145. imponderable


Then to Silvia let us sing,
That Silvia is excelling;
She excels each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling;
To her let us garlands bring.
— William Shakespeare (1564-1616), from Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act IV, Scene 2

Finally went to see Prometheus yesterday afternoon. My biggest complaint was that the siren/scream sound heard so prominently in the trailer was nowhere in the actual film itself. All that buildup, all that hype, and then nothing to show for it. It would be as if Frodo and Sam went to Mordor, then lost the ring half way through the first Lord of the Rings movie and the other two movies turned into an extended version of Braveheart. And really—who wouldn’t follow Viggo Mortensen into just about any situation?

A secondary complaint (no worries, no spoilers here) was that, aside from Noomi Rapace, the characters in Prometheus were so poorly developed and the plot a shambles, combined with vaguely and sometimes not-so-vaguely religious imagery, that it just left much to be desired. However, I’m going to wait to give my final verdict until seeing the director’s cut. Conflicts arose without much justification or context to the overall story arc, and potentially important elements were often dropped and forgotten about. There is, however, a particularly horrific scene involving a… well, I won’t give it away, but you either know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen it or will know what I’m talking about when you see it.

A good chunk of the film is devoted to oblique discussions of the purpose of our origin and creation. One character asks, “How far would you be willing to go to get your answers?” It’s a question with a lot of potential, but unfortunately the film does a fine job of asking the question and then not even attempting to answer it. It’s almost as though they heard Tommy Lee Jones next door in Men in Black III saying to Will Smith: “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.” According to Ridley Scott and the screenwriters, asking questions leads to being infected, burned, eaten alive, impaled, bludgeoned, crushed, blown up, and generally losing everything and everyone you ever held dear.

What bothered me most about the film (aside from the whole panspermia premise) was the characters’ naive assumption that the beings who created them had benevolent intentions at all. It bothers me in the same way that it does when Christians assume that God is on their side, that he loves them and has their best interest in mind, or that a blessed afterlife lies beyond death for those who said the magic prayer for Jesus to forgive their hideous sins (that exist only because he said that they do—rather like a doctor telling you that you’re sick and need this expensive medication that only he can give you).

It reminded me of that scene at the end of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, where (SPOILERS) the being that they believe to be God turns out to be nothing more than a demon that Spock’s half-brother wanted to reach thinking it was God, when the whole scenario was merely a ruse to trick them into bringing the demon a ship. Even C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that God could potentially be something malevolent:

What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil. On the other hand, if God’s moral judgement differs from ours so that our ‘black’ may be His ‘white’, we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say ‘God is good’, while asserting that His is wholly other than ours, is really only to say ‘God is we know not what’. And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him. If He is not (in our sense) ‘good’ we shall obey, if at all, only through fear—and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend.

And if the Bible is true, with all of the senseless rules, doctrines and prohibitions, how could God be anything  but maleficent? After all, not many (if any) of the Biblical laws do anything good for humanity. They merely serve to perpetuate unquestioning belief in the existence of God.

– “Why give 10% of my income to the church?”
– “Because the Bible says so.”
– “But… why?”
– “Because the Bible says so.”

Part of the reason I find it difficult to get really invested in anything (or anyone) is that both things and people have the tendency to disappoint, so I’m always waiting for the big let-down.

As a child I never grew up believing in magic. My parents didn’t raise my sisters and me to believe in Santa Claus either, the Easter Bunny, or even the Tooth Fairy. The only real “magic” was the miracles that God worked, but I never actually witnessed a miracle myself, and the miracles I heard about seemed to have natural explanations.

When I was about eight, our church pastor and his family were in a deadly winter driving accident. I don’t remember if they hit a patch of ice or something, but one of his sons was killed. Where was God then? If our pastor was such a good man, why did things like that happen to him? Before that, God seemed so all-powerful, like he was portrayed in the Bible—at least the version of the Bible that was age-appropriate for us. After that accident, God seemed smaller, in the way that your parents look once you figure out that they’re just adults and not the superheroes you thought they were.

Last night I was listening to Gerald Finzi’s song cycle Let Us Garlands Bring. The stanza at the top of the page is from that cycle, and it made me think how difficult it is for me to worship anything—especially potential romantic partners—when I’m waiting to find out how it (he) will disappoint.

One thought on “145. imponderable

  1. I enjoyed Prometheus a lot. Between Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, and quite a few references to Lawrence of Arabia (one of my favorite movies ever), I was pretty happy with it. Lawrence of Arabia would be an excellent movie to pair with Prometheus in a thematic/philosophic double feature.
    I wondered what you would think of it while I was watching it, because one of the primary themes is “choosing to believe,” something we’ve talked about in the past.

    Since I could be considered a Christian agnostic or an agnostic Christian (if the supernatural is out there, I think Christianity comes closest to explaining it), the whole theme of searching and believing in spite of yourself in the goodness of Creator/Creators, kind of hit home. I think that when a narrative like Prometheus tries to provide too many answers, it ends up feeling forced and moralistic (no matter what the conclusion). Ultimately, I don’t think we can know things “for sure and certain” in our lifetimes, but I think that the believing and the searching is important nonetheless. The movie seemed to take that stance as well.

    I don’t think Ridley Scott meant to discourage questioning by showing hostility to it–I think he meant to show how dangerous it can be to be an explorer of any kind. My brother and I thought the whole movie showed a spectrum of different kinds of questioners/explorers–ultimately driven by different hopes and fears. On one end you have pure, unadulterated “Curiosity” in David; and on the other, pure, unadulterated “Fear” in Mr. Weyland. I think Ridley believes that curiousity should be tempered by idealism and practicality, something you have in Dr. Shaw’s character.

    What do you think the ideal explorer/questioner should look like?

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