Jubilee flashback: Alien-ated by ‘Prometheus’

jubilee bunting

What follows is a quite old, previously unpublished, blog post. I wrote it in the week of the Jubilee, having been taken (i.e., ‘made’) to see this film after a very long and amazing afternoon eating sumptuous Sunday lunch and drinking wine, more wine, and homemade blackcurrant vodka. It was raining out. The world was hung with bunting. There were boats but we didn’t see them. We’d been in an 18th-century house in Whitechapel, lovingly restored with old furniture and Georgian colours, and – in a lull in the rain – in the lovely tiny garden behind it. It was another world.

Then to the Genesis cinema in Mile End Road, to see something – anything – in fact, this. When we came out about a year later the hangover was beginning to kick in, it was raining again, and I had to get the bus home on my own. Everybody on the bus was drunk. It was Jubilee weekend, remember. There was a group of guys downstairs singing ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’, over and over again. It all felt a little like a bad dream and the civilised, beautiful house was a lifetime ago.

You can tell a lot about a movie by the opening trailers. Before ‘Prometheus’ they trailed ‘The Three Stooges’ and  Tim Burton’s 3D extravaganza, ‘Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter’.

I know it was such a bad movie that no one will remember it anyway, but I’ve only seen one film in the cinema since then, and that was ‘Monsters University’. So here we go.

The film is beyond stupid, to which extent I feel embarrassed even to write about it. It rests on a puerile treatment of archaeology. It features an execrable drawing photoshopped onto some images from Lascaux. It appropriates the old Greek god to create an ersatz quest for the origins of mankind. My dear fellow-viewer – who, knowing how I was going to hate every minute, paid for my ticket – likened it, laughing, to ‘Chariots of the Gods’, which I’d forgotten about. It wears a tired old de-rigeur grey colour palette. And it makes ‘Alien’ look like ‘Mary Poppins For Feminists’.

I started writing this the day after I saw the film, which was June 3rd, 2012. Then I decided I was taking it too seriously. Then one person said something (‘What would you call that squid thing?’) and another person, in another context, said another thing (‘Freudian sexual nightmare’), and then another person pointed out an article…  Then I sort of just deflated, so this has sat for over a year. Like a bad CGI cave painting it is now ripe for rediscovery.

I’ve seen ‘Alien’ only once. I was made to see it, unsurprisingly by the same person who paid for me to see ‘Prometheus’, and I admit I didn’t like it. It’s the very kind of thing I don’t like. I found it dull, obvious and crude. I know lots of women love it, but to me it just felt like boy business, guy stuff, turgid unreality, claustrophobia with no point.

Yes but Sigourney Weaver. Okay and I know academic careers and whole branches of gender studies have flourished around discussions of her character, but really?? She’s about as much like a guy as you can get and still be a girl. And she seems lacking in humour. And see below.

My take on ‘Prometheus’ is very simple. But first, this article, in which Milo Yiannopoulos asks – and no provocation can be greater than the provocation this film has subjected us to, so we’ll let him ask it: ‘Does Ridley Scott yearn for violent oral rape?

It is said [Yiannopoulos writes] that everything in the Alien franchise looks like a cock. I realise this not an original observation. But I raise parameters on account of the tentacle’s newly engorged girth in Prometheus, which breaks from precedence in the existing Alien tetralogy.

Yes, this film jumps the shark. This film hops about on the shark. Something like five aliens burst out of people in this film. It also relies on goo for effect (like  after-school television). Much of the set resembles, depending how you’re thinking, either a spine and rib cage or else what we’ll call a birth canal. I think it’s safe to say that the seat of its conflict is The Body.

Here’s Milo:

Indeed, the literature on the Alien movies in this regard is voluminous. Pop culture-watchers tell us that Ridley Scott knows exactly what he is up to. The camera angles and choices of visual effects staff and artists such as H. R. Giger make it clear, they say. This is not speculation; this is horror: movies designed to provoke discomfort.

Indeed, I experienced discomfort. And on the way to the station afterwards, my companion responded to my inarticulate fulminations with earnest monologue, saying this relentless phallic imagery was the whole point of the whole ‘Alien’ enterprise.

But first, more, quoted from the grandaddy of the franchise:

Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon has said of his film: “One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex … I said ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number’.”

Well, there you go. That’s a new kind of porn: ‘Deep Thought’.  And even Yiannopoulos’ article addresses only the issue of men. No one even cares what women think. (It’s fabulous to have that in writing.) No wonder I felt so alien-ated!

