I so wanted to love Prometheus, from the first chilling trailer. I was too young to get into the Alien movies when they came out, so I never really caught on to that mythos even though I respected its place in pop culture. With this obvious prequel (much as Fox and Ridley Scott tried to throw us off the scent) coming to theaters, I thought that I would finally join this club. What I walked away with was not a new addition to my favorite/endlessly rewatchable movies list, but instead a cinematic experience that I could appreciate piece-by-piece if not as a whole. One of those pieces being the superb performances, led by Michael Fassbender as Weyland Corporation android David.
The consensus among critics (with which I unfortunately have to agree) seems to be that Prometheus was wonderfully ambitious in setting up the film’s world — with TED talks and other viral marketing — and its specific questions about where we came from, but when it attempts to fill in those blanks, it stumbles. But oh, that worldbuilding. One of the enduring archetypes of Scott’s movies, Alien and otherwise, has been the android, the synthetic human attempting to blend in with the humans or setting himself apart entirely.
One of Alien‘s biggest twists was the reveal that crewmember Ash was actually a robot; I read an essay earlier this week that credits the movie with managing to distract us enough with, you know, the facehuggers and chest-bursters that we never even thought about whether this universe included androids. By the time we get to Prometheus, Weyland and David aren’t trying to fool anyone. Consider this brilliant piece of viral marketing that introduces us to the ship’s strange butler and caretaker:
In his pseudo-interview, David says, “I can carry out directives that my human counterparts might find… distressing, or unethical.” It’s that slight pause that raises your hackles and has you thinking that David’s actions may not always be in humans’ best interests.
At the same time, you want to level with him because he’s the first character we meet, and because Fassbender infuses him with such ardent longing to be human. We witness David tending the Prometheus while the humans are frozen in cryogenesis: He plays basketball in an obvious allusion to Alien Resurrection, reads the humans’ dreams like you would a book, and models his appearance and diction off Peter O’Toole‘s iconic cinematic character T.E. Lawrence from Lawrence in Arabia. (Fassbender has said that he also took inspiration from the Lawrence character, as well as David Bowie.)