Prometheus: More on the Faith of Elizabeth Shaw and Brief Musings on the Title

The Climax of the Movie

When I wrote about Elizabeth Shaw’s faith previously, I built a bit of tension around her conclusion on spiritual matters. The movie climaxes on her answer to David’s statement, “After everything, you still believe.” The climax isn’t on the spaceship, or the getaway, or the battle, or anything like that. The movie climaxes on Elizabeth’s statement of faith.

Which is nothing.

I mean, she actually says nothing.

Like, David comments on her faith and then there’s silence. And then the scene cuts.

So what does she believe in?

Let’s infer what her answer is. Her faith before the events of the movie was pretty flimsy. As far we know, she’s only a Christian because her dad casually mentioned that this is the faith they’ve chosen. So they don’t believe necessarily believe it because it’s true or satisfying or reasonable.They simply chose it. And a faith based purely on freedom of choice isn’t very compelling.

Now, Shaw has learned some very important bits about the beginning of our species. Very important bits which seem to directly deny the claims of Christianity.

These marble-like giants share our DNA pattern, so the Christian God apparently didn’t create us in the way described in the Bible. So how is her decision to continue to believe at all reasonable?

That’s what David was getting at. This is the question she didn’t answer. I’m going to give it a shot.

She still believes because she has to. The new facts about man’s beginnings may seem at first to indicate a source of human life other than the Christian God. This forces Elizabeth to question her view of this God she’s so casually followed all her life. The Christian God seemed to comfort her by reminding her of her father. Like, that seemed like maybe all He was doing for her; or all she would let Him do for her. And when an attribute of His threatened, she has to address it. She may have been fine being a casual Christian until the events of the movie forced her to confront the doubts about human origin.

If she could have just not known about the Engineers, she never would have had to take a position on human origin. But now that she knows, she has to say either, “Christianity does not make sense in light of the new knowledge of the Engineers,” or, “Christianity is true and just because the Engineers were apparently left out of my religion’s history doesn’t necessarily mean that the Christian God isn’t still the Creator of all things.”

In this story, David’s the one that loses his head to Goliath.

Elizabeth says something like the second thing. In fact, earlier in the movie, when her boyfriend cruelly chuckles at the effect the discovery of the Engineers would likely have on Elizabeth’s Christianity, she simply states that the Engineers didn’t spontaneouly create themselves. So something bigger had to make them. Perhaps that was God Himself.

She saw it coming

The robot’s fun function!

The discovery of the shared DNA with the Engineers didn’t shake Elizabeth’s faith. No, in fact, I think it confirmed it. Remember her character’s history. She has spent years, her entire professional life searching for this exact thing. When we first meet her she’s digging around caves, specifically looking for an unlikely connection between the primitive races of earth. So when she finds the connection and proves their shared source, she doesn’t really have to be surprised. And she’s not. Everyone else is surprised that she was right. And everyone else expects her to denounce her faith as if she hadn’t ever considered this before. She’s spent her whole life thinking about the beginnings of our race! Of course she’s considered what this discovery would mean for her Christianity. And she’s concluded that it does nothing. The Engineers may have been the source from which humans come from directly, but that doesn’t mean that God didn’t make us. Neither does it mean that we have to be the “Man” that God made. Maybe the giant white creatures are the original humans. Maybe we’re some kind of weaker, corrupted issue of the original humans.The point is, Elizabeth wasn’t shocked by her discovery. She devoted her life to proving it. And before the movie ever really began, she had found a way to continue to be a Christian without closing her eyes to evidence.

Testing her faith

The events of the movie didn’t stop her from being a Christian. They brought her into a deeper faith actually. This faith of her childhood wasn’t just needed to occasionally remind her of her dad anymore. It became a faith tested by doubt, tested by death, tested by isolation.

A faith tested is stronger than a faith assumed. Elizabeth Shaw’s faith survived the doubt. No problem, she was ready for it. Her faith was then tested by seeing multiple people die, including the man she loved. So she could have easily slumped into a “Why me God?” kind of position. And with the crew of the Prometheus all dead, she was all alone on the terrible planet. Again, here’s another chance for her to get pissed at God.

