Prometheus, Kubrick and ambiguity

Last updated 09:49 04/07/2012

There is a difference between mysterious ambiguity and bad storytelling. I'm beginning to think that Prometheus may fall into the latter category.

I started thinking about Prometheus again last week after a reader of this blog said they were looking forward to seeing the documentary Room 237 at the New Zealand International Film Festival. It is a documentary about the multitude of possible meanings people believe are secretly encoded in Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece The Shining.

Kubrick's films attract grand theories because his work is inscrutable, meticulously researched and carefully calculated.

I have to my left this book, a fantastic collection of Kubrick's research, pre-production work and script for a Napoleon biopic that he never got to make. The book is more than two inches thick.

He clearly put years of thought into his films and imbued them with depth and meaning. His films are so carefully contructed that they merit greater study.

They prompted many fan letters that Kubrick carefully filed in his archive. Journalist Jon Ronson mentions one of those fan letters in this fantastic article about Kubrick's ordered archive.

So, where does Prometheus come into this? Well, while Kubrick's film have thoughtful and carefully orchestrated ambiguities, I think Prometheus might just be clumsy nonsense.

It's a shame - Prometheus director Ridley Scott used to be able to make films with artful ambiguities that people puzzled over for years. Blade Runner had thoughtful ambiguities, Prometheus does not.

I think the following sentence, from a remarkable analysis of Prometheus by blogger Brad Brevet, sums up my uncertainty over the film:

"I thought I'd offer up some exploratory thoughts in an attempt to figure out if what [Ridley] Scott and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof brought to life actually carries weight or if they had no real clue what they were doing and instead left the audience to do all the heavy lifting. Not that I mind doing the work, clearly, but I like to know I'm doing it for a reason."

So, here's my question. Does Prometheus actually make sense or is it all storytelling sleight-of-hand? Will the answers in an inevitable sequel be satisfying, or will it be like the last episode of Lost?

I'm not sure that it is worth doing the "heavy lifting" required to "decode" Prometheus. I think my time would be better spent considering the grand enigmas of Kubrick's work.

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Callum   #1   09:51 am Jul 04 2012

What a great post!

pctek   #2   09:54 am Jul 04 2012

Most movies have a lame excuse for a story, or no real story, or holes in the story you could drive a truck through, or a lam attempt the justify the carnage/action/"insert description" in it.

This is no different. For real story telling read a book. (Even some of them.....)sigh.

Michael   #3   10:01 am Jul 04 2012

Prometheus is just leaving questions for possible sequels, that's all.

Jess   #4   10:02 am Jul 04 2012

I don't know why you use Lost as an example of an unsatisfactory ending. I think the ambiguity of the finale is beautiful; it tells you everything just not in the way you wanted or expected. I fully closed, scientific ending may have worked in the early seasons but the show became something so much more than the science (or lack of) in the end.

Now to Prometheus, I am sure there is a well thought out explanation to the ambiguity of the beginning of the film. I don't think the writers would create such a complex story if they did not think it through. Maybe we are just not meant to know what the whole picture is at this time (we may never know), However I do agree that there is not enough of the story to intrigue me. It was very unsatisfying simply because they could have created a sense of there being something more to the story rather than having no connection or reference to it later on in the film. There is simply not enough subtext to read in to.

Chris   #5   10:04 am Jul 04 2012

Religious people are trying to rip this movie to shreds. Funny that.

Chris   #6   10:09 am Jul 04 2012

My comment contains spoilers ...

To be honest, I didn't really think of Prometheus as being a particularly deep film - it has the feel of a movie with a profound message of some kind or with many lingering questions, and I think people expect that it would because of the involvement of people like Lindelof and Scott - but in actual fact, I think it probably isn't any more complicated than simply exploring the question of who created us. I'm not sure what people think needs to be decoded.

andrew   #7   10:13 am Jul 04 2012

Lindelof is a hack and his script won't hold up to future scrutiny, especially if there is ever a sequel. Also too many illogical decisions were used to create questions. Had big expectations for Prometheus, but only found big disappointment.

sean   #8   10:43 am Jul 04 2012

@Chris #5 - lol, no they aren't - have you read a couple of angry blogs or something? Just because someone in their basement gets upset about something, you shouldn't extrapolate that across entire sections of the community.

The hilarious thing here is how people hold Kubrick up to be some kind of legend, and if you watch something like 2001 today, it doesn't stand up at all to scrutiny. It is a boring 2 hours of him self-pleasuring his ego.

And the fact that someone will trot out tired old cliches about how brilliant his stuff is, shows they are just regurgitating stuff they've read elsewhere.

Leon   #9   10:46 am Jul 04 2012

My assumption was that more would be answered in the inevitable sequels to Prometheus. My only question, is how would you pluralise Prometheus? Prometheii? Prometheusus? Prometheus Harder? Prometheus with a vengance?

Joe   #10   11:01 am Jul 04 2012

Spoiler alert follows:

For me personally, Prometheus was absolutely worth the time and effort. After seeing the film, I felt totally exhausted and satisfied. While there are many plot holes and some silly moments (Geologist and Biologist scene where they're stuck in the room, Shaw running around after her operation, Kamikaze pilots), the simple fact that the film required at least some intelligence to understand the plot makes it probably the best sci fi film released in the last few years at least.

However, most of the characters were poor and there were some gaping plot holes, but the acting from the better characters, cinematography, special effects and sets were all amazing. It may not reach the heights of Kubric's work (or even Philip K Dick) but I think it's most definitely connected to the Alien universe and that alone provides enough reason to investigate the links further. Also it's easy to forget that Star Wars, Blade Runner, 2001 A Space Oddysey also have their own faults and are not perfect.

There were some definite ambiguities present, and there was an abundance of symbolism. Many questions were raised, but hardly any of them were answered. Both classic traits of sci fi films, and something that will give fans stuff to ponder for many years to come.

This blog post gives a great overview of the film's symbolism, which I didn't think of during my initial viewing:

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