This will be the first review I’ve written from my new little studio, so now you know. Also, I want to mention that I took notes while watching this movie so I would be able to write a more accurate and involved synopsis, but have you ever tried to write in a dark theater? It does not go well. I’ve looked back at my notes before starting this and they resemble a bunch of pencil-colored string, put it in a knotty ball and thrown on a white ground with a few decipherable words like “ABORTION!” and “David saves them plus head.” So I am going to write this mostly for memory.
Let me start by talking a little bit about the title of this movie. From my brief skim of Wikipedia on the mythological figure, Prometheus was the dude who created humans out of clay. Then he stole fire from the heavens and gave it to his new little clay friends, us. He was punished for it (the most famous myth of his) by being stuck up on a mountain where every day an eagle comes and eats his liver. The next day he grows his liver back, so the eagle comes and eats it day after day. Constant suffering. Some other things about Prometheus: he has come to be the symbol of striving for scientific knowledge, a sort of Lone Lab Ranger that is forced to suffer for the progression and advancement of humankind. And (thanks again, Wikipedia) one of my most favorite novels, Frankenstein, is also titled The Modern Prometheus. This later association with Prometheus is sort of more along the lines of what the movie is all about. Because you know what? This movie is a freaking MONSTER.
It’s all very confusing and intense and the film does this lovely job of not holding the viewer’s hand. It also does this thing where its pretty calm and chill and then it GETS INTENSE AND DOES NOT STOP UNTIL THE END. I will continue talking on a more general level because I just can’t stop gushing.
Some reviews have said this is a combination of “ALIEN” and “2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY.” They obviously haven’t seen “SPLICE.” I would say this movie is a three way combination of these three effed up and awesome movies. Sorry, one more thing I want to say before I start actually synopsizing. Eee! Me and UT were walking around Lincoln Square before going into the sturdy old Davis theater (which smells better and costs more than my childhood visits), and we ran into Brian and Lindsey–who are moving to a really up and coming little town, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, called Cleveland?–and they had just recently seen Prometheus. All they could say about it was that it was very gory and graphic. That was it. They said they would make these freaked out faces during the gory scenes and look at each other with open mouths and “what the eff” expressions on their faces and then turn back to the movie. When I heard this, and when I heard that this was all they could think to share with us, I was so excited. Those are my most favorite kinds of movies; where your face makes freaked out expressions because you just can’t help it, because the MOVIE did that to you. The MOVIE manipulated your face like that. That’s the power of cinema.
Okay, so Prometheus opens with pans of some beautiful, large and heavy landscapes. Stuff that’s sort of like these pictures, but more gray, more ominous, and more empty and expansive. A scary guy who is also huge and quite gray and not human
(though now that I think about it, reminiscent of muscular marble statues of Prometheus) stands at the edge of a waterfall (also gray) and above him, a spaceship hovers in the slate sky. He is not human. He gets naked and drinks this bubbling black liquid and then he just screams and disintegrates and falls into the waterfall. His DNA floats all around. Now, this is VERY confusing because the black liquid seems to be destroying him and screwing with his DNA, but there are a few different theories about the function of the black liquid in this anomalous opening scene. I concluded that THIS black liquid was used to break up this alien dude into little tiny DNA particles that then evolve into us: Human Beings. Although the black liquid is destructive and toxic, I believe they were attempting to create a species with their DNA, but one that would somehow be more immune to the black liquid–that we will meet in many different forms–from later in the film.
The next scene takes place in 2089. Some scientists are looking at a cave in Australia or something and they see a cave painting of a dude pointing to six dots in the sky.
This, unfortunately, has some conflicts with my earlier hypothesis about the opening scene. First of all, how would humans know about this star formation that is light years away if they evolved from the river DNA? Second, if the aliens painted these images, why do they look like cavemen did them? The only possible explanation then, is that the aliens came back and visited earth and this symbol is one that was particularly snappy that early humans grasped on to. Either way, scientists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie have been discovering these paintings all over the world. This is the earliest one that they have found. They gaze at it and hold hands. Next scene.
