Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sci-fi and the Creation Myth

No form of fiction tackles the difficult subject of religion more than science fiction.  This might seem ironic to some, but science fiction has always been a good way tackle any subject, indirectly, because it gives the writer license to do whatever they want.  I once heard Ray Bradbury say that he used the Mars landscape as a setting so often not because he believe in Martians but that he was lazy and didn't want to do any research.  It was just easier to make things up.  Like Bradbury, a sci-fi writer can write about your religion without you even knowing it.  A writer can disguise a religious form of meditation in an alien religious group like the Bene Gesserit or Mentats in Frank Hebert's Dune.  They can write about a messiah like Robert Heinlein did with his character, Valentinen Michael Smith, in his Stranger in a Strange Land.  Millennialism and images of the devil are prominent themes in Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End.   Star Trek did it, Star Wars did it with the Jedis, ... heck... the latest Battlestar Gallactica series is just a very long religious elegy.  Every person that I know that is interested in religion also reads sci-fi.

Some consider Mary Shelley's Frankenstein a sci-fi novel.  The alternative title is the Modern Prometheus.  Like the Greek Titan Prometheus, Dr. Frankenstein creates a new form of life. Prometheus created humanity from clay and was punished for it, while his modern namesake, created life from the body parts from grave robbing. The creation myth seems to be everywhere in sci-fi these days.  Star Trek uses it with their android character Data and holographic character The Doctor where they confront their creators and fight for their rights as censured beings.  The Cylons in Battlestar Gallactica  rebel against their creators in what could be interpreted as a religious upheaval of the slave monotheists over their polytheistic creators.  The movie director Ridley Scott is not foreign to the creation myth, not only is his latest film Prometheus but his heady take on Philip K. Dick's Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep? (aka Blade Runner) is all about a rebelling group of androids seeking their creator.  They are lead by Roy Batty (portrayed amazingly by actor Rutger Hauer) who seeks their creator so that they can remove the chip that  prevents them from being immortal.  

Scott's latest film, Prometheus, brings this to a new level. **spoiler alert** The so-called prequel to the Alien series gives us a married couple of scientists, Holloway and Shaw (who can't have children) searching for an alien species, called The Engineers, who they believe created humanity.  So they cannot create life themselves but they are obsessed with their creators who are not god but an advanced species from a distant moon.  The excursion is funded by an eccentric billionaire who never had a son of own.  He created an android son with the name he intended for that his biological son, David, much to the dismay of his daughter who may be an android as well.  The created is now, like the mythical Prometheus, the creator.  Like the gods of Olympus, the Engineers want to punish us or probably destroy us for what reason, it is not explained.  Shaw is also cast into the role of the creator.  She is somehow impregnated and gives birth a day later to the xenomorph species from the original series.  She freaks out and attempts to kill it ... again creator who is a destroyer and the created that creates. This film is full of plot holes, it is at times captivating and quite compelling but it is one of those films that you leave the theater thinking, "Did I miss something?".  It is clear that Scott was trying to say something about the creation myth.  What that is might be hiding somewhere in the fog of the 3D special effects or lost in one of the deep chasm plot holes.

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