I went to see Prometheus last week with some good friends. I had been eagerly anticipating the film, both because it has a great cast and because I LOVED the original Alien film. I had seen the original in the theater in 1979 when I was 16 and very impressionable. Because the film had been written with no particular gender in mind for Ripley, the main character, she was a strong lead, with none of the usual frailties associated with female lead characters. I loved Sigourney Weaver in this role, a great role model for a 16-year-old girl. Despite the few hints of misogyny in this first of the franchise movies (for example, the ship is called Mother and when she “betrays” the crew, Ripley calls her a bitch), the portrayal of women is surprisingly positive, especially for its time. I couldn’t have articulated these thoughts when I was 16 but I knew I loved it and Sigourney/Ripley and the movie stuck with me, prompting me to see the many sequels as they were released.
Prometheus, like that first Alien movie, was directed by Ridley Scott, a director whose work I have enjoyed at times and hated at other times. But I have almost always found his films interesting, with lots to talk about. I remember seeing Thelma and Louise with friends and having a long debate about whether the film presents a feminist perspective. That was an engaging question, one for which the film provides no easy answers. Ridley Scott’s perspective on women has so often been thought-provoking.
So imagine my disappointment when Prometheus turned out to be not only a horrible, boring movie but one full of simplistic, misogynistic moments. To see why the movie is horrible and boring, read these comments. To see why the movie is misogynistic, keep reading here.
I was a bit concerned early on in the movie when we discover that out of the ship’s crew of 14, only 3 are women. Very small percentage, especially when you consider that the crew of the Nostromos (the ship from Alien) had 2 women out of 7. Still not a great percentage but better than Prometheus. I guess job discrimination based on gender isn’t one of the things we will have eradicated by 2093 (the year the movie takes place). Some people are probably rolling their eyes at me right now, thinking I’m focused on bean-counting. So I’ll move on to some more blatant examples.
Two fairly early scenes of casual misogyny were of no consequence to the plot and so it’s difficult for me to understand why they were included. In the first, the two pilots are discussing a bet that they’ve made. One of the pilots says that perhaps if the other wins, he could use the money to pay for a lap dance from Vickers. Meredith Vickers is the character played by Charlize Theron. She is a strong woman who is in charge of the mission that they are on. And yet, to these pilots, she is another woman whose main purpose in life should be to give them sexual pleasure. In another scene, when there is a horrible storm raging outside the ship and two of the crew members are stranded in it, Janek, the captain of the ship, asks Vickers to have sex with him. She says no. He makes another comment (I can’t remember what it is but it was something like “Come on. You’ve got nothing better to do.”) and she changes her mind. Neither of these two scenes has anything to do with subsequent events and seem only to serve the purpose of marking Vickers as a sex object.
But the plot line that annoyed me most and made me actively hate the movie involves Elizabeth Shaw, the character played by Noomi Rapace of Girl With a Dragon Tattoo fame. Shaw is the hero of this movie and it’s clear at the end that the filmmakers hope she will become the Ellen Ripley of a new movie franchise with many sequels. Shaw is the embodiment of the movie’s conservative agenda. She is an archaeologist whose motivations are almost comically driven by her faith in God. There are numerous scenes that I could point to but I’ll focus on just two. At some point in the plot, Shaw is unconscious and one of the other characters begins to remove her cross from around her neck. Sensing this, she immediately wakes up and protests. The other character insists and so she allows the cross to be removed. A bit later in the movie, with danger all around her, she takes time to search for her cross and when finding it, puts it back on, saying “That’s better.” At another moment, after she and her fiance have had sex, she finds (despite an earlier, ham-fisted scene in which expresses her sadness at her inability to “create life”) that she is pregnant and not just with any fetus. This is some sort of alien fetus that anyone would want removed from her body immediately. Despite having been impregnated less than 24 hours earlier, she declares her desire for a caesarean. That’s right. A caesarean. No abortion for this hero. She spends the rest of the movie being ridiculously active despite the 12-inch incision closed with staples in her lower abdomen. What kind of movie would equate a caesarean with an abortion? And what kind of movie can’t use the word abortion even when removing scary, killer, alien life form from a woman’s body? One with an extreme, right-wing, conservative agenda that sees women as nothing more than their sexual and reproductive abilities. No need to debate whether this movie has a feminist perspective. It takes more than putting a woman in a leading role to create a feminist perspective.
I hope the next movie that I’m looking forward to doesn’t turn out to be such a disappointment. I’ll let you know after I see Brave this weekend.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.