Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Prometheus: a theological film review

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Here is my most recent, a reflection on creation, Prometheus and original sin.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Director Ridley Scott returns to familiar territory, tracing his “Alien” exploration back to the beginning. While cinematic references to other Alien movies are cleverly interwoven, “Prometheus” still works as stand-alone sci-fi horror. The lighting is superb, the soundtrack appropriately haunting, a visual palette of blacks and white providing a rich array of foreboding textures. The acting of Noomi Rapace is a standout, showing that her central role as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was no fluke. The result is a movie for the strong in mind and stomach (obscure “Alien” reference intended).

On a remote mountain, an alien life-form releases DNA into the waters of life. In caves on the Isle of Skye, archaeologists find symbols of alien life-forms coming from distant stars. On the space vessel Prometheus, the crew emerge from hibernation to face an alien planet and their own conflicted agendas.

The narratives are woven together, as tension builds. Rocks ooze a sticky liquid. Water unexpectedly surges. A storm front approaches. Alien life breaks forth from within and without, inflicting a bewildering array of horror on all those sailing the good ship Prometheus.

The movie cracks open an endless series of moral dilemmas. Should science propel the quest for new life on new planets, when science generates weapons of mass destruction? Should business pay for the quest, when economic gain risks reducing people to dollars and cents? Can faith exist amid the rationality of the scientific quest? Should one die to preserve the many?

At one level the Christian narrative is obvious. As the movie concludes, we see Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) reclaiming a cross missing from around her neck, while affirming her belief in faith.

In a beautiful cinematic sequence, David (Michael Fassbender) will dance, almost worshipfully, among projected planets, an affirmation of creation’s beauty and mystery.

Yet throughout the movie, at a molecular level, DNA is portrayed as vulnerable to distortion, destruction and death. Thus the movie becomes a way to conceive the Christian doctrine of original sin. Well-known early church theologian, Augustine of Hippo, suggested that from birth, humans are infested with sin’s destruction. Creation might be created good, but in human time, has become deeply infested with an inbuilt bias toward depravity.

In hindsight, we are now aware that Augustine was working with a mis-translation, a corruption of the Latin text, interpreting “in him all sinned,” as a reference to Adam. More recent translations from the original Greek now suggest a very different reading (for example, the NIV, “ because all sinned”).

Yet the question remains. Are all babies born singing God’s good name? Or is all creation infested by destruction, needing a cross? In the “Prometheus” movie, the destructiveness of DNA is placed alongside a belief in the power of a cross and the need for faith. “If they made us, can they save us?” This concluding question propels Elizabeth Shaw into what will undoubtedly be yet another Alien movie.

“Prometheus” is a beautifully shot, albeit sometimes bewildering cinematic journey into questions foundational to philosophy and faith.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Director of Missiology, Uniting College, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 08:00 AM

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