“Who doesn’t love an orgy, Jack?,” Prometheus co-writer Damon Lindelof asked me, possibly being the first person to ask me such a thing. But, really, who could disagree with Mr. Lindelof? Ridley Scott‘s sci-fi opus is filled with all kinds of beings, making for the vicious and high-minded brand of orgy. What does the film have to say about if we, our creators, and our creations all got together and “partied” for a few days?

In short: we’d eat each other.

Prometheus is a story of characters making mostly questionable decisions, leading to horrific events. Even at the end when a character acknowledges humanity’s greatest flaw, that said character continues to do what they all get wrong in the first place, which is: asking too many questions. The film is about the dangers of searching for answers, a hurdle Lindelof, as a writer, has famously faced before.

Here’s what the screenwriter had to say about the dark and hopeful side of Prometheus, the egoism of David, and the Mad Libs-esque storytelling he’s drawn to in our spoiler-heavy discussion:

We spoke at Comic-Con, and one remark I find interesting and disagree with, after seeing the film, is how you see the film as hopeful.

I don’t know. I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder, but I feel like, if you look at the movie through the prism of it’s Daniel in the lion’s den, and Shaw is Daniel, and the idea is: because she has faith she is able to survive. At the end, she has the choice to go and be safe, with no imminent force coming towards Earth, and just rest on her laurels or go back in the lion’s den, with potentially more lions and maybe some hornets too. Perhaps there is a darkness in that choice, but I look at it through the prism of, saying, “Wow, that’s kind of hopeful, the idea that someone could go through the ringer like that and still not be fundamentally shaken by it, on a spiritual level.” You know, that’s what makes us humans human. Either we’re complete and total morons or that’s the only reason to be alive, which is: we can put a positive spin on an incredibly negative series events.

[Laughs] I took it as we’re moronic and human error wins.

[Laughs] That’s a very interesting way of looking at it.

[Laughs] Wouldn’t you say a lot of the movie is about characters making mistakes?

Yes, but I feel like, in the same way that David is programmed with a very strict set of instructions and a goal that he has to carry out, we are programmed too. In fact, we can’t overcome that programming. One of the things we are programmed to do is ask these questions about our own existence, which is fraught with peril, frustration, disappointment, and… I’m reading a review of Prometheus right now. No, it’s sort of like going mad trying to determine what’s going to happen to me when I die, what’s the meaning of my life, why was I made, and who made me? These are questions we can’t help but to wonder about, and it’s in our programming. So, if you gave us the opportunity to answer these questions, we would not stop. We’re dogs at the bone, you know? We gotta go after it, even if we know we’ll probably die in the process or, at the end of that line, are all those things I talked about: disappointment, and that’s the whole point of that conversation between Holloway and David, where David says, “Why did you make me?,” and Holloway says, “Because we could.” David tells him to imagine how disappointing it would be if that’s what your makers told you, and it’s completely and totally true. When David asks Holloway what he would do to get his answers, after saying all that, Holloway doesn’t even hesitate, saying, “Anything and everything.”

What about the approach to David, would you call that cynical? He’s always looked down on in the film.

Right. The reality is we made him in our own image, and in and of itself, that’s a huge fundamental egoism. Holloway even asks why he puts on the helmet, since he doesn’t breathe, so Holloway tries to dehumanize this guy. At the same time, we’re fascinated with this idea of making robots look exactly like us, and there’s really no rhyme or reason to it. David would be just as effective if he rolled around like Robby from Forbidden Planet.

One of the things I think is really cool about David, as a character and Fassbender’s portrayal of him, is that there’s no part of David that wants to be a real boy. He is not enamored by humanity or jealous by our ability to experience emotions. He’s basically thinking, “You’re morons.”

[Laughs] You mentioned the danger of searching out answers, and I was wondering, how does that apply to you as a storyteller? When you’re raising questions, like with this film, what do you see as making for satisfying answers?

The short answer is: I’ll let you know when I figure it out. This is going to be, sort of, the bane of my existence. I’m very quickly finding myself branded as the guy who asks questions he’s not particularly interested in answering. I don’t look at myself as that guy, but when I take a step out of my body and look at my work, I go, “Oh, yeah, of course, that’s completely fair to categorize me that way.” At the same time, that’s just the storytelling I’m drawn to. Some people might think that it’s ambiguous storytelling or not clearly defined, but, for me, it’s… I get very excited and categorized by stories where I have to fill in the blanks. It’s sort of like Mad Libs, in a way; it’s custom made, for the viewer.

When you go and look at a piece of art you’re going to take something away from it that’s entirely different from the person who was just standing in front of that canvas five minutes ago, and I think that’s the kind of story I want to tell. I do have an intention, and I’m not just throwing stuff out there in an arbitrary way and don’t have the answers for those questions. I have answers for all those questions, but I don’t want to force my answers on the viewers, as if they’re the only possible answers. At times, that’s going to blow up in my face, and that’s the price I have to pay. I won’t say I’m glad to pay it, but I will say, I am willing to pay it.

You recently said there are two types of answers: The Matrix Reloaded‘s architect who spells it all out and the way Lost went about dealing with its questions. Prometheus seems to be in that middle-ground you mentioned. To get there, did you take a different approach than you did with Lost?

Well, first off, there was a huge safety net here, in that it was me realizing Ridley’s vision. Obviously Jon Spaiht had already written a draft, so this wasn’t me walking into a room, saying, “Ridley Scott, I have an idea for you to revisit the Alien universe, and here’s how it’s going to go!” This is me really servicing a visionary director who made one of, if not the, greatest science-fiction film all those 30 years ago. He called me probably because I am interested in that form of storytelling. In that Venn diagram between what Ridley Scott wants to do and the kind of writing I like to do, that’s where the movie is going to live.

Obviously it’s enormously refreshing for me to hear you say you feel like this movie’s in the sweet spot, but we both have to acknowledge I’ve spoken to many people today — and there will be others on twitter and online — who will feel like the movie wasn’t in the sweet spot, at all. What’s fascinating is you think it’s in the sweet spot, some people will think the movie is overly explicit, and some will think the movie was frustratingly in-explicit, and then I’ll go, “Well, I guess I did my job right.”

You’ve always talked about a secretive core idea that you and Ridley wanted to tell. What was that idea? 

Essentially, for me, the core of the Alien franchise was a movie about creation, the idea that here are these eggs lying out in the galaxy somewhere holding these things that could get attached to your face, and in the combination with humans it would birth an indestructible killing machine. That’s a powerful franchise idea. Now, taking a step back, we’re saying, “Let’s re-explore this concept through the concept of creation. Let’s put mankind’s creators, mankind, and the beings mankind created all in the same room together, and have them screw and see what comes out.” That would be an interesting movie, both thematically and in terms of thrills, etc. It’s sort of this big, horrific orgy, and who doesn’t like an orgy, Jack?

[Laughs] Was there ever a cut that further explored the idea of Vickers being an android?

I would say, did we explore the idea of Vickers being a robot? Well, is there anything in the movie that says she’s not?

It hints at it, but I ask because Charlize Theron said there were different iterations of that character.

Yes. For us, it was important for Janek to ask the question and for Vickers to say, “Come down to my room, and I’ll show you if I’m a robot or not.” But what does she show him? Can robots in 2093 have sex? That’s as much as we wanted to explain it. I will say this, it sure seems she got crushed pretty hard.

Prometheus is now in theaters.


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