You’ve likely read many reviews already of Prometheus, reviews that are far more comprehensive in taking apart its many inconsistencies/plot holes/logic gaps. After reviewing so many of them myself, I’m convinced that I have little to add, despite the film being a bountiful harvest of such things.
But if you haven’t heard them before, here are a few:
The film ends exactly where it begins. Character motivation is manic and unpredictable. Dramatic scenes are clunky and result-oriented. A cheap theme is stated and restated constantly without any investigation of what the question actually means. The narrative relies both on creationism and evolution in order to work. Flamethrowers shouldn’t be able to work on a surface of a planet that has no oxygen.
These are all, of course, frustrating for a viewer trying to follow a coherent narrative. They’re fun to make light of and take apart. So then why do I feel so utterly disturbed by what I saw? Why is my reaction so strong, so vitriolic?
There’s plenty of successful entertainment that’s mindless and careless. What makes Prometheus different from Battleship, or a Transformers movie? What makes it so different, so much more frightening than those films? And why should we consider Prometheus a warning sign about the future of movies? I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the past 36 hours. Because the film scares the hell out of me, it really does, and not at all for the reasons the filmmakers intended.
Human beings are pattern-seeking creatures, and while I don’t think we’re always seeking harmony and balance, I do think part of what makes us who we are is our ability to organize, consciously or not, our thoughts and emotions. Categorize and differentiate. And this goes for mundane utilitarian ways of thinking as it does for our ways of creating and maintaining the meaning in our lives. I’m talking about emotional meaning, spiritual meaning. We create our truth, our right and wrong, through a development of instinct, through juxtaposition, difference, the inherent comparison that comes with an empathetic response.
It’s why stories can be thrilling, images haunting, emotions telling. Our ability to distinguish makes great storytellers and a great audience.
Prometheus’s narrative and thematic incoherence is a threat to film and art everywhere. Just think. It had to go through a long process and a lot of people to get to the screen. Why didn’t anyone, during all this time, stand up and say “Hey, this doesn’t really make any sense.”? Why didn’t any of the reviewers call the filmmakers out on their bullshit? Why didn’t the audience walk out when confronted with such brazen incompetence? When tremendous problems exist in halfway serious movies, when they’re allowed to fly under the radar by not only the people who make them, but by the people who watch them, it lowers our expectations, our standards for art and culture and, ultimately, I think, meaning. The search for meaning is not easy, and although we might not ask a lot from our entertainment, Prometheus is not presenting itself as just entertainment. It’s venturing out in the cold, hard world of thematically rich and existentially engaging cinema, and it can only survive if we allow it.
Every film sets their own internal logic from the very beginning, develops its own vocabulary, and when a film fails to follow its own rules through sheer negligence (and NOT as a deliberate choice), we have to stand up and say “YOU CAN’T FUCKING GET AWAY WITH THIS SHIT. THIS DOES NOT WORK. THIS NOT A SCENE. THIS IS NOT FILMMAKING.” If we don’t, not only will our mass entertainment be mindless, but so will our halfway interesting genre movies, our indie films, everything. A whole generation of people will grow up with this stuff, reference it, make their own homages signifying nothing.
This is not a just a message for filmmakers, but for anyone who cares about the moving image: be alert, be substantive, and be BRUTAL. We have to push back against this kind of thoughtlessness, this kind of narrative dissonance. We need to work harder to develop and maintain our perspective on the world, not just the particularities of what we believe but also how we articulate it, how we relate it to the world. We should expect more of ourselves, and more of our films.