What's the Biggest Unanswered Question Raised By Ridley Scott's Prometheus?

Prometheus Spoilers

Ridley Scott's Prometheus opens stateside today, which means no more tiptoeing around spoilers for those who've seen it. (Obviously, spoilers will follow. You've been warned.) The number one complaint among folks who have now seen the highly anticipated Alien kinda-prequel? So. Many. Unanswered. Questions. So let's jump right into the spoiler goo and get to deciding (and, hopefully, answering) the biggest question prompted by Scott's gorgeous, murky space opus that is left yet unanswered.

I'll start:


Why does pretty much anyone in Prometheus make any of the decisions they make? Like...

- Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) with the helmet-taking off. Really, is sniffing (and contaminating) the alien world atmosphere on the planet you just landed on and know nothing about such a good idea?

- Vickers (Charlize Theron), running in the one direction that will lead her to being squashed by a giant falling spaceship?

- Millburn the dumb biologist (Rafe Spall), who just wants to reach out and make friends -- even with the squishy alien penis-snakes?

- Space crew guy, walking straight up to his recently deceased, re-animated fellow shipmate who has spider-crawled his way across a space desert to space-murder everyone?

Most of these aren't necessarily unanswered questions, just incredibly stupid decisions that inform and support the characters in facepalm-worthy strokes. Holloway is a risk-taker! Vickers is a sheltered, prideful ice queen with probably little field experience who would rather try to outrun death than roll, like her unassuming and practical brunette counterpart, out of its way! Crew guy is, well, a redshirt, for lack of a better term. Yes, yes. There are reasons to be found here, if not particularly great ones.

The bigger questions have to do with two still-opaque entities: The Engineers and David, the increasingly creepy mayhem bot, Lawrence of Robotica.

In the prologue we see one Engineer take a dose of black space goo and tumble, dead and transmorphing, into the water -- thus presumably starting human life on Earth. So what is the goo? Prometheus builds a tech-driven world filled with great flying ships and alien holograms and C-section machines but is more concerned with ideas: Of creators and creation, of life and death cycling endlessly across the universe between humans and aliens, parents and offspring, scientists and their inventions. All children want to see their parents dead, according to David, who seems to be counting himself in that equation.

What is the goo, then? Is it the proto-material of a xenomorph? How does it work, exactly? Why would anyone feed it to the cute Tom Hardy-looking guy? And who created the Engineers, anyway? Does it even matter when the real question is asking why we create, and in the process, destroy?

Prometheus spoilers

The brilliance of Prometheus's stubborn insistence on not feeding us the answers is that they're not really important in the grand scheme of things, unless you require your movies to make sense. You know what else refuses to share vital information, instead choosing to provoke and see what happens? David. David, who has spent years in space flight amassing the breadth of human knowledge and yet cannot feel (or can he?), who has the answers -- or, at least, the instructions the Engineers have written in their mystery language on the sides of their sweaty weapons of mass destruction like how-to manuals -- and yet can't understand why it is that Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw MUST understand.

David, played marvelously by Michael Fassbender, remains the biggest mystery. He's tasked with one directive: Help Weyland find a way to live forever. You could build a strong case that everything David does is indeed in service of this goal. Weyland's mistake is in trusting a machine that doesn't think in human terms, but in practical ones; if there's no alien magic out there to Benjamin Button old man Weyland back into handsome, young Guy Pearce, David finds another way to help his master live forever: Through his legacy, by altering the course of human history (gladly, it seems) via one or two devious deceptions.

Consider the legacy of the man at the center of David's favorite film, as seen in Prometheus's sublime opening sequence. T.E. Lawrence was born in 1888, helped upset order in the Arab world in 1916, was immortalized on celluloid in 1962's Lawrence of Arabia, and then, years later in the world of Prometheus, inspired an android to not only imitate his blond coif but instigate the beginnings of the Alien universe in 2093. Lawrence is really the key to understanding David; in helping Weyland achieve his immortality by way of launching the destruction of humanity, David is immortalizing himself, and a part of me thinks that a part of him yearns to express this measure of often foolhardy human emotion. Or maybe he's just designed to be a close, but not close enough, imitation of the humans who built him?

