Prometheus: A Feminist Fairy Tale
[NOTE: Contains spoilers! Do not read on if you haven’t seen and plan to!]
For all that everyone’s been saying about Prometheus – that it’s a prequel to Alien, that it nods to Greek mythology, that it might have valid points about the creation of life on Earth, or that it was dull and cliché after the first, visually stunning hour or so – here’s another criticism: it’s a thinly veiled feminist fairy tale. The first science fiction movie directed by Ridley Scott in ages (since Bladerunner, although action has never been far from his work in between), the film is set in the near future, on the spacecraft named Prometheus. The crew’s journey takes them to a faraway planet in another galaxy believed to be the home of aliens who once inhabited the Earth. These aliens aren’t tentacled or slimy, but rather bulky, nude male figures with chalky skin and enlarged noses, sort of like a marble statue of David crossed with Goliath. We don’t know all the answers by the end of the film, leading the way for a sequel or two to finish the story. And yes, it is difficult to be terribly inspired to figure it all out after the first hour or so. Yes, the plot twists can be really clumsy and there are characters who seem more like caricatures, which I didn’t enjoy either.
What we are left with in Prometheus, as it stands, is a film about a petite, unassuming woman who triumphs against all odds. From her first appearance on screen as a wide-eyed archaeologist to the film’s end, as the savior of the Earth, the film’s heroine Dr. Elizabeth Shaw manages to outlive and outsmart everyone else. This includes some really aggressive, powerful (and uber-masculine-looking) aliens, their poison which intended to kill all humans, a robot, a trillionaire investor, her hunky boyfriend, and even the film’s alpha female, played by Charlize Theron. What does Dr. Shaw use to outsmart these aliens, robots, etc? She certainly doesn’t exercise her feminine appeal. Rather, it’s her rugged determination, or “survival instinct,” as the robot David praises her for. A woman who’s lost everything has nothing to lose, after all, and she refuses to succumb to uselessness and despair: she feels a responsibility to serve her people, dead or alive, which you might call a maternal instinct. We know that Dr. Shaw cannot conceive children, a heavy grievance of hers. Deprived of this responsibility, what else is a woman to do? Yet she never lets go her male mentors – her boyfriend, Dr. Holloway, whom she talks to after he’s been dead for some time in the film; her father, who we learn instilled her sense of faith and optimism, and who raised her without the help of a mother it appears, to boot.
The unlikely female avenger. It is a theme explored well in the Coen brothers’ Fargo, with the then-under-the-radar actress Frances McDormand playing a pregnant town cop. And indeed, it was represented in Scott’s Alien, with Sigourney Weaver. In this case, it’s a slightly more young and attractive relative newcomer Noomi Rapace playing Dr. Shaw. None of these are your average Hollywood actress archetypes thrown in for eye candy (although Rapace does sport some skimpy bandages for clothing throughout a couple scenes).
The problem with this storyline, then, in Prometheus is that we don’t know enough about Shaw; but we can presume from where the film leaves off will get to more in the sequels. Strangely enough, there was not a single image of a female alien – in cave drawings, holograms or revived, living forms – throughout the film. I wonder if Shaw will meet them in the next.