The Conversation: What Are the Answers to the Big Questions in 'Prometheus'?

The Conversation: What Are the Answers to the Big Questions in 'Prometheus'?

Jun 08, 2012

Personally, I think seeking answers out of or in Ridley Scott's Prometheus is as much a waste of time as seeking answers to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. But sometimes -- actually most times -- wasting time can be a fun diversion. Otherwise we wouldn't bother with philosophy classes and bibles and, really, much at all. Life is boring without contemplating life, and movies are boring without contemplating movies. Movies about the origins of life on Earth are especially frustrating and especially enjoyable. And anyone who is annoyed that Prometheus raises more questions than it answers must really be annoyed with life, as well. I think the whole point of the movie is to play with our search for answers, which is why I like that there's such an open ending.

But with that I've probably said as much as I can without mentioning the obvious: this Conversation involves SPOILERS about the film Prometheus.

And rather than continue with my own ideas about every last thread of plot and philosophical query the movie ventures in (anyone want to join me in theorizing that Vickers really is a robot, as insinuated?), I've rounded up other theories, explanations and analyses from around the web. If only because it's fitting, I suppose, to respond to Prometheus in a very scattered way. Most of the links below (excluding those that basically say "phooey!") will lead you to more attempts at answers and more in-depth discussions so click on each to explore further. Additionally, read our own interview with Ridley Scott, which points to some hints, particularly related to the Engineers' next plan for Earth, and listen to our Prometheus discussion chats


What are some answers and theories people have for the questions asked in Prometheus? Here's The Conversation heard around the Internet:

That opening sequence, with the pale alien (can we call them paliens? No? Okay, fine) being left behind by a ship, drinking something, and breaking down into component parts, which then start to reassemble into new life. Ridley Scott explains [in the interview linked above] that this scene wasn’t necessarily on Earth, and could have taken place anywhere, and the alien was “acting as a gardener in space,” donating its DNA to the creation of new life. Which is highly interesting, and useful to know. But can you call a film a stand-alone story when it contains elements that aren’t explained and don’t seem to tie into anything, and can only be decoded by the director personally explaining where and when and what you’re seeing? - Tasha Robinson, A.V. Club

If the moon visited by the Prometheus isn’t the Engineers home and it was an accident that led them to be stuck there, why did they have the cave drawings lead there? [...] Our Theory: The cave drawings are additional proof that the Engineers have been to our planet multiple times over the years. As the opening scenes of Prometheus show us, the Engineers spread their DNA all over the galaxy, creating life on various planets. We happen to be an offshoot of that DNA. Scott has said the Engineers often check in on their creations … and are disappointed in what they see. The cave drawings, first and foremost, are ways to show that individuals, over the course of many centuries, encountered Engineers. But they suggest that Earth’s citizens learned something about the weapons being designed to annihilate us, and were saying, “Stay away from this area!” Or then again, maybe not. - Katey Rich, Sean O'Connell and Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend

Why do the Engineers create us just to kill us? That's not for this movie to answer. That's between you and your God. - Jordan Hoffman, NextMovie

Why did the engineers change their minds and decide to destroy life on earth? This is certainly one of the known unknowns that Scott and Lindelof are concealing in expectation of a sequel. If we're right that the engineers created life on earth, why would they now want to destroy it? Could it be that old chestnut about mankind evolving to the stage of being a threat to other lifeforms in the universe? A friend of mine suggests that the engineer from the prologue was in fact a rogue operator whose fellow engineers are belatedly trying to undo his handiwork – a neat theory that resonates with the original Prometheus myth. - Ben Walters, The Guardian

Why does the humanoid create life on earth, and why do the Engineers wish to now destroy life? A theory I think I picked up online somewhere the last year, though it’s possible I dreamed it: In the world of Prometheus, humans must be killed because we have acquired the true abilities of the “gods”: the ability to create life. With the development of the technology of terraforming, humankind is essentially a threat to the rest of the universe as we look to extend its reach. This could certainly be the point of view of the Engineers, who wish to stop us before it’s too late, and before there are too many planets with us on it. - Greg Akers, Memphis Flyer

Prometheus spoiler theory. Humanity was designed as a weapon. The titans are scared of us. - Chris Brosnohan