Now it is 2093 and we are in space on the Prometheus, their flying vessel. David, a well coiffed robot, takes care of the ship while everyone else is sleeping. He watches movies and plays basketball on a little bike. He throws the ball up while riding his bike in a circle and makes a basket. Then he also does this thing where he puts his hand on the glass where Elizabeth Shaw is sleeping and reads her dreams. She’s in India or somewhere like that with her father observing a funeral. They talk about how her mother is dead, too. Kind of a shitty thing to dream about. Elizabeth’s a tough cookie, though. David also drinks lovely milky neon liquids from rounded cups. Then he makes his way back to check on the passengers and finds that one of the pods is open. Charlize Theron is already up and about and doing push ups. When I went to google image search this, “Charlize Theron push ups” automatically came up. It is clear that she has done this kind of travel before. Everyone else begins to wake up and Elizabeth is puking a lot because her body is in shock. The captain, who is Stringer Bell from The Wire, is smoking and making a little Christmas tree. Charlize Theron is like, “What. Is that?” she is disgusted. It also seems like she might not have ever seen one. She’s wearing an impeccable futuristic suit and is very clean while everyone else around is coughing and smoking and puking. Then they have a meeting where we find out that the mission of the Prometheus and the crew is to explore this planet where Elizabeth and Charlie believe we will meet the people who created humans. One guy says, “why would we want to do that?” and the answer was met with quizzical looks. We also see a video of this guy named Peter Weyland who is funding the voyage, and says by the time the crew sees the video he will be dead. (Or WILL he?) He has a little dog in the video which I thought was cute and he says some rather insensitive things to David. Basically that he has no soul and he cannot die. Do we see a shadow of saltiness cast a dark spot over David’s brow? We may. He may be more conniving than androids should be. But I guess we can talk about that later. There is a rather hostile exchange between Meredith Vickers (Charlize), who represents the company that is funding the expedition, and the scientists. She basically tells them that they will function as her employees. Also, she orders a “vodka, up.” Elizabeth sees a med pod in Vicker’s residence. She ooohs and ahhhhs explaining that there were only about 10 made in the world. Vickers tells her to please not touch it.
They arrive at the planet, and there is a bit of Phillip Glass inspired music that plays while they land. Charlie, who is kind of a douche-bag through the whole film, and who is always very disrespectful to David, says he wants to go explore the planet. He says something dumb like, “I don’t want to wait to open my Christmas presents.” So they go to check out this hill-like structure. The scientists are very excited and have these great bubble heads that they keep bumping on people. Also, Charlie does this intimate little excited head butt on Elizabeth, because they have been researching this their whole lives and finally get to see the planet from the drawings, and maybe meet their maker.
At this point UT turned to me and said, “those scientists are so young! I don’t believe they did all that research and are still so young!” this is true. I totally agree. We will just have to suspend our disbelief.
One guy, the geologist I think, sends out his “pups,” which are little computerized flying balls that create a map of the space for captain Janek to see back on the ship. Inside the cave, water is falling and Charlie, like a total idiot, takes off his helmet. Everyone else, like total idiots, follow suit. They explore. David sees some carvings in a stone, and since he has studied tons of ancient languages, is able to open a door sort of. He also fingers some green goo. (?) Then these sort of hologram figures run past everyone and the crew freaks out. Everyone dodges the apparitions except for David, who sort of absorbs one as it runs right through him. In my notes, I wrote “David gets a soul.” And it’s sort of true, because from this point on David is a tough one to read. His motives are mysterious and not completely robotic. So anyway, they follow the trail of the holograms to another sort of door where a real dead body is lying, decapitated, by the closed door. Without asking for permission, David just opens this door. Elizabeth and the other lady are examining the decapitated head of this creature and David explores the room a little. There are things on the ceiling that look like paintings, but they change during the time that the crew is in there. There are also a ton of things that look sort of like bowling pins all set up on the floor.
There’s a storm coming in, says the captain to them from the ship, they’d better get back on board to wait this thing out. There is a question as to what sparks the storm. It might be their presence in that room that messes up the atmosphere. So Elizabeth and the other girl bag the head and David, like a wierdo, packs up one of the bowling pins and they make a run for it. Oh, I forgot to mention that the geologist and another guy left earlier because they were freaked by the dead alien body. Unfortunately, they go the wrong way and get lost so they have to wait out the storm in the cave place. Vickers threatens to close the doors of the ship if they don’t get back in time. The crew is racing against a giant cloud of storm. They are all in except the head gets blown off the car, and Elizabeth, like a dumb person, runs after it and is swept up in the wind. Oh and then Charlie, like a dumb person, runs after her. Luckily David goes out with a cable tied to him and saves them and the head from imminent death. Whew!
