Truth in Spectacles and Speculation in Tentacles

Warning: there are plot spoilers for the movie “Prometheus” in this post, below the awesome drawing I did of Sigourney Weaver facing off with an alien à la “Alien 3.”

But until that image, you’re safe.  And if you want to jump past the spoilers, a link will be provided at that point, enabling you to do so.

I have been a huge fan of the movie “Alien” for a long time.

I mean, it came out two years before I was born, so not that long.  But ever since I saw the famous gut-busting scene parodied in Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs” when I was little, it had my interest.  I think I even saw James Cameron’s “Aliens” before I saw the first one, and was confused because that scene was not in the movie.  I do remember “Alien 3” coming out in the theaters, and I probably saw “Alien” when I was… I don’t know, let’s say eleven or twelve.

“Alien” is science-fiction at its best, and horror at its best.  The sequels made the science-fiction more campy than intriguing, and changed the genre from horror to action.  They were fun, and Sigourney Weaver was awesome, but I preferred to think of the first film as its own story independent from the sequels.  Ridley Scott, the director of “Alien,” apparently felt the same way, as his new movie “Prometheus”–a prequel to “Alien”–only considers the first movie as canon.

But I’m not writing this post to tell you how much I like “Alien,” or even “Prometheus.”  This post is about truth, speculation, and the human drive to seek both.

And also about how awesome “Alien” and “Prometheus” are, I guess.

As an avid “Alien” fan, I hyped this movie up a lot in my head, and honestly did not think it would live up to my own hype.  I can’t remember the last Ridley Scott movie that I thought was great (although most have been decent enough), and the man is in his mid-seventies.  Nevertheless, the prospect of having a few of the outstanding mysteries of “Alien” unraveled by the creator himself was very exciting.

Most of those mysteries originate from the scene near the beginning of the movie (warning: spoilers for the original “Alien” ahead, in case you haven’t seen that yet), when they land on a harsh, uninhabitable planet, explore a crashed/marooned spaceship, find a large alien with its ribs having been burst open in a big chair in front a large panel (earning him the nickname “space jockey” for the next 30 years) and a machine that looks like a giant telescope, and a room filled with large eggs in neat lines.  The eggs, we quickly find out, still contain live creatures.

What that ship was doing there, what the space jockey was, and why there was a room filled with eggs (which looked like they were being farmed) were questions never asked by the crew exploring that ship, as the movie quickly became more about survival than exploration (although the means of the space jockey’s death became fairly obvious).  But fans of the movie have been asking those questions for decades.

“Prometheus” satisfactorily delivers on answers to all of those questions, but in doing so opens up an even larger can of speculative worms.  It was a fantastic homage to “Alien” (e.g. strong and unassuming female lead, similar-looking technology, and even smoking on spaceships) while being a very different movie in its own right.

(Click here to bypass the spoilers below and continue to the meat of the post.)

At some point in the second half of the movie, a verse of scripture popped into my head.  It is revealed that the space jockey from “Alien” was from a race of beings which look like giant humans with blue skin (but in “Alien,” he is in a spacesuit).  These beings (finally given an official name of “engineers”) have DNA which reads as human, are in some way linked with the creation of life, and clearly walked the Earth in the days of ancient civilization.  As the movie progresses, it appears that these beings also decided that mankind (for whatever reason) needed to be eliminated.  Giant humanoids from ancient civilization who eventually left?  Scholars of Greek mythology (who would also be familiar with the story of the mythological Prometheus) would call them “Titans.”  I’m not a Greek scholar.  I like to study Judeo-Christian scripture, and the word that popped into my head was “Nephilim.”

Genesis 6:4-8 (NASB):

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of G-d came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them.  Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.  Then the L-rd saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  The L-rd was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  The L-rd said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the L-rd.

You probably know the story after that.  The story of Noah’s Ark is one of the most discussed passages in the Bible by those with an agenda to disprove it, as the event seems impossible as most people read it.  That’s a discussion for another time.  But in connection with Prometheus, remember that:

1) the opening scene takes place in a flooded land.  One of the engineers appears to sacrifice himself (and it becomes unclear if his genetic structure disintegrates entirely or become building blocks of something else), while the others appear to leave the planet in a spaceship.

