"I think they want us to come and find them."
That's researcher Elizabeth Shaw's conclusion when she and Charlie Holloway (her scientific and romantic partner) discover 35,000-year-old cave drawings of people surrounding a giant man pointing at six circles in the sky—drawings that match findings from a multitude of other ancient civilizations.
The only question is who "they" are.
Shaw, who wears a cross signifying her faith, is determined to find out. And she comes to believe that the circles represent a star map that could unlock the mysteries of humanity's creation.
Four years later, in 2093, Shaw, Holloway and the crew members of the exploration ship Prometheus have followed that map to the threshold of the answers they're seeking. The trillion-dollar expedition to the moon called LV_223 has been funded by the recently deceased Peter Weyland, former head of the conglomerate Weyland Corporation.
In theory, Weyland shared Shaw's passion for unlocking creation's conundrums. A holographic message to the crew taped before his death shows him pondering, "Where did we come from? What is our purpose? What happens when we die?"
But not everyone aboard is actually on board.
David, the brilliant, ageless and soulless android "son" of Peter Weyland, sometime serves the team's mission … and sometimes serves his own. Meredith Vickers, the diamond-hard Weyland executive, lets everyone know she's in charge and is more determined to get home than to get truth: "I like to minimize risk," she says.
But minimizing risk when you're half a billion miles out is a trickier proposition. On LV_223, the team discovers evidence of a civilized outpost beneath an enormous domed structure. The tunnel-infused labyrinth shrouds an ominous mystery: piles of giant, space suit-clad bodies. Bodies that look almost human.
Shaw's thrill that these dead aliens seem related to humanity is soon dampened by the chilling discovery that the weaponized biological agent they've left behind seems to have gotten the better of them …
… and it's begun wreaking similarly nasty havoc on the crew of the Prometheus.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
Shaw is compelled by faith-driven optimism that she and Holloway can unlock the secrets of the universe. They are deeply in love, and Shaw is determined to save Holloway when he's infected by an alien life-form.
The Prometheus crew (mostly) pulls together as they realize what they're up against. The ship's captain, Janek, and two other survivors eventually sacrifice themselves to ensure that the alien bioweapons they've uncovered cannot be unleashed upon Earth.
What is our relationship with our creator? Never mind that this is an Alien franchise prequel. That's the question at the core of Prometheus—a movie and a spaceship named after the Greek Titan who stole Zeus' fire and bequeathed it to humanity.
Several characters are driven to transcend the limits of their created nature and, perhaps, encounter the divine. Chief among these is Shaw, who's an interesting combination of scientist and spiritual investigator. The film doesn't get into specifics regarding her faith, other than repeated references to a cherished cross. Shaw believes that following the map—an invitation, she calls it—will lead to humanity's originator … or at least its origin.
And it does. Shaw and her teammates find a well-preserved, human-looking (but alien) head and take DNA samples from it. The DNA is a perfect match with humanity. (That's no surprise to viewers, since the opening scene pictured a similar humanoid on Earth dissolving into a waterfall, providing the DNA for the evolutionary seed of life here). It's clear Shaw's team has found the "creators" of humanity, though not a divine Creator. And as the story unfolds, they realize these beings intended to wipe out humanity with the biological agents they've stockpiled on LV_223—agents that mutated beyond their control and killed them before they could execute their plan.
Within that construct, Shaw's faith is repeatedly illustrated and tested. Holloway, an atheist who believes the team's discoveries should undermine Shaw's faith, tells her, "Guess you can take off your father's cross now. They made us." For Shaw, however, that "fact" doesn't extinguish her desire to know where they came from. "Who made them?" she asks.
After a significant tragedy, David says to Shaw, "It must feel like God abandoned you." Another character also taunts, "Have you lost your faith, Shaw?" She hasn't. At least not exactly. Determined to find the alien humanoids' home planet, she responds to David's query of "Even after all this, you still believe?" with, "I want to go where they came from. [Our] creator tried to kill us. I desire to know why."
In a dream during stasis, she's a young girl with her father, and they see a funeral procession while they're in a foreign country. She asks about the unfamiliar religious elements, and her dad tells her, "Their god is different than ours." She asks where people go when they die, and he responds, "Heaven. Paradise. ... Someplace beautiful." When she asks how he knows, he says, "Because that's what I choose to believe."
Vickers later says Shaw's faith is the reason she was chosen for the mission. "Weyland was a superstitious man," she says. "He wanted a true believer on board." And here's a spoiler that's an important spiritual connection point: Weyland, it turns out, isn't dead, but secreted away deep in the ship. He, like Shaw, is intensely interested in humanity's origins. But his motivation is far less spiritual than hers: He'll do anything to avoid death. He believes finding humanity's origins might be the key to cheating it.