Inside Elizabeth and the lady scientist are playing with the head. It looks like this. But they find that it is only a helmet and inside is the head of something resembling a human! They trick the head into believing it’s alive and it starts making really scary faces and twitching. They cover it in glass and right as they do that IT EXPLODES!!! Whoa. But Elizabeth finds out that this head’s DNA matches human DNA. Pretty huge discovery. At the same time, David has conveniently slipped away to play with his bowling pin. He takes a bit of the black liquid and meets up with Charlie, who is sitting at the pool table and drinking heavily. Why is he drinking heavily while his girlfriend plays with an alien head? I do not know. It does not seem characteristic of a scientist who has spent his life studying this alien “engineer.” But anyway, he says mean things to David and David dips his finger WITH A BLACK LIQUID DOT ON IT in a drink he gives to Charlie. But I have something to say here. First of all, it was pretty obvious that David dipped his finger in Charlie’s drink. If I were Charlie, I would immediately be like, “That’s gross. Why did you dip your finger in my drink. What the eff, android?” but instead, Charlie drinks it because he’s a jerk. Then he goes back to the room, visibly wasted, and for some reason, Elizabeth does him, even though he accidentally talks shit to her about how she is barren and can’t create life. What a jerk. I was so glad when he got sick from the black dot of liquid David slipped him.
Meanwhile Janek is hanging out and in a bit of communication with the two guys who were left in the hill. He tells them to try to stay warm and wait it out. One of the pups occasionally picks up traces of life, but Janek seems convinced it’s malfunctioning since it’s very sporadic. But he tells the lost crew down there and they freak out. They also see a bunch of alien corpses. Not too pleasant. So they go back to the room with the bowling pin-like structures and now there is sort of oozing black liquid around. Also they see some slithering. Then some crazy shit happens: 1 this little snake-like thing that also looks a little like a penis twists itself around one guy’s arm and breaks it, 2 the other guy tries to cut it off, but the black goo that comes out of it burns his helmet, 3 he falls down screaming and the creature slithers into the dude’s mouth. This is where things get intense and don’t stop. Meanwhile again, Vickers wanders into Janek’s area and Janek asks if she’s a robot. She’s pretty offended by this and so to show she’s human, she acquiesces to having a quickie with him. That’s how he doesn’t hear the screams of the two guys back in the cave.
The next morning Charlie has red, messed up eyes. They all go back to the caves to find the other two guys. Oh man, they are dead, and the slithery thing slithers out of the guy’s head. David has, yet again, slipped off to do some other shady things. Vickers asks him to feed directly into her special room which is also a life-boat. But guess what David cuts her off when he gets to a very interesting room. Vickers says, “that son of a bitch cut me off.” Meanwhile Charlie is pretty busted up. He can’t really walk, he’s really sick. Things are bad. So the crew hurries him back to the ship for medical treatment. Meanwhile David activates another hologram and stands in the middle of a whole space hologram situation and sees the aliens doing their own thing. We begin to realize that they are in some sort of vessel and that David is standing in the main operation room of the vessel. He sees that there is an alien with a beating heart in a little pod. OMG! So they all get to the door of the ship, but Vickers won’t allow Charlie on the ship. She’s afraid he will contaminate everyone. So Charlie, who is clearly in serious pain approaches her, and says, “Do it.” And she blow torches him. Elizabeth is totally horrified and is put under sedation. She wakes up and David says that she’s pregnant which she can’t believe for a couple reasons: the first being she knows that she is physically unable to have kids, and the second reason is because she was in stasis for a couple of years and the only time she had sex was last night. But SOMETHING is inside her and it is developing fast. Very, very fast. He gives her another shot and tells her he’s going to but her back into stasis. She then lies on this table while they are about to put her under, then she kicks them away and runs to the med pod in Vicker’s suite. She’s in major pain and her stomach is moving all weird. She types “ABORTION” into the med pod. And the med pod replies it is designed only for men. (Which deeply annoys me. I think that is the dumbest little detail and it makes me angry that that would be the case for such a state of the art machine) so she types “FOREIGN OBJECT, LOWER ABDOMEN” and gets in. The machine cuts open her stomach, and she’s screaming and her stomach is about to explode (think ALIEN) but the machine is able to extract this: And the thing is squirming and growing as it is being held up in the pincers with which it was extracted. Oh man, it’s so messed up. Then the machine staples her stomach closed and she runs off and looks like this: And she stumbles into a room where she finds David tending to…Peter Weyland! What the hell? He should be dead! But he’s not! He wants to find the aliens so that they will show him how to live forever! Of course they will show him how to live forever! David sees Elizabeth and in a very blase tone, says, “Your survival instinct is very powerful. I didn’t think you had it in you. No pun intended.” If I were Elizabeth I might have attacked him because that was a snarky thing to say to someone who just had an alien violently removed from her uterus. Old man Peter and Vickers have a moment and she calls him “Father.” So that’s a thing is also don’t get because she’s super young and he’s super old. Is it because she does so much space travel? Possibly.
