06/22/2012 11:50 am ET Updated Aug 22, 2012

Prometheus: Faith Unbound

I went to see the Ridley Scott movie Prometheus
recently. What struck me -- besides the quality of the acting, direction, amazing sets, and excellent effects -- was the theme of faith.

If you have not seen the film, do not read on, unless you don't care about spoilers.

The weakest aspect of Prometheus, actually, is the script, which is fairly confusing. The title refers to the Titan Prometheus, who in Greek mythology created humankind out of clay with the help of Pallas Athena. After an odd opening scene with a pale-blue, 9-foot-tall humanoid dissolving into a waterfall (presumably to create humankind), the film begins with the discovery by a missionary's daughter, Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace, of the Stieg Larsson trilogy flicks), of a recurring pattern of stars in unrelated ancient petroglyphs and images. Mapping the pattern leads to a faraway star system.

Jump to the starship Prometheus, where we learn that the crew has been assembled by a multi-trillionaire (figure 20 Bill Gates) named Peter Weyland. The last name is no accident, and the first tie of the movie to Ridley Scott's Alien series. (Other scenes are more reminiscent of Brian de Palma's Mission to Mars.) When they arrive at their destination and have been awakened by the android David, the crew watches a hologram of Weyland telling them that he has funded the expedition in the hopes of discovering the race that created humanity. He expects that they will give humans the key to virtual immortality, though by the time they watch the hologram, he will have already died.

The crew discovers inside a gigantic spaceship that the original race had created a monstrous being that seeks to impregnate other species with its young, implanting them inside their bodies. (Of course, these are the stars of the Alien series.) Just like digger wasps do with caterpillars. The infant wasps eat their way out of the host, killing it in the process. Meanwhile, David, the android who takes after Peter O'Toole's Lawrence of Arabia, has infected Dr. Shaw's lover, who gets her pregnant with one of these "space wasps." How he knows about them and why he does this is never explained.

Here ensues the scene that interests me most. In a previous scene, Dr. Shaw's father had given her a plain metal cross, which she always wears as a sign of her faith. It is as David's prisoner that she learns she has been impregnated and will soon die. The android tells her that her god has let her down twice: once when her father died of Ebola, and the other now that she is going to die horrifically. Since there is obviously no god, she no longer needs her cross, which he removes and places in a pocket.

Here we learn that Weyland is not dead, but has stowed away, unbeknownst to his daughter Vickers (Charlize Theron), who is the expedition leader.

Then David finds a member of the original race in suspended animation. Weyland goes with the android to awaken the superman and learn how to reverse aging to become immortal. Pale-blue will have none of it, and kills Weyland and rips off the android's head (remember Alien?) Meanwhile, Shaw has escaped and gotten into an automated surgery (Larry Niven's autodoc) and has it remove the alien-wasp baby. While Pale-blue is revving up his ship to carry the Alien monsters to Earth (why?), she convinces the captain of Prometheus to ram the other spaceship. He and his crew courageously kamikaze that ship, which falls back to the planet (actually a large moon, like Pandora in Avatar). While Vickers is crushed by the debris, Shaw escapes to a lifeboat containing, among other things, the autodoc. She is warned by the android's head -- still functioning -- that Pale-blue is on his way. She manages to hide from him, while he opens the door to the autodoc chamber and confronts the now-grown alien-wasp, who kills him.

The android directs Shaw to where his head lies, telling her she can use him to fly back to Earth in other starships still on the moon. She refuses to listen, until he first gives her back her cross. He tells her where to find it, and she reverently puts it back on. Then she informs him, as she drags his body and head along, that she intends to follow the Pale-blues to their home world.

What differentiates each character in the movie is their faith. Weyland has faith that he can find the fountain of youth by asking the original race. Otherwise there is nothing after death. Vickers is watching out for herself and her investment -- her relationship with her father is nil, she cares nothing for him or anyone else. Fifield is in it "for the money." David, by definition, can have no faith. With all the others, they are foils to Shaw and her boyfriend Calloway, whose faith is what gives them hope for their scientific work as well as the rest of their lives. The noble captain and crew sacrifice themselves to save Earth. Calloway lets Vickers kill him rather than expose the others to what has infected him. Shaw carries on, a scientist interested in the pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself.

Christianity claims that when we die, no immortal part survives to flit off somewhere else (e.g., Psalm 146). Rather, we are dead as a doornail, until we inherit resurrection like Jesus'. This new creation out of the old is already present in embryo so to speak, and makes this life, the here and now, just as important as what will follow. It is this hope that defines our faith. As Shaw's father explains to her, how this happens is another matter entirely, and it is opaque to us. Shaw as a scientist of faith gives an example of what a person of faith is like. No "magical thinking," no pie-in-the-sky.

Weyland, on the other hand, is the antithesis of a person of faith. He wants to use all that he has so that he can continue to draw breath. In doing so, he gets a lot of people killed, including his estranged daughter as well as himself.

Ridley Scott's parable of faith raises some interesting questions, despite the waywardness of the script and the obvious sequelization at work. There remains the question of our creation by another race. The Abrahamic religions proclaim that God created us. Perhaps we can stretch that to happen by allowing the intermediary of other non-angelic beings. The Pale-blues are certainly no angels! So in the end Shaw is still looking not for the creator race, but through them, the Creator -- the ultimate object of her faith.