, of being the only creature that, as Erich Fromm indicates, is capable of feeling cast out from paradise. The ideological history of humanity is littered with cave paintings, sculptures and treatises attempting to peer behind the veil. This passion should be celebrated, but within the context of noting our tendency to see only what we want to see. Perspective does not create reality but it certainly determines how much of it we are able to take in. That is a profound gift and a source of great concern.
© David Teachout