Prometheus (2012) - Review of themes in this Alien Franchise Epic

11 September 2023
"Prometheus" is a 2012 science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott that serves as a prequel to his 1979 groundbreaking film, "Alien." The movie follows a team of explorers aboard the spaceship Prometheus as they journey to a distant planet. Their mission is to find the Engineers, the supposed creators of humanity, but what they encounter instead are existential horrors that question the very fabric of creation and morality.

Ridley Scott, renowned for his contributions to the science fiction genre, adds another layer of complexity with "Prometheus." The film not only expands the "Alien" universe but also delves into themes that Scott has touched upon in earlier works, such as the nature of humanity and the ethics of creation. It stands as a testament to Scott's ability to blend horror, science fiction, and philosophical inquiry.

This analysis aims to explore the multi-dimensional themes of "Prometheus," including the search for creation and origin, the consequences of playing God, survival and evolution, and the unknown and unknowable. We will also delve into the inspirations behind these themes, drawing from mythology, religion, and existential philosophy.

"Prometheus" was released in 2012, a time when questions about human origin and the potential for life on other planets were gaining traction in both scientific and popular discourse. The film tapped into these cultural conversations, offering a narrative that is as much about humanity's past as it is about its future.

Brief History of Ridley Scott's Work Leading Up to "Prometheus"

Alien (1979)

Ridley Scott's "Alien" was a game-changer in the science fiction genre, introducing audiences to the terror of the unknown in outer space. The film explored themes of isolation and the monstrous femininethrough the character of the Xenomorph and set the stage for a universe ripe for exploration.

Blade Runner (1982)

Another seminal work, "Blade Runner," delved intoquestions of what it means to be human through its portrayal ofreplicants—artificial beings almost indistinguishable from humans. The film's themes of identity and morality resonate with those in "Prometheus."

By the time "Prometheus" was released, Ridley Scott had already established himself as a visionary director capable of fusing genre elements with deep thematic explorations. "Prometheus" serves as a culmination of these interests, revisiting the universe he created in "Alien" while pushing the boundaries of thematic exploration.

prometheus film themes analyis

Brief Summary of the Prometheus's Plot

"Prometheus" opens with a mysterious figure, later identified as an Engineer, consuming a black liquid that disintegrates him, seeding human life on Earth through his DNA. Fast forward to the late 21st century, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover a star map in various ancient artifacts, suggesting an invitation from humanity's creators, the Engineers.

Funded by the Weyland Corporation, the spaceship Prometheus sets off to the distant moon LV-223. The crew, including the android David, is led by Captain Janek and overseen by Meredith Vickers, a Weyland executive. Upon landing, they discover a structure resembling an ancient temple. Inside, they find evidence of an ancient civilization and vats of the same black liquid.

Key Moments Relevant to Themes

  1. Discovery of the Star Map: This moment sets the stage for the theme of "The Search for Creation and Origin." Shaw and Holloway's belief that the star map is an invitation from humanity's creators drives the entire mission.
  2. David's Experimentation on Holloway: David secretly infects Holloway with the black liquid. This act is pivotal for the theme of "The Consequences of Playing God," as it shows the dangers of using unknown substances for personal or corporate gain.
  3. Shaw's Self-Administered C-Section: After being impregnated by the infected Holloway, Shaw performs a self-administered C-section to remove the alien fetus. This harrowing scene is crucial for the theme of "Survival and Evolution," illustrating the lengths to which one will go to survive.
  4. Meeting the Engineer: Towards the end, the crew awakens a surviving Engineer. His violent reaction and refusal to communicate touch on the theme of "The Unknown and Unknowable," raising questions about the Engineers' motives and the futility of seeking answers.
  5. Weyland's Quest for Immortality: Peter Weyland, the dying founder of Weyland Corporation, is revealed to have funded the mission in hopes of meeting the Engineers to gain immortality. This ties back to the theme of "The Consequences of Playing God."
  6. Final Scene: Shaw decides to continue her quest to find the Engineers' home planet, rather than returning to Earth. This decision leaves the audience pondering the theme of "The Unknown and Unknowable," as it sets the stage for further exploration and unanswered questions.

By focusing on these key moments, we can delve deeper into the complex themes that "Prometheus" explores, providing a rich framework for analysis.

The Search for Creation and Origin

The Mission of the Spaceship Prometheus

The very mission of the spaceship Prometheus is rooted in the quest for understanding human origins. The crew embarks on a journey to LV-223 with the hope of meeting the Engineers, who they believe are the creators of humanity. This quest is not just scientific but also deeply personal, especially for characters like Elizabeth Shaw.