2) Ridley Scott portrays a future (2080s and 90s) where atheism is fairly prevalent, but there is clear emphasis on Elizabeth Shaw’s Christian faith (she does not discuss the details of her faith, but her cross is very important to her, and she is criticized for her faith by the android).  The pilot of the Prometheus also seems to have some semblance of Christian faith, as he is seen putting up a Christmas tree.

3) (and this is something I did not connect until I read this guy’s Live Journal entry)  whatever event occurred on the engineer planet/base which wiped out most of them appears to have happened about 2000 years prior to the arrival of the Prometheus… meaning right around the time of the crucifixion of the Messiah.

4) Virgin births with “G-d-like” DNA seem pretty feasible in the “Prometheus” universe.  That Live Journal entry contains other such speculation, not all of which seems as probable to me, but birth is a major theme in the movie.

It seems obvious to me that the writers and producers of “Prometheus” used Biblical scripture to inform the story.  On top of that, despite the overt atheism of some of the characters, one could easily make the argument that nothing in the movie contradicts the Bible.  One could even see “Prometheus” as a speculative interpretation of much of the Bible.  Just as there has been much speculation created by the original space jockey for the last 30 years, there has been wild speculation about the Biblical “Nephilim” throughout history, and there is now even more speculation about the science-fiction universe created through these films.

(Spoilers end here.)

When the movie was over, my friends and I went to a Chinese restaurant and began to discuss it.  None of these friends are exceptionally familiar with scripture, but they have all seen “Alien,” so there were plenty of other things in the movie to talk about and about which to speculate.  Our conversation became so fervent that the waitress had to come back to the table three times because we could not stop talking about the movie for even the brief pause it would take to look at the menu.

We, as human beings, just eat up this stuff.  Speculation, that is; not Chinese food (although, that too).  Even though we know it’s just a movie, and that writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof probably have no greater evidence or insight into the universe, or any answers to any mysteries, or any revelations into greater truths than the rest of us.  They are, however, likely much better at activating that part of the human brain that craves answers, by giving us just enough to make us feel like we’ve figured something out while simultaneously blossoming one mystery into countless more.  Once we’ve figured something out in its entirety, it is no longer of interest.

This is a pretty obvious truth.  Babies are fascinated by simple shapes and colors, toddlers by light switches, and adolescents by sexuality.  We’ve figured those things out, so while we might still have a favorite color, get a tiny pleasure out of pushing an elevator button, and have a healthy sex drive, those things no longer produce fascination.

When something gives us a partial answer, like scripture often does, we remain fascinated.  Whether you believe that the Bible is the word of G-d or the words of men, this appears to be intentional.  But just because something is incomplete does not mean that it does not contain enough information for us to know that it’s true (did you follow that sentence?).

Case in point; “Prometheus” intentionally leaves out information (Scott has stated this), but we still know enough to figure out what probably happened in “Alien.”  We know enough to know those certain things we need to know, while still leaving us yearning to know more.  Scripture does this, as well.  We know the important things we need to know, and we just love speculating about the rest.

The problem comes in when people start thinking of this speculation as truth.

It sounds ridiculous, but with all of the rampant speculation I’ve been doing in the past few days regarding a very fun and well-thought-out movie and its connections with the Bible, there may have been moments where I caught my brain assuming that the speculative story of “Prometheus” actually happened.

Something about the human brain wants to believe in speculation.

This happens all the time.  We daydream about a reality where we’ve won the lottery, and what we would do with that money.  Suddenly those dream-goals become our real goals, even though we do not possess the means to accomplish them.  We speculate upon our future spouses, informed by a mix of experience with our parents and Hollywood love stories, and then become disappointed when the reality does not meet the one we had built in our heads.

We speculate that voting in a particular (whichever) political party will lead to a series of events quickly resulting in apocalypse.

We speculate that an eisegetical passage of scripture might mean one thing, and become convinced that it is truth.

So this very thing which causes us to pursue truth causes a risk of belief in that which is likely not true.