So anyway they all leave Vickers on the ship and go back to the main room and David wakes up the one alien from its little pod. David talks to it in this ancient language, and it looks at them all quizzically. Then it effing WHACKS OFF DAVID’S HEAD and KILLS the old man, and Elizabeth, who has just given herself an abortion, runs away. Oh also? Charlie wakes up outside the ship and attacks a bunch of people. He’s very powerful. Janek is able to destroy him, but not without some injuries and mayhem.
Janek and the rest of the crew (besides Vickers) realize that shit has gotten very real. Elizabeth communicates to Janek that they can’t leave because if they do, they will have no home to go to; earth will be destroyed. The aliens are carrying a biological weapon and are VERY VIOLENT. They are headed to earth to destroy it. I don’t get how she came to this conclusion, but the black liquid shit in there is VERY POWERFUL and VERY DESTRUCTIVE, and the thing that we thought was a cave or mound of some kind is actually a space ship. Janek makes a serious decision and tells Vickers that he’s going to fly into the alien ship to stop it from getting away. Vickers makes a run for her separate pod and just barely breaks off from the ship as it collides. She gets out and gets smooshed by the falling ship. Meanwhile, Elizabeth wakes up with her suit saying she only has two minutes of oxygen left. Elizabeth is so bad ass. Vickers, Charlize Theron’s character is a wuss with Daddy issues compared to her. So anyway, she makes it back to the “lifeboat” part of the ship that broke off from the main thing. She gets inside and realizes that the thing she took out of her body IS EFFING GIGANTIC AND ABOUT TO BREAK DOWN THE DOOR!!!! David, who is decapitated and lying somewhere in the ship (that should have exploded and he should be destroyed but he’s not somehow) warns her over the intercom or whatever that the alien is chasing after her. So she turns right as he’s about to attack her and opens the door. Her alien child wraps its tentacles around him and puts a creepy thing down his throat. It’s very phallic, but guess what else!? It’s also vagina with teeth a little bit. Private parts are so so so freaky. She makes it back outside and is lying on the ground crying. She’s saying she can’t do it anymore. But David starts talking to her, saying, yes she can. There are many other ships and David knows how to control them. They can go back home. Elizabeth makes her way back to David, and asks him for her cross back (she was wearing a necklace with a cross on it and he took it off when he sedated her.) She then puts his head in a bag and says sorry and he says quite alright. Oh, but before that she says she wants to go to the planet where these people are from, not home. David asks, why? and Elizabeth says, maybe that’s what makes us different. Maybe that’s what makes me human. That’s the end. But here’s a question: What will she eat on her journey? I don’t think their ships have food. Just horrible destructive black liquid.
Though Keith had already mentioned the title of this movie, when I saw the cover I still said, “Oh interesting, little Diet-er Needs to Fly.” In my mind I was already making connections, thinking that this must be about some obese man who loses a ton of weight in order to go paragliding or something. I was wondering how the ever-solemn, ever-intense Werner Herzog would handle such a light and inspiring topic. I was soon to discover–after Keith corrected me saying, “Um, no it’s pronounced Little Deeter”–that this movie ain’t no Jenny Craig walking in the park.
In the first scene, a man, Dieter Dengler, walks into a tattoo parlor to get a tattoo but rejects the sketch because it does not correctly illustrate the vision he had while walking through the jungles of Laos, near-death, as an escaped prisoner. Among other things, he says that the figure in the sketch that is riding the horses coming out of the doors in the sky was not death, but an angel. “Death didn’t want me,” he said to the tattoo parlor guy. Sadly, we do not see the tattoo guy’s expression.
Then Dieter is driving through fog in a buttery yellow convertible. He says when he drives his convertible, he often hears the voices of his dead friends. There is a brief departure from the luxurious car to a trance-like pan of bombs falling on jungle-land and exploding in fire blossoms. Dieter Dengler lives in California in an awesome house with many doors. He has a weird door habit, and also he loves door art. Sort of like the spoon art in The Room. He has paintings of doors in his house, and he has tons of food in case something happens. It comforts him to know that he has a ten gallon bucket of honey. So that is the now Dieter.
