Prometheus and using God as a MacGuffin

Josh Larsen

June 14, 2012

I have always been a bit of a sci-fi nut on account of its exploration (in some cases) of the great ideas in religion and philosophy. One example that comes to my mind is BICENTENNIAL MAN. This one deeply upset my sense of the scope of redemption. The key moment comes at the end of the movie when the android turns to his recently expired human wife, having prepared his own arbitrary "expiration date" in his lifelong quest to be accepted as truly human in spite of being artificially created, and says, "See you soon." All the Christians in the room turned to each other and just mouthed, "Whoa." That's because the movie spends a laborious 2+ hours drawing you deeply into sympathy with this android...you can't help but desire that he be more than a mere human creation. It toys with that boundary of what separates creature from Creator, and where the prerogatives of the latter seem cruelly unfair from the perspective of the former.

June 14, 2012

A little request... please post SPOILER ALERT when you plan on giving away movie secrets. The Alien connection was never stated in commercials or adverts, making viewers guess if this film was new or a prequel after all. I've avoided all media resources in the hopes to find out when I saw it. Thank you for ruining it, regardless of the message you intended to tie in. I quit reading after the first few sentences spoiled it. Likely will discontinue email updates because of it, too.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
June 14, 2012

Wow - making it until June 14 without realizing this was a prequel to Alien? Now that's a Promethean accomplishment! I am sorry to have given that away, as I truly didn't think this would be news. For what it's worth, I did provide a spoiler alert toward the end of the piece, before I discuss certain details.

That said, I do hope you stick with us and come back after you've seen Prometheus. We'd love to hear what you make of it.

June 14, 2012

The CBC has a great radio show/ podcast called "Ideas". Recently they did a series called "After Atheism" about postmodern philosophy and its impact on "god". Seeing God as a MacGuffin is very much how post-modern theology handles God. Of course we know it isn't real, but it sets the plot in motion. Whether we know he's there, doubt he's there, or know he's not there, we just can't seem to escape him.

Thanks for the review. pvk

June 14, 2012

Just saw it..
Then read your article...

Now that I've thought about it I do realize that it was shallow in not exploring Dr. Shaw's faith and really delving into her fight of faith vs science. I did guess on my own that she is fighting and alot of that drive comes from the death of her parents, searching for meaning to their lives and death and purpose for her own, but I'm speculating.

One theme I did find interesting is the idea of evolution of creation vs. Creator. David the android was created by us and was assumed to have no feelings, but he acted with a motivation and motive. Bring up the question of his evolution. He even seemed hurt to hear the idea of not having a soul or liked hearing he was like a son. These "engineers" created us, then created a biological weapon to destroy us. One could guess they became afraid that their creation would one day turn on them and so try to kill us only their second creation ended up killing them. Much like our creation - David - ending killing Dr. Halloway.

The problem is it brings up these themes and ideas and never really anchors to any of them.. I assume to give more leeway for the next installment. But still if you're gonna spend big bucks, make a good looking movie and draw me to the theatre at least blow my mind a bit more...

Jordan Ballor
June 18, 2012

I found the film highly unsatisfying, not least because of its grandiose pretentiousness regarding matters of religion and faith. The plot holes were enormous, and the dialogue choppy and insincere.

As for why the Engineers hate us, I found this to be the best explanation (SPOILER!?):

"The reason the Engineers don't like us any more is that they made us a Space Jesus, and we broke him."


I guess the "forgive them for they know not what they do" didn't get communicated skyward.

Jonah Stowe
June 18, 2012

I'm on the fence with this one. I appreciate the desire for the film to offer more answers to many of the questions that it raises--this is our natural impulse with narrative: we want it to demonstrate a semblance of completion. On the other hand, I also appreciate that the movie's absence of answers is far closer to what I imagine an encounter with alien life would really be like. The weird familiarity combined with the mystery and inexplicable otherness of the Engineers strikes me as quite compelling. Yes, there are plot holes, but I think many of them are present because of unfounded speculation on the part of the characters rather than actual missteps by the film itself. It also seems to me that the sheer volume of opinions on the movie is noteworthy and suggestive of a kind of success (even if you disliked the movie).

Elissa Mac
June 18, 2012

"This was also a weakness of the television series LOST, which by its end had literally landed in a hazy purgatory."

Nope! Sorry! That's inaccurate. As a fan of the show, and how it ended, I can honestly say that it never ceases to shock me that two years later so many people are still confused about this.

Purgatory, by its very definition, is "the condition of purification or temporary punishment by which those who die in a state of grace are believed to be made ready for Heaven." (Thanks, Wikipedia.) Where is the evidence in the show itself implying that the folks in the Sideways World walked into the light and entered Heaven? Yes, the SW was a place for moving on and letting go--but to call it purgatory sells short the deftly woven narrative of redemption, self-sacrifice, and struggle that made LOST so special.