Prometheus David

The more I think of David as a stand-in for Prometheus the movie at large, the less I care that Idris Elba figured out in five minutes what the Engineers were up to on this rinky dink planet, or that we'll never know what David whispered to the last remaining Engineer, a la ScarJo and Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. Those quibbles seem minor given the vast provocations the film leaves behind.

To an aggravatingly obvious extent, the gaping abyss of understanding that Prometheus leaves puts us, the viewer, in the position of Shaw -- still searching, desperately, for answers, with only a soulless computer brain as her guide. We are Shaw, and maybe the internet is our David, offering knowledge and spoilers at our fingertips but, unless Ridley Scott and writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof hop on a Reddit AMA session, no ready answers and plenty to be wary of. Big things come in small packages, and that goes for space goo, blond robots, and universe-expanding ideas.

So, all that said, what unsolved mysteries irked you the most in Prometheus? Sound off in the spoiler-friendly comments below and let's figure this sucker out.


Our colleagues at (PMC-owned) Beyond the Trailer pose a relevant question: "Is Prometheus an intellectual sci-fi thriller, or a pseudo-intellectual sci-fi thriller?" See what other real folks say in their impromptu exit poll.

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  • Mihai says:

    I think the whole point of the android character David is to reflect how creators actually behave with their creations (humans treat him pretty harsh, we know this is getting only worse in the future Alien films, especially Resurrection, where at some point they are massively destroyed and only a few, rogue ones remain because they are considered a threat to humanity) and how creations are expecting their creators to behave towards them, proving humans are total hypocrites. They expect their creators to be kind to them, but they treat their creations very badly, ultimately destroying them all.

  • joe says:

    I believe this film takes some concepts from mary shelly's frankenstein and the idea of how creators tend to inevitably bring doom to their creations when they become a hazard for them. This happens with david, and humans since it was ”the egineers” that created them. Since humans evolved and became advanced, the egineers believed the humans one day would posess a more sophistated form of mass destruction, even though the egineer's own technology says otherwise. This is why in future alien films, androids become antagonized and eliminated by their creators.

    • The reference to Lawrence of Arabia in both the Ted and theatrical scenes are of Lawrence extinguishing the...Promethian fire...with his own hand. It hurts but the trick--whether you're a corporate would-be-god, or an Engineer willing to sacrifice yourself to create new life, or to extinguish what you've created--is in not minding that it hurts...or at least miming, or pretending that it doesn't. The android, the mime cannot even mime this reaction since it cannot hurt. He is, in a way, the embodiment of this fire extinguishing concept. Like the Alien. The Engineer awakened, is quite calm until he perceives this facsimile of man--cold, charming, designed to deceive, sociopathic, unfeeling, superior and the man who created him--Weyland who is only slightly less devolved than his son. Genuine emotion ensues as he strikes down these weaponized utterly self serving people so similar to the Alien--which exists only for the basest, most instinctive reason--to procreate, to spread without feeling or reason. In the end, for Weyland, there is "nothing." The android lingers to either evolve back into humanity, the Engineers or the Alien. And I wouldn't be suprised to see Liz drink down a cup of self sacrifice and become the God she seeks by creating the new life she has thus far in all ways lamented... Good flick! Chris Skillings.

  • Alexander P. says:

    The film takes us back to the controversy of the creation of man. In our age of dawning genetic engineering, the possibility of having been created as a specie by some other life form can no longer be rejected, and the idea of God (The Genetic Engineer) is nothing to mock about. Another important thought would be: how to define life? Does it necessarily need to a biological entity? If the essence of "Blife" (biological life) is self-emerging and reproduction, then we also must allow the idea of "Alife" (artificial life), those complex sign processes that can self-emerge among high developed machines and software...