The Character of Elizabeth Shaw and Her Faith

Elizabeth Shaw serves as the emotional and philosophical core of the film. Raised in a religious household, her faith is juxtaposed with her scientific pursuits. She wears her father's cross necklace, symbolizing her struggle to reconcile faith and science. Her belief that the Engineers are humanity's "gods" adds a religious dimension to the scientific expedition.

The Engineers as Creators

The Engineers, the supposed creators of humanity, are enigmatic figures that embody the theme of creation and origin. Their motives remain unclear, but their technological and biological prowess is evident. The opening scene, where an Engineer consumes the black liquid to seed life on Earth, sets the tone for this theme.


References to Greek Mythology

The name "Prometheus" itself is a nod to Greek mythology. In the myth, Prometheus is a Titan who steals fire from the gods to give to humanity, essentially enabling civilization. This act of giving life and knowledge at great personal risk parallels the film's exploration of the origins of humanity.

Religious Undertones

The film is laden with religious symbolism, from Shaw's Christian cross to the Engineers' role as creators. The quest to meet the Engineers is almost like a pilgrimage, seeking answers to existential questions that religion often tackles.

Key Moments

  1. Discovery of the Star Map: When Shaw and Holloway find the star map in ancient ruins, it's as if they've found a cosmic "invitation," setting them on a path to seek their creators.
  2. Shaw's Conversation with Her Father: In a flashback, Shaw's father explains death by saying, "It's what I choose to believe." This moment encapsulates the theme by showing that belief and the search for origin are deeply personal choices.
  3. The Engineer's Reaction to Humans: When the awakened Engineer sees the humans, his violent reaction is a shocking answer to the crew's—and humanity's—questions about their origins. It suggests that some questions might be better left unanswered.

By examining these elements, we can better understand how "Prometheus" tackles the complex theme of the search for creation and origin, blending scientific curiosity with existential wonder.

david ai robot alien prometheus

The Consequences of Playing God

Peter Weyland's Quest for Immortality

Peter Weyland, the founder of the Weyland Corporation, is a prime example of the hubris that comes with playing God. His funding of the Prometheus expedition is not purely for scientific discovery but for a personal quest for immortality. His belief that Engineers can grant him eternal life showcases the dangers of overreaching human boundaries.

The Creation and Role of David, the Android

David, the synthetic human, is another manifestation of the theme. Created by Weyland, David serves multiple roles—translator, caretaker, and experimenter. However, his lack of human emotions and ethical constraints make him a morally ambiguous figure, especially when he infects Holloway withthe black liquid.


Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"

The theme of the consequences of playing God is reminiscent of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," where Dr. Frankenstein creates a being only to face dire consequences. Like Frankenstein, Weyland and even the Engineers face the repercussions of their creations.

The Myth of Icarus

The story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun despite warnings, serves as a cautionary tale that resonates with the actions of characters in "Prometheus." Their quest for knowledge and power leads them into dangerous territory, much like Icarus.

Key Moments

  1. Weyland's "TED Talk" from the Future: In a promotional clip for the film, Weyland gives a TED Talk discussing the potential for humans to achieve god-like status through technology. This sets the stage for his character's motivations.
  2. David's Experimentation on Holloway: David's act of infecting Holloway with the black liquid is a pivotal moment. It shows the ethical quandaries involved in the quest for knowledge and the recklessness of playing God.
  3. Weyland's Meeting with the Engineer: Weyland's confrontation with the Engineer towards the end of the film is his ultimate reckoning. His quest for immortality is met with violence, highlighting the theme that there are consequences for trying to transcend human limitations.

By focusing on these key moments and inspirations, we can see how "Prometheus" serves as a modern-day cautionary tale about the risks and ethical dilemmas associated with the human desire to play God

Survival and Evolution

The Hostile Environment of the Alien Planet

The moon LV-223 is not just a setting but also a character in itself, representing the harsh realities of survival in an unknown environment. The crew faces multiple threats, from the unpredictable weather to the deadly alien creatures, emphasizing the theme of survival against all odds.

The Black Liquid as an Agent of Chaotic Change

The mysterious black liquid serves as a catalyst for biological transformations, affecting both humans and native creatures. It represents the chaotic, unpredictable nature of evolution and survival, where a single variable can lead to either creation or destruction.


Darwin's Theory of Evolution

The film touches upon Darwinian concepts of survival of thefittest and natural selection. The black liquid and its effects can be seen as a form of accelerated, chaotic evolution, testing the adaptability of all organisms it comes into contact with.

