Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Prometheus Explored Part 3

Fathers and Sons: Prometheus and Family

"Doesn't everyone want their parents dead?"                                                                                    - David, Prometheus 
Perhaps the most fundamental relationships in Prometheus are the familial and adoptive bonds that exist between them. In fact, it is almost possible to relate all of the major characters together into a pseudo-family tree of Elizabeth Shaw, Meredith Vickers, David, Peter Wayland, and of course the Engineers and their creations - each person in various degrees of dysfunctional relationships to the people around them.

The irony of this situation is that there is only one 'true' family bond within the crew - Peter Wayland and his daughter Meredith Vickers. This relationship is shown to be cold in the extreme; Vickers is rejected in several ways by her father. Professionally, she hasn't been 'trusted' with this mission alone, despite being an accomplished businesswoman. She is reminded in company that she is a daughter, rather than a son, and rejected in favour of an artificially created 'son'. At the most fundamental level however, the rejection is much more psychologically personal. 

One of the major themes of The Odyssey is the idea of Odysseus rejecting other potential forms of immortality in exchange for the limited form offered by his family. Peter Wayland is an inversion of that, as he actively seeks immortality, thus denying his daughter the inheritance and freedom that could potentially be hers. He has rejected her by disinheriting her at the most basic level imaginable. Vickers states "A king has his reign, and then he dies." but this is not acceptable to Wayland. In some ways he is the most child-like of all the characters, demanding of his substitute parent the Engineer that the rules be changed for him and only for him. He will live forever. It is almost certain to deduce from his character that he would then do his best to rise above the Engineers as well. It is not difficult to see why David would express the sentiment at the top of this page if he had been created by Wayland.

This relationship is counterpointed to the brief glimpse we get of Elizabeth Shaw's relationship with her father. He is clearly a warm, loving man, spending time with his daughter and answering her difficult questions about life and death. He has of course orphaned Shaw by the time the film begins, however, and many of her actions are characterized by efforts to find a replacement father figure in the form of the Engineers. Her other tragedy, of course, is that she cannot become a parent herself, a subject I explored in the previous essay (1).

David is also somewhat rejected by Wayland, his 'father' figure. He is told, indirectly, that he has no soul, and it is clear from the look on his face that this is an idea that troubles him. In the context it is given, it is also a petty and mean thing to say, even if those are things which wouldn't necessarily upset him. He is, however, incapable of the same level of resentment that Vickers shows towards Wayland, but is also incapable of grieving his death at the hands of the Engineer. It is left ambiguous how much David actually 'feels' but it is almost certainly more than he lets on. The sibling rivalry he shares with Vickers, which is exacerbated by the fact that they even look a bit alike, seems on first glance to be all one way, with him calmly reacting to her aggression. On closer inspection, however, it appears that he tries to poison her, suggesting a far higher level of resentment that his exterior suggests (1).

The target for his poisoning 'experiment' is Shaw's partner Charlie Holloway - the one character who is shown to repeatedly insult and belittle David. However, there is something else at work here. David is one of the most interesting characters in this family dynamic - everybody else is seeking reconciliation with a father figure; either the Engineers or Peter Wayland. There is a hint that David is seeking something else in the person of Elizabeth Shaw - not a mother figure exactly, but a softer presence (2).  Poisoning Holloway is an attempt to gain Shaw's undivided attention. It is interesting that at the end of the film, not only are they the only two still alive, David is also completely dependent on her. 

The final parental and child figures are the Engineer and the final emergent creature. The Engineer, as discussed in the previous essay (4) is a mix of religious icon and father figure, and in a human sense, fails at both. He rejects his 'children' out of hand, and doesn't appear to share any of the 'family values' the humans display and search for. Finally, the alien creature that emerges from his stomach at the end is the ultimate embodiment of the philosophy expressed at the top of the page. It literally kills its parent in a grim parody of birth, and does not seek another. As a final coda to a film rife with corrupted family relationships, its impact cannot be overestimated. 


(1) Gods and Supermen: Prometheus and Religion
(2) In one scene Vickers pushes him up against the wall and threatens him. He responds by inocuously asking if she wants tea. In the next scene, David poisons Holloway by droping hte black liquid in his drink. It's subtle and very creepy. 
(3) His attributes of reserve and calm, a 'stiff upper lip', in other words, are traditionally male qualities, and the parental figure he seeks is therefore maternal as opposed to paternal. 
(4) See (1)

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