Getting Some Clarity on Prometheus

I watched Prometheus this last weekend. I liked it a lot, a whole lot in fact, and because of that I have decided to do a write-up on some of the most confusing parts of Prometheus and its connection to the larger Alien franchise. This isn’t a comprehensive review or analysis of the film–that will come later, I assure you. Instead, this is more like a personal FAQ; it is a way of getting all my facts straight so I can talk about Prometheus in a different way, later. It is also for everyone else–lots of questions about the film are answered inside the film itself, but they take a little work to get through. This is the fruit of a day’s research on Prometheus.

THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THE ALIEN FRANCHISE AND PROMETHEUS BELOW

1. Does Prometheus take place on the same planet as Alien and Aliens?
No. Alien and Aliens take place on and near LV-426. Prometheus takes place on LV-223, a distinct and different planet.

2. Is the black goo that the Engineer at the opening of Prometheus drinks the same black goo that the crew of the Prometheus discovers later?
I believe so. The Engineer at the opening of the film drinks a substantial amount of the black goo. The Engineer’s body immediately begins to dissolve, breaking down on the level of DNA and then recombining with other bits of whatever in the water to make human DNA. The black goo that the crew of the Prometheus finds on LV-223 has different apparent characteristics, but has the same long-term result. The black goo dissolves the Engineer because of the massive amount that it intakes, but has the same result that we see later–it fundamentally alters the Engineer, morphing it radically on a genetic level. We are not shown the same level of exposure in any of the members of the Prometheus’ crew; Holloway ingests a tiny, tiny spot of black goo, which makes him violently ill and is obviously turning him into something other than human. Interestingly, when we see Holloway being carried back to the ship after collapsing, the same black “rot” is moving throughout his body that we saw in the initial stages of the Engineer’s decay at the beginning of the film. So what can we say about the black goo? It takes up shop in a host and mutates toward a specific form. The geologist character, who collapses in goo, goes through a process of skull lengthening and increased size–a kind of proto-xenomorph.

3. How does this film connect up with Alien?
This works in a couple ways. The ship that takes off from LV-223 is clearly the same style ship that is found by the crew of the Nostromo in Alien. Another explicit connection is that the antechamber in which the black goo is initially found has both a green shrine and a giant carving/mural that is clearly an Alien-style xenomorph. These connections are apparent, but there is a deeper connection. During a credits sequence in Prometheus, we are shown a small xenomorph emerging fully from the body of the dead Engineer. Its physiology is different from the Alien film xenomorphs–it has a more angular head, no secondary internal mouth protrusion, and is slightly skinnier. From my reading online, the attempt by many has been to explain how this xenomorph reached a ship that then crashlanded on LV-426. Instead, I think the focus should be put into context. The xenomorph bursts out of the Engineer after being implanted by the fully-grown Trilobite that Shaw “gave birth” to earlier in the film.
There isn’t a lot to be certain of here, but I am going to venture out on a limb here and say that the sidestep of Shaw’s pregnancy, the Trilobite, and then the Trilobite implanting the xenomorph into the Engineer is just ballet. I believe that the black goo, when ingested in small doses, creates an implanting creature–a creature who, morphologically, is equipped to invade the orifices of other creatures and reproduce in their bodies. Facehuggers and the Trilobite are these kinds of creatures. What is then born from that implantation–the traditional xenomorphs–begin their own life cycle, with the egg-laying queens coming from that. As the android David says in the film, “sometimes to create you must destroy.” The act of “creating” the xenomorph species is one of systematically corrupting other species and then bringing the xenomorph out in a multiple-stage process.
It also gives us some interesting things to think about–the giant xenomorph mural in the room with the big head means that the Engineers knew that xenomorphs are the end result of black goo “insemination.” It also makes sense why the xenomorph that comes out of the Engineer at the close of the film is similar, but not quite the same, as one that comes out of a human–the Engineer DNA and human DNA are a “match,” but obviously there are differences in the two. That would mean that combinant DNA, like what the xenomorph comes out of, would be very close but not 100% the same.

4. Where did the eggs come from in the ship that crashlanded on LV-426?
An in-flight problem occurred. The black goo got out somehow, made it to full xenomorph status, and infected all of the Engineers on the ship. The fact that the Space Jockey is “chest bursted” implies that that particular Engineer knew that he was implanted with a xenomorph and crashlanded on a barren moon to prevent a larger contamination that could occur if the ship drifted through space for untold millennia. It also explains the lack of xenomorphs or a queen on the crashed ship–since there were not other hosts on the planet, those creatures would have died, but the eggs could have stayed viable. The xenomorph similarity to viral actors is important to think of here–viruses can render themselves dormant for extended periods of time in cold temperatures.

5. What did David say to the Engineer after the Engineer woke from stasis?
Unless the director or the script writer tells us explicitly, there is no way of knowing. David speaks in a fictional language, and people have tried to parse what he says here.

6. Was the black goo a weapon?
I didn’t think it was to begin with, but as far as the audience is concerned, it is. It is probably something much bigger, programmable, and outside the ken of human knowledge (that’s my critical take on the whole thing.) But yes, as far as it matters, it is something that can be deployed as a weapon. Additionally, apparently Ridley Scott, in speaking about the ship from Alien, has said that it was a kind of “bomber.” So while the black goo might not totally be a weapon–it seems to have other applications–it certainly can be used that way.

7. Why are there so many plotholes in this movie?
I don’t think there are plotholes in the film. There are definitely gaps, and I think that most of them are on purpose. Not being told something by a film is not the same as a plot hole. As Damien Lindelof, the scriptwriter, said in an interview with Popular Mechanics:

We wanted to be purposefully vague, [but steer] the audience towards some conclusions as to what that stuff was supposed to do: Is it supposed to kill you? Is it supposed to transform you—which seems like the most obvious choice—and to what end? Like, why in God’s name would the engineers want to create abominations out of mankind? Some of these questions we wanted to answer directly and some of these questions we didn’t want to answer directly, which sets you up for a certain level of frustration and disappointment that I am well familiar with, but I’ll take it any day of the week because I also feel like it forces you to fire your own imagination.

Obviously, there is more to say about the film, but these are my answers to some of the lingering questions about the film.

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