A faith that continues after being tested by doubt, death, and isolation isn’t a faith simply chosen, as her father described it. A faith like that is granted to the person.

And now this woman is left alone with the head of an android, man’s greatest technological achievement, to learn more about these other humans that her God mysteriously made.

Prometheus Unbound

So in this movie who was Prometheus and what was the fire?

In the story this movie gets its name from, Prometheus was a higher being – a god, on Mount Olympus with Zeus – who gave fire to the humans, earning hatred from Zeus, and providing man with the greatest and most dangerous power he ever possessed.

To identify the analogs in the movie, we have to isolate the exchange between a higher being and a lower being. We could guess that the Engineer at the beginning, who died to provide life for humans on earth, is a Prometheus-like figure. Or that the race of engineers generally are Prometheus and human life is the fire.

What about David? He’s a lower lifeform. He’s given life and speech and mobility by Weyland.

But he’s just a robot then. When Weyland died, David became free to do what he wanted. He entered a state much like man did in his early days, free to choose. His body just wasn’t connected to his head – which I’m sure will be repaired soon.

In David’s early stages of freedom, the first higher level creature he encounters is Elizabeth. And Elizabeth stoops down and subtly reveals her continued faith in God. Now, right there you have a higher being and a lower being and a gift that is capable of much power, both constructive and destructive.

Elizabeth is Prometheus! David is man. And faith in God is the fire.

For his gift of fire to the humans, Prometheus was bound to a rock, visited daily by an eagle who would feast on ever-regenerating liver. But he’s eventually freed. Zeus chained him up and Zeus’ recklessness freed him. Prometheus knows that Zeus’ son Hercules will cause his downfall and that will secure his own freedom.

Sadly the play which describes these events, Prometheus Unbound, is lost to us. Presumably Aeschylus had Hercules actually visit Prometheus in his prison, kill the eagle that had been tormenting him, and free him. Some scholars even guess at a reconciliation between Zeus and Promtheus. But we’ll likely never know for sure.

We can guess at how the events of the play may impact the plot of any future Prometheus movies from Ridley Scott. Perhaps the humans of earth, represented by Elizabeth Shaw, will reconcile with our long-lost brothers, the giant white aliens. Maybe David, the impossible child of both races, will serve as Hercules, freeing the humans from some future torment inflicted on humans by the engineers.

Or maybe Elizabeth will follow in Prometheus’ name and be bound by her genetic brothers, the Engineers. Perhaps only to be discovered years later…



2 thoughts on “Prometheus: More on the Faith of Elizabeth Shaw and Brief Musings on the Title

  1. Ya know, after I saw this movie, and subsequently excited for another Alien-like movie, the first question that popped into my head was, “Who was Prometheus?” I had gone to see it with my dad and we had a pretty conversation about it (the movie). Questions about death, life, how the aliens are death, how it was ironic that the creatures that the white guys created were used for complete annihilation of races, rose up against their creators and killed the, supposedly, only surviving one. So, maybe, the fire is freedom? Humans were free to choose their actions in the movie. Weyland was free to choose to steal an unknown pod thing to use for his own goals. Shaw was free to give up her faith. Once the alien was conceived and free from the womb, it was free to kill. Just a thought. Great post Mickey! I look forward to reading more.

    • Good thoughts, Dave.

      I think the movie is oblique enough to allow multiple interpretations – each as verifiable by the vague film as the next. For instance, I completely neglected to mention anything about the xenomorphs and their role in the whole thing, and I think you’ve offered a pretty complete theory about their place in the whole story.

      And I’m glad Scott didn’t feel the need to quick patch everything up at the end. He asked some big questions and was humble enough to not answer them. That same humility wasn’t possessed by Shatner when he made his similarly themed Star Trek V. Shatner’s not humble. Go figure!

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