The interpretation that is much more in keeping with the actual canon of the show is that the "light" in the church was actually that of The Source. That's what "letting go" is truly about--forgiving yourself and returning to The Source in a state of peace so the cycle of creation can begin anew. There's nothing religious about this whatsoever.

And yes, this *is* all a "vague sense of spirituality," due to the fact that it represented the journeys of many different characters with many separate belief systems and past transgressions. If you were waiting for LOST to own up to being purely "spiritual," especially in any sort of Christian sense, then you were watching the wrong show. The same goes for Prometheus--I think the movie was fairly clear in its proclamation that there is no God. And of course Shaw’s "Christian beliefs" are shaky at best, because she's clinging to her faith as a way to stay connected to her father. If she truly had faith she wouldn’t want answers about her creator so desperately in the first place, now would she?

If I see any underlying theme between LOST and Prometheus that can be pinned on Mr. Lindelof, it's the interpretation that life can be created without God at all. It’s right there in the movie—the Engineers made life on Earth, and that making is mirrored in Weyland’s creation of David. ... A far superior specimen to humans, IMO. ;) ... And this theme can be found in LOST, too--creation comes from a freaking plugged hole in a cave on a mysterious island! In the LOST universe, individuals can find redemption by forgiving themselves, and through loving one another, and from believing in something that is bigger than all of them. God is not part of either equation--it's just the word we commonly use to describe something that is beyond the scope of our imaginations.

But does that make the specter of God in either LOST or Prometheus a MacGuffin? I would say only if you're looking for something that was never there in the first place.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
June 19, 2012

Good challenge here Elissa. I won’t spend much time debating Lost – if the series didn’t want viewers to confuse its ending with purgatory, they should have come up with a more unique visual scheme for the finale – but your suggestion that Christians may be looking for something in Lost and Prometheus that was never intended to be there is very intriguing.

I don’t look for God in every movie or need Him to be a presence in a movie for me to appreciate it, but your comment does make me wonder if, as a Christian, I’m not as open to other religious (or irreligious) narratives as I should be. This isn’t a problem for me when it comes to drastically “unchristian” stories – Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, for instance – but I can see that it might trip me up when a movie like Prometheus plays with Christian ideas. In the end, I guess you’re saying the filmmakers behind Prometheus are playing with them to refute them, which would be interesting to me. Unfortunately, I felt they didn’t really put much effort into understanding the Christian elements beyond the surface level (that cross necklace is so lazy), so it’s hard to take any refutation seriously.

June 20, 2012

I will agree that there are times when we, myself included, as Christian look for things that arent there instead of enjoying the movie for what it is. A movie that is devoid of God, can be just as educational about my relationship with God as one that is blatantly Christian and intended to be so.
Josh, can I assume by God you meant a creator? Because the movie never explicit uses God, or a God.. its all about where we came from - how we were created. So in my mind I use them interchangeably and I'm assuming you did as well. If so then I would disagree with Elissa because finding a creator is exactly why this movie started in the first place. Elizabeth Shaw was desperate to find her creator and ask the big questions but was left with more questions then answers and I suppose thats they way it will always be until we are standing before The Creator and if in that moment we feel like asking we can ask all about creation.

I never watched a full episode of LOST, never wanted to and I probably never will. So really I can't really argue about the show and its intentions and what it tried to say about God or spirituality. I will say this, Hollywood is notorious for playing around with spirituality, probing questions and not really answering them, leaving hints here and there but never really coming to a definitive conclusion. Its smart because it creates buzz and gets us talking and the creators of any show or movie never have to arrive at a definitive conclusion or push their beliefs on anyone. I think this is similar to Prometheus. It played around with things, did a preliminary check of ideas and thoughts but it never even tried to really dig deep. I agree the cross was so lazy at one point I asked myself why it played such a prominent role in the movie because it feels out of touch with a character who barely mentions her beliefs and if they are Christian at all. I feel like creator/creation/God was the MacGuffin but beyond that (except for the cross and one line that Halloway says about creating life) the movie does a poor job of going deeper and that was probably the intent.

October 14, 2012

Just saw the movie and didn't find it particularly entertaining. All the points made on this blog are good ones. One thing that struck me is that hopefully this movie will make the average secular humanist stop and thing for ONE SECOND about the implications of their belief system. What if we discover our creaters (since pan-spermia is the only solution for life on this planet for secular humanists) and find out that they are morally no better than we are? That secular humanism can only conclude that there really is NO MEANING to our lives or the universe? Like Dr. Shaw, even if I encountered apparently incontrovertable evidence for pan-spermia, I would still choose to believe in God. At least Christianity offers hope.

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