But ‘Prometheus’ is written by a new team, you can tell. The men in the film don’t compromise their flesh. They have slick black suits they put on, they lounge around fully clad, they are killed – when they are – in ways that can be seen in their hands or faces, or through their clothes. Whether they are penetrated in the mouth, frankly the monster is so huge, so squishy, that you can’t quite tell. Anyway you no longer care.

The only real, soft, living flesh we see, and certainly the only vulnerable flesh we see being violated, belongs to – you know – the heroine, Elizabeth. The visceral horror is for her.

The young lady scientist, for such she is, is more or less first seen asleep, like Sleeping Beauty. In a glass coffin, like Snow White. Clad only in Frankenstein-type bandages that look fetchingly like a bikini, fetchingly like ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’. Her whole importance to the plot lies in her ability to conceive a child. So much for science.

After (cutting to the chase) she is evilly impregnated with the alien, things hot up. She goes in her bikini to a mechanical surgery pod to get it removed from her – a pod seemingly programmed only for men, where she must choose an option called ‘abdominal surgery’. In this long, gruesome scene, we see her milky-white, soft, lovely body lingered over – not only by the camera but by a mechanical arm tipped with a Stanley knife. We see her cut open by a machine she has programmed (for men), screaming, splattered hugely with her own blood, stapled back together, and then trapped in the bloody pod with the vicious alien brought forth from her.

No male character endures anything remotely like this.

Elizabeth spends the rest of the film intrepidly running and climbing and fighting and falling and being chased and nearly killed, and never does she faint or bleed through her bandage or need to lie down.

Now, people will call this a ‘strong female character’: she shows pluck; she’s intelligent; she can fight. But there’s no point, because Elizabeth isn’t a real woman. To get to the end of the plot – which as we’ve seen pivots on her initial role as a vessel – she must virtually become a cyborg. No real girl could do the things she is asked to do in the second half of this film. I don’t care what Lisbeth Salander does in those Dragon Tattoo movies. They’re both as bad as each other. And, as well as scenes of their sexual torture that drive the whole plot, Lisbeth and Elizabeth also share an actress, Noomi Rapace.

The article already quoted says something rather interesting here:

Consider also his fondness for strong female leads – never a sign of a sexually untroubled director – traumatic father-son relationships and absent mothers.

Pause for more deep thought. It’s true, the male characters aren’t asked to depart from what men are actually like. They possess no superhuman strength. They’re not very bright. When they’re killed we don’t see their flesh being violated, and they are certainly not forced to violate it themselves. And by opting for that ‘abdominal surgery’, Elizabeth makes herself an absent mother – indeed, she spends the film trying to destroy the monstrous offspring.

Maybe a spot of torture is just what it takes to lose your femininity and join the gang.

Even the alien, the giant squid thing, doesn’t come over as representing homosexual rape or anything like it. As we’ve seen, the only soft, fleshy flesh in the film is female. This creature comes out of woman, and resembles her in this. The male body is given plentiful – & unfleshy – representation by giant black Futurist phalluses and heads and spaceships. No, the squid was a revelation. I saw it instantly, and only, as ‘vagina dentata’.

Yeah, you read that right. I feel silly even typing the phrase, frankly.

The camera dwells lingeringly on this creature’s underside when still in the pod; we see it glistening, opening and shutting, with its strange eyes, indecipherable folds, etc, surrounded by its festival of blood. By the  time it’s the size of a house and attacking the men, our heroine is no longer  functionally (or importantly) a woman; her stomach is held together with metal staples and has ceased to be a wound. The squid takes over, while cyborg-Elizabeth  teams up for survival with the android that indirectly (but deliberately) impregnated her with the thing in the first place. In other words, her human husband by now long gone, it’s like marrying her rapist. The film doesn’t even see itself doing this – and I’m pretty sure no critic did.

This android is a non-man, acknowledged as a non-man, and a coxcomb: constantly smoothing his hair. He’s caricatured in fact as a gay man, and in the end he is reduced to only the head of an android. They are two ungendered beings with an unacknowledged history, floating together in space. And no, it’s not symbolic.

Because none of this has any meaning at all. As with a wonderful holographic sequence of the stars and planets that occurs at one point, it has no import. Beauty for its own sake, mythology for its own sake, fear of flesh, hatred of  women, punishment of men who aren’t ‘real men’ – and nothing but gratuitous silliness to staple it all together.

But what I remember of all that now is somehow more the bunting and the rain and the company of my lovely other and the amazing house in Whitechapel…

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