Meanwhile, even as Shaw and Co. are looking for humanity's origins, David (whom Weyland constructed) is on his own quest for meaning. He watches movies and imitates what he sees. He also has a philosophical conversation with Holloway: "Why do you think your people made me?" David asks. "We made you because we could," Holloway replies. To which David counters, "Can you imagine how disappointing it would be to hear that from your creator?" In another conversation, he claims that a person can never truly be free until his creator is dead—a reference to his ambivalent relationship with Weyland.
Crew members are shown in a gauzy wrap that functions as underwear. In Vickers' case, the wrap conforms revealingly to her chest. We also glimpse a large alien humanoid similarly garbed in a loincloth.
Shaw and Holloway kiss, and it's implied that they're about to have sex. (She pulls his shirt off; he's on top of her. She's wearing only a robe.) Janek propositions Vickers, and she tells him to meet him in her quarters. The captain crudely tells two male crew members who are lost together, "Try not to b-gger each other."
The opening scene pictures an alien on Earth ingesting what seems to be the same biological agent the Prometheus crew will encounter later. In fast-moving images, his flesh rots, then dissolves entirely. (One of his legs snaps as he collapses into a waterfall.)
A similar fate awaits a human later. David slips a bit of the alien biological agent into a man's drink, and he gets sicker and sicker in the course of a few hours. Eventually his skin turns black and he begins to dissolve, at which point he challenges (begs) Vickers to incinerate him with a flamethrower. She does.
After getting impregnated with a fast-growing human/alien hybrid, Shaw begins screaming, "I want it out … please get it out of me!" Her solution? Climbing into an automated medical pod that she instructs to perform what amounts to an alien abortion. A laser opens her up, and mechanical pincers yank out a squirming alien beastie. Shaw tries to kill it after her massive wound has been stapled shut.
Other characters encounter—to their mortal detriment—a snake-like alien that constricts them and then plunges down their throats. One of those victims later comes back as a hyper-strong reanimated zombie of sorts, and he has to be taken out with gunfire and a flamethrower.
Shaw is caught in a ferocious sandstorm that pummels her against the ship; she also gets slammed around a great deal the last 20 minutes of the film. A humanoid alien that David awakens thrashes and/or kills humans and tears David apart. The alien that Shaw "births" captures and plunges into the mouth of the humanoid creature (giving birth to yet another hybrid variation on the alien theme).
Someone is crushed by a falling piece of spaceship. Three characters are killed in an explosion. There's a fistfight.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. About 10 uses each of the s-word and "h‑‑‑." Nearly 20 misuses of God's name, including four or five pairings with "d‑‑n." Jesus' name is abused three or four times. We hear "d‑‑n," "b‑‑ch," "b‑‑tard" and "p‑‑‑." We see an obscene hand gesture.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Two scenes show Holloway with a bottle of alcohol, and he's clearly drunk. Other crew members drink, too.
Somebody figures out how to smoke inside a spacesuit's helmet, and it's likely something a bit more potent than tobacco. Shaw pops pain pills after her impromptu Cesarean.
Other Negative Elements
David watches Shaw's dreams during stasis. (When he later fesses up, she feels understandably violated.) Several people mock David, in one case teasing that he's "not a real boy."
Crew members vomit upon awakening from stasis.
Prometheus marks director Ridley Scott's return to the sci-fi genre for the first time since his landmark 1982 film Blade Runner. And in some ways, Prometheus has more in common with that movie than it does the franchise it actually belongs to.
It does, however, fill in (some of) the Alien gaps before Ripley's encounter with a certain big-mouthed xenomorph 30 years or so after the events of Prometheus. And it certainly brings along some of its predecessors' now-iconic images of spine-tingling action and (literally) gut-wrenching violence. There's also a so-called "mercy" killing.
But here's how it differs—pretty dramatically—from Alien and Aliens: Like Blade Runner, this movie is interested in the spiritual relationship between the creator and the created.
Prometheus doesn't attempt to resolve any perceived conflict between a scientific worldview and a religious one. Indeed, for Elizabeth Shaw, such a dichotomy doesn't even seem to exist. Instead, the movie uses her character—and, to a lesser extent, David and Peter Weyland—to explore fundamental theological and philosophical questions. Where did we come from? Do we have a Creator? How can we know? Shaw gets horrific answers to those questions. But that doesn't deter her search or destroy her faith that there might be a Creator worth knowing.
In this, Prometheus opens the door for significant questions about humanity's relationship to God, creation, evolution and science … while avoiding dogmatic answers in all of those areas. And that may be due in part to Scott's own spiritual journey.
In an interview with The New York Times, Scott said that it is almost "mathematically impossible" for life to have been created on Earth without outside help. "Who pushed it along?" he asks. He also mentioned how his upbringing in the Church of England turned him off to Christianity ("altar boy … terrible burgundy wine … all that stuff") but now he's "converted" from atheism to agnosticism. His response to the possibility of faith and religion these days? "Now my feeling goes with 'could be.'"
The movie's echo? Could be aliens. Could be evolution. Could be chance. Could be God. Will be bloody.