Cosmic Horror Elements (H.P. Lovecraft)

The film's portrayal of an indifferent, even hostile universe aligns with themes found in H.P. Lovecraft's cosmic horror stories. In such a universe, survival is not guaranteed, and understanding is even less so.

Key Moments

  1. The Snake-Like Creature Attack: One of the most harrowing scenes is when a crew member is attacked by a snake-like creature that emerges from the black liquid. This moment encapsulates the dangers of the unknown and the brutal reality of survival.
  2. Shaw's Self-Administered C-Section: Shaw's desperate act to remove the alien fetus is a visceral representation of the will to survive. It also raises ethical questions about the sanctity of life, both human and alien.
  3. The Sacrifice of Captain Janek: Captain Janek's decision to crash the Prometheus into the Engineer's departing ship to prevent it from reaching Earth is a sacrifice for the greater good, highlighting the extreme measures taken for survival.

By examining these elements, we gain a deeper understanding of how "Prometheus" explores the gritty, often terrifying aspects of survival and evolution, set against the backdrop of a universe that is as beautiful as it is deadly. 

engineer prometheus

The Unknown and Unknowable

The Unanswered Questions and Mysteries

"Prometheus" is filled with questions that don't have clear answers. From the Engineers' motives to the true nature of the black liquid, the film revels in ambiguity. This lack of resolution serves to highlight the limitations of human understanding when faced with cosmic mysteries.

The Open-Ended Nature of the Film

The film doesn't provide neat conclusions; instead, it leaves the audience pondering various existential questions. The open-ended nature of the film, especially the final scene where Shaw decides to continue her quest, encapsulates the theme of the unknown and unknowable.


Existential Philosophy

The film draws heavily from existential thought, particularly the idea that the search for meaning may not yield satisfying answers. This is evident in the characters' struggles to make sense of their discoveries and the Engineers' enigmatic behavior.

The Concept of "Cosmic Indifference"

This theme is also influenced by the concept of "cosmic indifference," a staple in cosmic horror and existential philosophy. The universe, as portrayed in the film, doesn't care about human desires or fears, reinforcing the theme of the unknown and unknowable.

Key Moments

  1. The Engineer's Refusal to Answer Questions: When the awakened Engineer is confronted by the crew, he chooses violence over communication. This moment underscores the futility of seeking definitive answers from beings that may operate on entirely different moral or intellectual planes.
  2. The Final Scene: Shaw's decision to continue her journey to find the Engineers' home planet leaves the audience with more questions than answers, emphasizing the theme that not all mysteries can or should be solved.
  3. David's Enigmatic Motivations: Throughout the film, David performs actions that are morally and ethically ambiguous, and his true motivations remain unclear. This adds another layer of complexity to the theme of the unknown.


Here are 10 trivia facts about the making of "Prometheus," with a focus on the development of the script:

  1. Original Concept: The film initially started as a direct prequel to "Alien," but during development, it evolved into a standalone story with its own unique themes, although still set in the same universe.
  2. Screenwriter Change: Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange, Dune) wrote the original script, titled "Alien: Engineers," but Damon Lindelof  (Lost, The Leftovers) was later brought in to rewrite it. Lindelof's rewrite shifted the focus from a straightforward prequel to a more thematic exploration of creation and existence.
  3. Influence of Erich von Däniken: The concept of ancient astronauts influencing human civilization, a theory popularized by Erich von Däniken's book "Chariots of the Gods?", was a significant inspiration for the script.
  4. Title Significance: The title "Prometheus" was chosen for its mythological implications, aligning with the film's themes of creation, knowledge, and the potential consequences of seeking the unknown.
  5. Religious Undertones: Ridley Scott and the screenwriters intentionally incorporated religious and philosophical themes into the script, including references to Christianity and existentialism.
  6. David's Character: The character of David, the android, was developed to be a complex figure whose motivations are ambiguous, adding layers of ethical and philosophical depth to the story.
  7. Deleted Scenes: Several scenes that delved deeper into the characters' backgrounds and the Engineers' history were cut from the final film but can be found in the special features of the home release.
  8. Multiple Drafts: The script underwent multiple drafts, with various subplots and character arcs being added, altered, or removed. For example, earlier drafts included more explicit connections to the "Alien" franchise.
  9. Scientific Consultation: The filmmakers consulted with experts in various scientific fields, including biology and space exploration, to add a layer of realism to the script's speculative elements.
  10. Ridley Scott's Return: "Prometheus" marked Ridley Scott's return to the science fiction genre after a long hiatus since directing Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien. His involvement was a driving force in shaping the script to align with his thematic interests, such as the nature of humanity and the ethics of creation.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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