Boy Dieter Dengler grew up in Black Forest, Germany. (I can’t help thinking of the super-dooper dark Randall Jarrell poem called “A Hunt in the Black Forest” loosely based on war. So many connections that I won’t get into here.) Herzog’s creepy intense floating-voice explains that people there ate wallpaper because it had nutrients.
Cut to a ballet of fighter planes in the sky in black and white.
Then Dieter, who is back visiting and pointing out what has changed and what has stayed the same since he left, said that when his town was getting bombed, he fell in love with the planes. He saw one pass by his window and was just overwhelmed with how awesome it was. So, when he turned 18, he left his sweet clock-making gig at The Black Forest and took a boat to the U.S. He got in trouble for hiding a bunch of sandwiches and oranges in his shirt, which I thought was pretty awesome, but maybe scary for him. Then he went to school so he could join the Navy and fly planes. Then he joined the Navy to fly planes, but had to peel potatoes for a couple of years first.
Cut to him disrobing a mannequin pilot and talking about his plane crash over Laos. He said he had lost part of his wing, there was a lot of brightness, no time for fear, and that jellyfish are what death looks like, and planes are like broken coffee cups.
At this point in the movie, I was like, what the heck? Molly was pretty unfazed by the whole thing, which was surprising because if you’ve never seen Herzog before it’s sort of a trip. Keith said, “and this is where things get really weird.” They definitely did. Herzog films Dieter back in the jungle where he was captured by the Vietcong after his plane crashed. He has local forest workers tie him up and hold guns near him, even though it doesn’t really look like they know exactly what is going on. Dieter gets a little weirded out being back in that environment, and shows the camera an ingenious way to build a fire, and describes the different torture techniques his captors used on him. “They were always thinking of things to do to me.” But Herzog interjects saying, “Of course, Dieter knew it was only a film.” Really? Did he really understand that it was just Herzog trying to squeeze as much excitement and emotion and story out of this poor guy as possible? (I should mention here that Herzog continued to exploit this story and made a dramatic film called Rescue Dawn starring Christian Bale in 2007.) Yeah, I guess Dieter Dengler is aware of what’s going on, but I’m sure a lot of creepy memories flooded back. He says he tried to escape once, but realized he was going to die of thirst. Cut to a picture of a little bog in the jungle and Werner Herzog saying “THE MOMENT HE TRIED TO DRINK THE PUTRID WATER, THEY WERE ALL OVER HIM.” Things were super shitty for Dieter. Like, his friend Dwayne getting decapitated for example, or like getting followed by a bear because the bear thought he was definitely going to die soon, or like, eating rats from the inside of snakes because the snakes were easy to catch after they had gorged themselves, or almost dying because his raft went over a waterfall. That is some messed up stuff. I think maybe instead of a rib-cage door with a chariot of horses coming out, Dieter should have gotten a bear tattoo. The bear, he said, was his only friend, even though it wanted to eat him.
Dieter also tells a story about how once someone in the village where they were staying stole his ring. He was able to communicate this to the Vietcong and they found the guy and cut off his finger. Then he chuckles and embraces some forest worker guy pretending to be a guard and says, “don’t worry, it’s only a film. You’ve still got all your fingers.” Seriously, Herzog? Really?
Dieter also explains how he escaped with his friend Dwayne illustrating what happened on a little map. He also ties up his feet to show Herzog and the camera. There are these long pans of the actor captors just doing their own thing. I did like how Dieter remembers how “they were BBQ-ing all the time.” When he walked around, the soldiers would have this little pot with coals in the bottom and they would catch bugs and stuff and put it on the grill. He said one time he looked and they were grilling a small bird.
We return to the Now Dengler. He is recounting how he was rescued by Deatrick, who is sitting with him at the dinner table. Deatrick was the pilot who doubled back to get him. While they talk, Dieter is cutting a giant Thanksgiving turkey. When he was rescued, Deiter Dengler weighed 85 pounds. When the crew pulled Dieter onto the plane, a snake came out of his shirt. It was a snack he was saving for later. Boy have times changed since that rescue. Dieter has a thing for hiding foot in his clothing. Back at the base, he, understandably, wasn’t able to sleep very well and only felt safe sleeping in the cockpit of planes. The movie ends with Dieter’s continued awe and love of planes even though he almost died as a result of flying. He is walking around some massive airplane parking lot. Oh, and we see a shot of his funeral that Herzog must have tacked on later. The End.