But what I wonder is: do speculative endeavors such as “Prometheus” ultimately bring us closer to truth, or further from it?

I really hope it brings us closer to it, because it’s a lot of fun.

-Matt

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4 Responses to Truth in Spectacles and Speculation in Tentacles

  1. barry saltz says:

    I cannot help believing that if one wants to be read seriously words such as “awesome” and reinforced juvile tics such as wisdom discovered at the local Chinese resturant are counterproductive, too and personal, as well as space consuming.
    Science ficttion is often fascinating as the Arthur Clarke’s of this world offer lightly disguised personal renditons of their religious naratives. However when one lurches into the realm of professinal religions based upon the whinsical, or angry, ruminations of these escape artists, I begin to see a certain detachment of purpose. Why not give us your full blown view about altered states of reality interpreted by your good self, and how religious texts have affected this. The power of cinema is what it is, I would find it more stimulating to read rather than be led down imaginative paths by a blogger with an ax to grind.

    • Barry,

      I think you misinterpret the intention of my writing. I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “professinal religions” (sic) or by “altered states of reality,” but my goal was to write about the human drive to speculate, using this movie as an example. Perhaps I failed.

      On a side note, “awesome” is not a cultural meme or merely a colloquialism of youth. It’s a legitimate word, several centuries old, which is used 32 times in my New American Standard Bible. It means “awe inspiring,” and that is how I meant it in each of the instances that I used it.

      Thanks,

      -Matt

  2. Chris says:

    I definitely agree about the fascination that comes with speculation. I always enjoy movies or books that leave unanswered questions. I’m frustrated at first because I want answers, but in the long run, I thoroughly enjoy the debate and discussion (either with myself or with others) in the pursuit of answers much more than the answer itself.

    As for whether it brings us closer to or further from the truth, well there I have two different comments. The first is more of a rational, mathematical thought that statistically speaking, there will be more speculations than possible truths. Therefore, while some speculations will chance upon truth, speculation on average will take you farther from the truth. The second comment is really a question – what if there is no truth? Or what if the truth doesn’t matter?

    I feel like that question would open up a huge can of worms if you consider it in religious terms. Since I am not a religious person, I find it difficult to imagine the consequences of such a discussion, and to get a handle on what I mean by ‘the truth doesn’t matter’, I’m going to give a non-religious example. Given that the discussion was prompted by a Ridley Scott movie, I will use another classic: Blade Runner. I’m assuming that you’ve seen Blade Runner, and if you haven’t I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that one of the most intriguing parts of the movie is the ambiguity about the nature of Deckard. Is he human or is he a replicant? It’s one thing to speculate about the truth about Deckard. But even more interesting is the discussion about the question itself. Is there an answer? Is the ‘truth’ knowable’? Does the answer even matter? In the end, my opinion is that it doesn’t matter whether he is human or not (and also that the truth is unknowable, since if he is a replicant, he is clearly of such high quality that the only one talented enough to prove he is a replicant is himself) , and the fact that the truth doesn’t matter is far more interesting to me than the truth itself, whatever it may be.

  3. Regarding the question “What if there is no truth?”: I mean, we all understand the general concept/definition of “truth,” and that concept certainly exists. I often think of truth as the limit of a function (remember my sci-fi novel?). So even if you can never actually reach truth, it would still have to exist, and you can get close enough to it that it effectively acts as truth, right?

    Regarding the question, “What if the truth doesn’t matter?”: I think it’s important to specify to what it might not matter. In other words, the truth about Deckard’s being a human or a replicant might not make any difference to a person selling him a candy bar, but it might matter a great deal to whatever god presides over the Blade Runner universe. In your perspective, the truth about whether or not G-d exists might be irrelevant to the choices you make, but that does not mean that, assuming G-d does exist, your choices are irrelevant to Him. And if that is the case, then the truth about G-d’s existence would, eventually (perhaps post-mortem), matter to you.

    Point being: the pursuit of truth is not necessarily a frivolous or futile enterprise… even if it often turns out that way. I guess it depends on the truth you’re seeking, why you’re seeking it, and the method in which you choose to seek it.

    BTW, I love your comments.

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