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Some notes on Prometheus and Jesus and Lawrence of Arabia.

June 9, 2012, 6:54 pm

MILDLY SPOILERY.

Prometheus wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the Star Wars prequels, but my saying that tells you about how good it was. And it tells you what kind of movie it is, too - it is after all a prequel, that exists to explain a lot of the weird stuff in Alien. The thing is, as Patton Oswalt shrewdly notes, just because we like ice cream doesn’t mean we’d like to eat a bag of rock salt. We don’t actually want to see Darth Vader as a little kid; we don’t, really, need to know where the Alien came from and what the space jockeys were unless it’s wrapped in a story bigger than “oh, that’s what that thing was.”

There are, though, some parts of Prometheus that are truly excellent. Michael Fassbender is the main one. His performance as the android David is excellent. Fassbender should have been in a decent adaptation of an Asimovian robot story; he knows how to wrestle with the programmed imperative to help humans when they don’t deserve to be helped.

And some of the writing around David is terrific too, particularly the conceit that he loves Peter O’Toole’s performance in Lawrence of Arabia and quotes lines from Lawrence a lot - for the first part of the movie. But then, you know, there should be more of a payoff. “There is nothing in the desert, and no man needs nothing” is a great line for Prince Faisal to deliver in Lawrence, because of course Lawrence needs just that nothing – does that make him somehow “no man”? No ordinary man, certainly. And David is, in fact, “no man.” But Prometheus gives us no sense that David needs the alien desert. It may just be a cool line. Likewise David’s quoting of Dryden’s line from Lawrence (which is in the Prometheus previews), “Big things have small beginnings”. Is David’s action really anything at all like the Arab revolt, either in origins, character, or consequences? One slightly suspects that the beautiful shots - and they are beautiful - of tiny humans in the vastness of alien settings recalled the similar shots of Lawrence, so someone decided to put some stuff about Lawrence in the movie.

As for the Christmas theme: the Prometheus lands on Christmas and the action ends on New Year’s Day. David is the son of man, who does some critical foot-washing. And he’s named David, after all. But if he’s really meant to be Jesus, again, this doesn’t pay off in the movie.

So maybe there was a movie to be made about David the Jesus android, truly “born” on the Christmas when the Prometheus landed in the alien desert, who is also somehow a robot Lawrence, who leads a critical revolt … But no, even that’s an unmakeable movie. And those themes together are only part of the too much that Prometheus tries to convey.

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