Monday, June 11, 2012

Beautifully Ambiguous . . .

I saw Prometheus at the Vista Theatre on Friday, and I have to take a minute to write a quick review.
*Spoilers ahead*

The film itself is very much built on the DNA of its predecessor, Ridley Scott's Alien, and it helps that I've seen the latter film often enough that it is easily accessible in my memory. There is a similar sense of build, and a similar feeling of stark, bland normalcy before the shit hits the fan. There is also a similar superficiality of characters; you really don't get much of a sense of these people beyond a few details meant to make them seem slightly more than 2-dimensional: the captain plays an antique accordion, the heroine lost her father to Ebola and wears his cross, the geologist is high-strung and nervous. Like with Alien, the characters really aren't the point of the picture: you are meant to gaze in wonder, and in horror, at what Scott has unleashed for you. And, for the most part, I did.

Prometheus was beautiful and scary, producing some visuals that were gobsmackingly gorgeous even when they were horrible, and a few jump-scares that literally made me jump and yelp in my seat. The violence is never gore and never gratuitous; there is no chest-burster with a gallon of raspberry juice sprayed in someone's face. But, that's not to say that there aren't really nasty creatures running (or slithering) around. Prometheus has ample nightmare-fuel, especially for female viewers. Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw suffers--and saves herself--from something that I think would give most women the creeping terrors. In fact, Prometheus, more so than Alien, wears its rape-analogies on its sleeve: there are a lot of violations in this film, and they are more blatantly rape-y than perhaps Scott felt he could be in 1979 . . . or maybe he just thinks audiences are less subtle nowadays. Indeed, the final death in the film is so clearly a rape that it made me squirm in my chair; the imagery is very uncomfortable.

All this might have been interesting but would have made only a passing impression on me if not for my favorite part: David. Much has already been said about David the android, as played by the beautiful Michael Fassbender; even he, in an interview, described no fewer than five different inspirations for the character, from Peter O'Toole to Greg Lougainis. And, you see all of them come out, and more. David is compelling to watch because of his absolute ambiguity: is he a villain? A hero? Is he motivated by a need to please his father? Is he homicidal? Is he sad? Does he, in fact, feel anything at all? There are lovely glimpses of complexity beyond simple programming that Fassbender gives us: at several points he displays a little sibling rivalry with his "sister", played with Charlize Theron, that makes you wonder how often these two have competed for Weyland's affections. He shows vanity by dying his hair pale blond to match his favorite film character, Peter O'Toole's Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, which we see him watching early in the film and emulating. He watches the dreams of the sleeping crew, but does he do it to learn about them in order to better manipulate them, or to learn about them to better impersonate them? He has a sense of childlike wonder, but also a cold, almost terrifying calculatedness. There is anger there too. At one point, while manipulating Rapace's Shaw character by discussing her father's death, he reveals, "Doesn't every child want their parents to die?" And, at another point, when another character drunkenly states that David and his kind were made because "we were good enough to do it", David replies, "Can you imagine how disappointed you would be if you met your makers and they said the same to you?" Then, he coldly infects the speaker with an unknown alien lifeform, and smiles as he hands the doctored drink over. Conversely, the only laughs in the film, and there actually were a few, came from David's dialogue. He was absolutely fascinating to watch, and *spoiler!* I look forward to seeing him and Rapace in the sequel.

Prometheus was well worth the ticket, and I recommend it, especially for fans of Scott and of Alien. It was not a perfect film: I had issues with the character of Shaw's boyfriend, someone so grating and annoying and rather one-note that I can't even recall his name. But, I liked that it raised questions it was fearless about not answering, and that it was less nihilistic than Alien. In the 1979 film, it felt like Scott was trying to say that everybody dies, indiscriminately, without real purpose. In this one, several of the deaths have important purpose and say something about the character, or the nature of the film itself. Overall I was fairly impressed, and I look forward to what comes next.

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