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Curious Prometheus

This is my first, ever blog site. Finally, after all these years, I decided to open my mind up to the wild world of the World Wide Web.

To start off, I will be writing about the new movie, Prometheus. Warning: there will be some spoilers, so don’t read it if knowing will ruin your enjoyment of the movie.

Prometheus, what a movie: incredible mythology, motifs, and imagery. However subtle, it has numerous philosophical views and references to other media cultures such as religious symbolism and self-sacrifice and human conceit.

I would like to introduce another thread of thought. The movie is about the human inclination to be irresistibly drawn to the unknown – that unfettered curiosity that consumes all of us, at one point or another. Humans seem to instinctively thirst for knowledge. Prometheus is a movie about the dangers of unbridled curiosity and the power of knowledge, much like the story of its namesake.

When the first scene opens, you are immediately  drawn to the clear references of Prometheus, the Greek god, self-sacrifice and panspermia, as the robed Space Jockey ritualistically downs a metallic, black liquid and subsequently dissolves into his molecular components. It immediately piques the audience’s curiosity – aren’t we all just a curious bunch, the black liquid obviously looks dangerous after what happens, but I am sure we were all dying to know what it is. Human curiosity.

Though I do realize the urge to drive the action and suspense sells a movie, in Prometheus, the theme of curiosity starts almost from the very beginning, as we see Shaw and Holloway digging at an archeological site, David peering into Dr. Shaw’s dreams and David learning a multitude of languages. The list of acts of curiosity and thirst for knowledge essentially keeps going.

However, in the movie, the dangers of a relentless pursuit for knowledge are front and center. As soon as the crew lands on LV-223, Holloway wants to immediately go investigate the obviously alien mounds despite the warnings of nightfall. Then, when a storm hits Millburn and Fifield don’t get the news and are left in the mound – with obviously dire consequences. Shaw almost gets killed in her insistence on bringing back the severed Engineer head they found – first by taking the precious little time they have to secure the head, leaving them barely enough time to escape the storm in their vehicles, then by jumping back out into the storm to grab the head as it falls off the vehicle. That’s almost three casualties as soon as the crew gets the chance to somehow “satisfy” their curiosity.

Then they try to “re-animate” the severed Engineer head without thinking about the consequences, trying to figure out what the tissue growth on the head is. It spirals out of control as Ford loses control of how much electrical pulse is running through the nerve as the head wakes up almost completely in disgust and started mutating, probably due to exposure to the dark liquid. Sometimes, a leap of faith can discover something; when it works it’s brilliant genius. When it fails, however, it just highlights how absurdly stupid an action can be without careful consideration, and yet, many of us continue to leap without thinking.

Holloway himself becomes a victim of “curiosity” as David clandestinely feeds him some of the dark liquid. As a side note, I am surprised that as a scientific exploration vessel, the Prometheus does NOT have lab animals or some sort of test subjects (not necessarily human obviously, there would be…moral arguments there) on board as a precaution. Instead, we see David using Holloway as an experiment, which ultimately results in his death. Ironic indeed.

At the end, having learned almost nothing about the dangers, Shaw still retains her incessant thirst for knowledge. Instead of returning to Earth, she decides to go pay the Engineer home world a visit to “find out”.

We can only imagine out it turns out. She walks into a death trap, gets eliminated before she finds out anything and reigniting Engineer interest in destroying humanity. Or she could find the Engineers eliminated and discovers what killed them (and those on LV-223). Obviously there is a chance to reconcile with the Engineers, but really what are the chances?

So what are the chances to her not only endangering herself but the entirety of humanity?

This brings me to a question that lingered in my mind after watching Prometheus: When is it enough to say, let’s take a step back and figure out if this route of knowledge is worth pursuing? Being a scientist by training (I was a Bio major), sometimes we are blinded by our pursuit of truth, not realizing the true dangers despite our best intentions. Knowledge, especially science, has always been about uncovering the “truth” about the world around us. Yet, do we really need to know so much? Without modern civilization and our pursuit of “knowledge”, humanity managed to live in harmony with nature for almost 200,000 years. As soon as we began to create science (as we know it), well we know the rest of the story: global warming, weapons of mass destruction, ecological degradation, etc. I bet most scientists want their science to make the world a better place, but sometimes, many times, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage consequences of such knowledge.

Furthermore, as in reality, the pursuit of truth almost always results in even more questions and increasingly complex questions. In this case, “What happened to the Engineers on LV-223? Why did they leave Earth? Why do they want to destroy us?”. Where do we draw the line between opening up a possible can of worms like Pandora opening up her box? To me, Prometheus is a movie that centers on our incessant pursuit of knowledge and belief in “progress”. Though Prometheus is not so much so a thinking man’s movie, as many have commented on and alluded to, it does touch on many themes that you only need to dig in a little to contemplate.

All Images via ProjectPrometheus 

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