The Corner

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Prometheus and Religion


My favorite aspect of the Corner — I write here as a reader — is its occasional but knowledgeable commentary on science fiction movies or television serials, generally from Jonah or Andrew S. My own love of sci-fi is fierce but very intermittent; so I lack the expertise to pronounce on it persuasively.

Doubtless without realizing it, however, Mike Potemra issued a rash invitation to me to do so by referring a few days ago to Ridley Scott’s new film, Prometheus, which I saw recently on 3D in Prague. Since doing so, I’ve read various lukewarm reviews which seem to me to miss its main point — and several of its secondary virtues.

Considered simply as an adventure story, it’s a terrific movie — fast-paced, lots of surprises, with strong performances all round, but especially from Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, and the reliable Charlize Theron, an actress so brilliant that she has even managed to be convincing as a plain girl (though, fortunately, not here).

Considered as a spectacle, it’s also magnificent. It won me over completely to 3D. It’s the only way to voyage to a new world. The special effects are awesome (a line that, as a devotee of Coward and Rattigan, I never expected to write); yet they never overwhelm the narrative or the characters.

But what really caught my attention was its quietly insistent religious theme. This is never stated boldly. It would hardly be a major topic of conversation among a group on scientists on an inter-galactic mission towards the end of this century. And this is not a talkative Shaw play. But it emerges in key scenes in odd and unexplained ways, disappears behind the action again, and then recurs later, notably in the final scene.

#more#One main character uses the phrase “In the year of Our Lord,” quite without irony, in a sentence that tantalizingly promises us a sequel. A Christian cross is taken from one character and then, at a moment of grave crisis, seized back. The apparently malicious actions of an android raise a question with ultimate implications: Is it a case of bad programming? Or does it/he possess a soul? If so, what is his relationship to the Fall?

Maybe I am drawing implications too heavy for the script to bear; but I don’t think so. Ridley Scott who directed and helped to write “Prometheus,” made one of finest sci-fi movies 30 years ago in the form of Blade Runner (which, according to movie gossip, may have its own sequel soon.)

That had a scene in which Rutger Hauer, playing a renegade “replicant” about to self-destruct in accordance with his programming, delivers a powerful speech on the worlds he has seen across the universe, spares the life of his pursuer, and opens his hands to release a dove which flies up and out of sight.

As several critics have observed, the dove is the traditional symbol of the Holy Ghost. When his programming runs out, the replicant/android gives up his soul and, having just saved the life of the cop who has been hunting him down, presumably achieves salvation. Do replicants and androids eventually achieve a soul? And if so, from whom? Or, maybe, from Whom?

My instinct is that unless aliens actually arrive from Outer Space and give us some firm answers of their own to such questions, sci-fi movies that raise them have to move toward the idea of a God as the source of our consciousness and existence. But I shall be queuing to find what answers are given in the sequel to Prometheus.