  • Yevhen says:


    The main thing with this film is if it gave us answers we would probably forget about the film soon.

  • Yevhen says:

    What the f..k mysteries are you talking about in the movie?
    - Why on Earth an engineer needs to swallow that liquid (goo as you say) and disintegrate? For me it is completely obscure. To create living beings like them? To create any living beings with their genetic code? OK. Why then should he kill himself? They (engineers) could have easily spread genetic material without killing themselves, just spread DNA moleculas taken from their blood and other genetic material. Today, we, being so much underdeveloped comparing to the engineers, are able to make clones of us easily, can extract genetic material from long ago died animals and persons to open their genetic code!!! So, I guess, at the level of development of the engineers and their technology they could have easily spread genetic material without killing themselves in such a stupid manner!!!!
    - Then, look at timing. As far as I understand and it is quite obviously that an engineer came to Earth long time ago, hundreds of thousand years ago when there were no life at all to create life 'in their image and likeness' (as said in Bible)! So, as we know from scientific studies primate evolution began about 85 million years ago. Hominids family appeared 20-15 miln years ago. So, the engineers should have come hundreds of millions of years ago to spread their genetic sequence, which then evolved into human beings through the process of evolution. In other case they should have come much later and just make "ready to use" clones of themselves and bless them!!! So, what is the idea here?! - in not making "ready to use" clones, which could be easily done by the engineers, but to spread genetic material so that it could evolve through the long process of evolution!? To plant the seeds of life? May be. But in that case we understand that the engineers should have come to Earth long, long time ago, if not millioins, but definitely hundreds of thousand years ago.
    - Now we turn to other aspect, which is frescos or petroglyphs found by two scientists in caves and on artifacts of various human societies. Here is two main points or deductions that we can make:
    First, it means that for all the time since planting "the seeds of life" the engineers monitored our evolution, didn't they?!
    Second, which naturally proceeds from the first obvious deduction and various pictures or depictions found by scientists, where the engineers showed early humans some constellation in the sky, leads to deduction that the engineers all this time where friendly to us, like real parents who brought up their children.
    - Then the next question is naturally arisen - why then that one engineer in the spacecraft was so hostile to humans when he saw them? Why?! And why those engineers who were depicted by ancient peoples showed that canstellation where they actually kept their spacecrafts with that destructive or whtaever liquid? Why on Earth? Then we know that they were going to ruin life on Earth with that monsterous liquid. Why? What was wrong with humans made in their image and likeness?! Or may our Earth be kind of lab for them? to create new species! But it sounds ridiculous. Thousands of years of evolution of humankind under the supervision by those engineers and then - complete destruction of what has been cerated?!
    So, do you have some ideas?

  • It might have been a spur of the moment thing--a quick and dirty effort to drive off the approaching ship which is dissimilar in appearance to the so called Engineers ships--and possibly a foe. This circular ship recalls the world sacking invader ships from Independance Day and moved the clouds similarly and if you listen carefully the soundtrack plays a riff of music from that film--as if referencing it. The ship appears to be landing but then it flees pretty quickly when that fellow prepares to unleash his powerful goo and shows his will and determination to resist by sacrificing his life.... Perhaps the force of his will and motivations even help to direct it.
    On another note... Much has been made about the death of Christ as a motivation for the Engineers to return and wipe us out. But it is possible that his sacrifice--just like that fellow at the beginning of the film--is what stopped them from actually doing so. Either by influencing some of the crew to rebel and sacrifice themselves along with their fellows or by influencing the goo itself--or somehow, both.
    A very interesting film that I keep watching and watching... Chris Skillings.

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  • Dean says:

    Why doesn't Weyland use he money and technology to have his consciousness transferred to an android body like David's instead of flying across the universe looking for a biological answer?

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