Nothing these characters do seems to make sense. For sure. I mean, the film just has the stupidest scientists ever. Damning in a project that has this much money, and such a renowned legacy to live up to. With that in mind, these basic lapses become unforgivable. This film is an abject failure in formal terms.
And yet, and yet...
I caught quite a late screening, and went straight home to bed afterwards. And I dreamed about it, vividly. The dream didn't repeat any of the scenarios or visuals in the film. To be honest, my dream was in many respects more awesome – featuring a reanimated tyrannosaurus rex imbued with a human consciousness, and a perpetual survivor protagonist like Abélard Lindsay from Schismatrix, who is there to observe the decay and death of the human race (I think some sort of wish fulfillment on my part maybe). It was all very Grant Morrison telling tales of the dying Earth. I wish I could remember more of it. Unfortunately, the dream was SO awesome it woke me up in the middle of the night. I made a concerted effort to memorize as much as possible and then promptly went back to sleep, so that failed. Anyway, the emotional state created by the film obviously has some kind of staying power, which was carried over into my sleeping life.
One line from the film in particular sent me down this rabbit hole. Paraphrased: "they created us and now they want to kill us, I need to know why". It got me thinking about the desire to understand your origin and the origin of the universe, and how this has manifested historically in the imagination of great benevolent beings that have sacrificed themselves to bring about life. The opening sequence of the film makes this Promethean myth literal. But the universe these gods have created, not to mention the very stuff of humanity, is dangerous. The gods are not only capricious but murderously so. The void beyond our tiny planet is an inhospitable nightmare. The universe is not benevolent. It is out to kill us. We are now facing down an environmental cataclysm that may very well lead to our annihilation. We now have the technological capacity to wipe out our entire civilization. Like the Engineers in this film, if we are not careful our weapons may be the end of us.
For me, the film is less about the act of creation and more about the feeling of being created, without knowing the reasons why, and the slowly dawning realization that we may become extinct NEVER knowing the reasons why. It reminds me of that time as a teenager when I was grappling with these questions. Specifically, I remember reading about the impact a supervolcano or a meteor can have on the Earth, and recoiling in horror at the possibility of so much unaccountable human death. Emotionally, I had to convince myself that such colossal meaningless destruction would never be allowed to happen, something must exist to prevent it. I couldn't otherwise cope or process that glimpse into the very purposelessness of existence. It was a kind of existential nausea, perhaps. Or maybe something closer to Lovecraftian cosmic horror.
Alien may owe something to Lovecraft, I don't know – the cold iron maiden embrace of deep space. The xenomorph was also a creature of single-minded predatory sexuality, an image of the most destructive, dehumanizing aspects of the human psyche. Both of these ideas are in Prometheus, although actually its most terrifying scene is the med-pod sequence where Shaw gives birth to a totally repellent, rapacious squid creature. The body horror was so acute I had to look away from the screen for several seconds (and I thought I was relatively inured to scary movies by now). If it alludes to the virgin birth, it is all the more irreverent and disconcerting: suggesting in stark terms that humans have the capacity to spawn mewling needy selfish monsters, and that mothers may find their children utterly inexplicable and disgusting.
Film Crit Hulk, whose writing I have recently discovered and have fallen very hard for (dude is so otm on everything), has argued that the film's insistence that the gods do not explain their ways to man, whilst being a worthy theme, also necessarily leads to unsatisfying drama. Instead, Lindelof should have had the courage to supply his own explanation in the face of a meaningless reality – human beings having always created meaning through storytelling and artistic endeavour. I don't think that advice is correct, because despite the endless idiocy of the characters and the senselessness of the plot, the ideas behind the film still managed to evoke a very strong emotional response, at least for me (as I have indicated, I'm rather susceptible to the concerns of this film). I think there could have been a way to fix the mechanics of the film's story whilst preserving the thematic foundation which Lindelof pitched for the film, and which supplies its peculiar horror. We shouldn't discount the possibility that Lindelof is a good guy with interesting ideas who just isn't very good at the nuts and bolts of storytelling.