What Went Wrong? At some point at the brink of sending out the Juggernaut to Earth this outbreak went crazy. Engineers were either on all out attack trying to get to anyone that wasn’t infected or simply went nuts and died from their infection. The question is did the lone surviving Engineer in the hibernation pod unleash the virus (making him the Prometheus of the story and pissing off the Gods) or was he just laid out ready to take flight on the mission and just missed the outbreak by blind luck? He seems to want to carry out Mission: Take Out Earth the moment he wakes up anyway so this all seems pretty cut and dry but potentially there’s more to this. Who knows what David said to him? Up until that little speech he didn’t seem too evil. Or maybe just having the realisation the Human scummers found LV-223 on their own accelerated his desire to shut them down. - Marcus Doidge, What Culture

Why does David infect Holloway in the first place? Presumably because he's instructed to by Weyland. That said, there are vagaries here. It implies, if you buy that theory, that Weyland knew what the crew of Prometheus would find. How, then, does this further Weyland's desire for immortality? That's not clear either. David is clearly under instruction (although he's spent a couple of years learning a lot of things), but the motivation for that instruction is still open to interpretation. Also: don't forget that David is the first to find black goo when they arrive. It's feasible that he works out what he's dealing with, and works out it can help meet the overall objective that Weyland has given him. Just a thought. - Den of Geek

Fifield's Mutation - Following Fifield's 'melt-down' (pun intended) upon being sprayed with acid from the cut 'Hammerpede', some of the black Bio-Former leaks onto his face once the acid burns through his helmet. This of course sets off a similar reaction as with the worms, and Fifield mutates. Now, in this mutation process, he becomes abnormally strong and very hard to kill. It's like he's possessed and has no regard for his own life, but becomes a mindless killing machine. He is, however, afraid of fire. An interesting thing to note: the myth of Prometheus is that Fire's the greatest gift to Mankind; and Fire seems to be Mankind's only defence against most of the creatures they encounter on this expedition. (At first with Holloway's death, and then Fifield's) - Chris Picard,

Is the film a prequel to [the] 1979 classic "Alien," and by extension, the rest of the films in the franchise? [...] The crew discovers a living Engineer and learns that although these creatures may be responsible for humanity's creation, they now have the opposite intent; the surviving Engineer intends to pilot his spacecraft to Earth and release a payload of the deadly liquid, potentially wiping out human life. The crew of the Prometheus stops the Engineer by causing his ship to crash. In the final battle, the alien Shaw "birthed" turns on the Engineer, attaching to his face. The film ends with the classic "Alien" chestburster ripping its way from the Engineer's chest, bringing the film full circle to the discovery of the Space Jockey corpse in "Alien," which was found with its chest ripped open. - Matt Adler, MTV Movies Blog

What happened before the beginning of Alien? [One of two theories:] The Engineers have realized that their bio-weapon has crazy consequences when turned on themselves. “Why are we using the same weapon to create as well as destroy when we could make a whole creature that would just kill everything?” they ask themselves. One of their experiments goes wrong and they unleash the first proto-xenomorph (with the penis-shaped head). It takes forever to kill it, but they’re like: “HEY! If we mix this with the right species, we could create something really deadly.” Thus begins the search for what to combine with their creation-weapon to make the ultimate new weapon. Facilities like the one we see in Prometheus are launched. At some point post-Prometheus, they finally discover the best species to make a hybrid with - some sort of insect like species. The Space Jockey goes to the “Alien homeworld” collects as many eggs as he can so The Engineers can mass produce this new weapon, but something goes wrong and he’s infected, crash landing on LV-486. - Da7e Gonzalez, My Inconvenient Life

The gray areas are intentional — the lack of final answers is what kept us watching Lost until the end, constantly debating what happened in Inception and, ultimately, it’s what will lead us to multiple viewings of Prometheus and endless hypotheses about what really happened. [...] Prometheus intentionally does not answer all the big questions it raises. It can’t — the answers have yet to be discovered. - Angela Watercutter, Underwire

"If you're going to write a movie about people who essentially want the following questions answered: 'Who made me and why?' 'What is the meaning of my life?' 'What happens when we die?' and 'Do we have to die?,' putting the answers to those in black and white on the page is a recipe for disaster because even had we tried to definitively answer those questions, there's no way that they would have been satisfying in any way." - Damon Lindelof, in an interview with MTV News

In the words of one character, "the answer is irrelevant." - Rich Juzwiak, Gawker


Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join The Conversation.

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