Prometheus follows a pack of scientists on an expedition to a remote planet to discover the meaning of life — and then horrible, terrible, unspeakable things befall the crew. In a sense, they are punished for their curiosity.
Does that make Prometheus anti-science? We had a spoiler-free discussion with Prometheus screenwriter Damon Lindelof to discuss — as he calls it — "Frankenstein 101" and the relationship the film has with science and religion.
What piece of the Alien saga, what strand in that fabric, did you most want to weave into Prometheus but couldn't?
Damon Lindelof: I think that the only fair answer to that question is, "We got all the fabric in there." It wasn't me walking into Ridley's office and saying, "Hi, my name is Damon. I'm a huge fan, and I would like to write an Alien movie and you should direct it." It was the exact opposite, which was Ridley already had already gone down the road developing this thing for some time. I think Jon Spaihts wrote a great script, but it was very dyed in the wool "Alien Prequel." I was basically called in to take the ball into the end zone, for lack of a better sports metaphor.
It was really, for me, about doing what Ridley wanted to do. We were completely in tune from the word "go." I was really interested in the theme of creation as it related to the Alien universe. The idea that he invented an organism that actually needed to gestate inside a human being in order to become the perfect killing machine. I sort of always wondered, "Where did that thing come from? It's not really a practical organism if it needs a human to gestate. Was it invented by someone?" The fact that that was precisely the story that Ridley wanted to tell felt like harmonic convergence, and we just sort of ran with it.
Did you think of this movie as a horror movie while you were writing it? The reason Lost was so great is because it was a scifi show that didn't feel like a scifi show. It was genre-busting. Did you think Prometheus is horror?
That's a really insightful question because I do feel like the original Alien is very much a horror movie in space. It sort of conforms to those fundamental laws. But then there are these scifi elements to the original Alien. There's a robot in it, there are spaceships in it. There's space travel, hypersleep, and a computer that essentially runs the ship.
But is it horror, scifi, or something new? And I do think that the idea that Prometheus is, in my opinion, a scifi movie first and foremost. It's hard scifi. Perhaps mixed into that all great scifi — whether Prometheus is great is for everyone to judge — but is based on some sort of philosophical question that we have about the human experience and an exploration of that though scientific means.
That to me was the jumping off point for Prometheus. Then along the way there are certain questions that we as humans should not be asking. When we get too close to the answers, we suffer severe consequences. That's "Frankenstein 101." That was the story that Ridley wanted to tell, and the story that I felt was really cool.
So yes, once those consequences begin to manifest themselves you're back into that horror realm. Hopefully the movie is dancing between those two things and you're also bringing in some fundamental action as well as the Alien sequel did. I think people like to see that too. Get your heart pounding, it is summer after all. Ultimately Prometheus is all those things at the same time. At least that was our intent.
You mentioned earlier that there are some questions we're not supposed to ask. Is Prometheus anti-science then, is that one of the messages?
It's definitely not anti-science. In fact, if anything I think it's pro-science because it advances the idea that part of our own programming as human beings, we're many ways just as governed by our programming as David is. We have to seek out the answers to these questions, even though we know we'll never get satisfying answers. We're curious about what happens as we die. We need to know where we come from. What the meaning of life is. What kind of life we're supposed to lead. These are all sort of nonscientific, philosophical, religious, and spiritual questions. But the idea that we can find some comfort in science, that science can sort of give us a path to follow in understanding our roots. I think we're better off from understanding that we're descended from apes than we are looking at some book that was written 2000 years ago that gives us an explanation for our own roots.
I'm most definitively pro-science, but I think that the movie advances the idea that, "Can the two live along side each other?" Is it possible to be a scientist and maintain some faith in the unknown? And are you rewarded for having blind faith? And I do think the movie makes the meta-commentary on these issues. [Editor's Note: Tune into our follow-up interview to find out how exactly!]