Some Thoughts on Prometheus
I don’t normally do film reviews, but I found myself compelled to write about this film primarily due to the mixed reviews it’s been getting and the fact that certain elements of it really hit home for me. While I wouldn’t say that I spoil the more major events of the film here, I do explain one particular scene in extensive detail to make a point, so refrain from clicking the cut if you prefer to go in completely blind. The tl;dr version is that I enjoyed the film and it manages to express one particular feminist issue quite well at one point to boot.
I’m not normally a huge fan of horror films. It’s not that they repulse me on principle (though I am mentally wired not to enjoy gore-porn “horror” like the “Saw” films), it’s more that I don’t really find myself emotionally affected by the elements that are meant to be suspenseful or frightening. In my mind I have too much of an emotional disconnect from what the characters are experiencing to feel properly unsettled (despite having an ability to become emotionally-invested about all sorts of other character experiences in films of other genres), and so I don’t normally seek out these kind of films. What made Prometheus an entirely different animal for me was one scene in particular that hit so closely to a very personal, very deep-set fear of mine that I found myself wholly shaken by the experience.
Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, one of the main characters of the film, finds herself pregnant despite believing herself to be unable to carry children. Of course, this film being related to the Alien franchise, this is no natural human pregnancy, a fact that she soon realizes for herself. When David, the character who examined her, won’t allow her to see an image of the fetus and informs her that, judging by its growth, it’s already three months along (an impossibility due to other plot-related factors), she immediately asks that it be surgically removed. David’s reply is that the ship doesn’t have the personnel available to perform such a procedure.
Left with no other options, Dr. Shaw rushes to a medical pod owned by Meredith Vickers, the wealthy company representative who’s funding their exploratory mission. When she attempts to set up the machine to perform a “cesarean” procedure, the computer informs her that the pod does not have that procedure available as it has only been calibrated for male patients. She then proceeds to manually enter the instructions for the surgery (parasite-removal, lower-abdominal region), pump herself full of painkillers, and watch as a horrific alien being is cut and removed from her womb.
Though I cannot speak for all childfree women, as a childfree woman myself, one of the most horrifying experiences that I can think of (and I’m not speaking hyperbolically about this, it would in all seriousness be a horrific experience for me) would be to find myself pregnant with little-to-no recourse. Though the actors in this scene do not specifically use the word “abortion” (one of the few criticisms I have, though I do understand that it may have made the scene and resultant message feel too heavy-handed), the symbolic relationship between this scene and the current state of choice for women in the United States spoke to me loud-and-clear.
I was struck by the line (paraphrased since I don’t have a memory for direct quotes) “we don’t have the personnel available to perform the procedure.” Fewer and fewer doctors are willing to perform abortions, and the clinics that are willing to work around increasingly-anti-choice state laws are dwindling rapidly. Many women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy literally have zero viable options available to them when factoring in the distance to their nearest clinic, the time away from work required to dance around “72-hour waiting period” laws, and the cost of the procedure. There are additional implications, considering what David has been up to “behind the scenes” so-to-speak; many of his actions are manipulative and he exhibits a strong sense of ignorance regarding the personal agency of his fellow crew members (a result of the fact that he is, literally, an emotionless android). The crew members are, in some sense, experimental subjects for him, rather than living, breathing people with wants and desires. The way in which this situation relates to reality is enough to make me shudder.
The fact that the surgical pod is only calibrated for male patients is partly-related to another element of the plot that is revealed later on, but it still stands out to me as a thinly-veiled condemnation of a legal and health system that seems more concerned with men’s health/medical desires than it is with women’s reproductive health and bodily autonomy (just ask how easy it was for my husband to go through the process of undergoing medical sterilization, and see how simple it is for men everywhere to receive prescriptions for erectile dysfunction while there are situations in which women cannot even receive BASIC prescriptions for hormonal birth control without there being a shit-storm and women’s clinics are being attacked by domestic terrorists).
In the end, Shaw is literally made to perform an ad-hoc abortion procedure ON HERSELF while under essentially no anesthesia (she has painkillers but nothing that would really qualify as local anesthesia). She may as well be pulling the resultant parasite out in a back alley with a coat hanger.
What sealed the deal for me was the fact that Shaw is depicted a few scenes earlier as upset about her inability to bear children. One thing that seems largely ignored by the anti-choice crowd is the fact that abortions are often requested by women who already have children, by women who want children at some point but for various personal reasons do not want them/cannot care for them at that time, or who are victims of rape who don’t want to be forced to relive the trauma of their victimization. What I liked is that Shaw is shown to possibly want children, but does not suddenly become a “no don’t hurt my alien baby I will care for it despite all logic to the contrary” character in the face of an unexpected pregnancy. It’s demonstrative of the real-life complicating factors that affect a woman’s choice, albeit with a dramatic, horrific sci-fi twist.
This bit in itself is but a small part of the film, which deals more with ideas about human origins and the nature of belief (a plot point which wasn’t exactly resolved to my satisfaction). I get the impression that whether or not one buys into this film’s musings about god and religion may be a large deciding factor in whether they take away anything from it, but I do like the fact that the line that gets repeated several times throughout the movie is “this is what I choose to believe,” which to me emphasizes that there are not all-encompassing correct answers. Again, there’s an emphasis on the fact that not every choice is correct for every individual person, and I really appreciate that.
Among other things, the film also passes the Bechdel test which, while not an indicator of overall quality, makes me happy. And Dr. Shaw gets several kick-ass moments in the second half of the film. I have to also give a shout-out to Charlize Theron, who I’ve liked in both the films I’ve seen her in recently (the other being Snow White and the Huntsman, which had a whole slew of problems… but that’s another post entirely).
All said, I really enjoyed the film. It captured the look of “1980’s sci-fi grit” very well, eschewing a lot of the shiny, over-processed visual effects that define too many modern science-fiction films. I like that there were various roles for women and that the main character underwent trials that proved not only her own mettle, but also outlined a very large issue facing women currently. Recommended.