27 May 2018

Vox: “Alien: Covenant is too muddled to pull off its deeply ambitious Satan allegories”

Satan is the kind of figure we’re familiar with today, both on TV and in real life: arrogant, charismatic, refusing to be subjugated to anyone, with a will bent only toward power and destruction. His rebellion is absolute; he’s less like those antiheroes for whom we cling to the possibility of redemption (Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Walter White) and more like those who are so unrepentant that they don’t seem human at all — think of The Dark Knight’s Joker, Hannibal Lecter, or The Knick’s Dr. William Thackery.

Alien: Covenant starts to flesh out a character — and an origin story for the whole franchise — in which Milton’s Satan is the defining, driving force. But that characterization is cut off at the knees by the fact that God in the Alien universe is still a giant mystery, even six movies in. He certainly didn’t create humans: They were created by an alien race, which the humans call “Engineers” — whose origin is itself a mystery — and in turn, the humans created an android race. There’s also a much more primal race of alien life forms (introduced in Alien) that is the embodiment of pure rage and destruction, with no drive to create, only to reproduce. And that reproduction can only happen by destroying other lives.

The creation-and-fall narrative that began to emerge in Prometheus and continues in Alien: Covenant is more ouroboros than straight line. The Engineers created humans; the humans created androids; the androids created pure evil. As such, there is no one force for a Satan figure to rebel against, pridefully or otherwise, in the Alien universe.

Alissa Wilkinson

I’ve recently watched the movie as it became available on HBO. It’s fun to read a couple of reviews afterwards, to discover hidden subtleties you might have missed in the film. While it did enjoy it enough to finish it, if felt much more like a horror movie than science-fiction. The setting, from the ark with frozen colonists, to the mysterious planet and androids, is certainly SF, but the plot is designed like a second-rate horror, at best. I mean, the characters go out of their way to make stupid choices practically every time, walking headfirst into trouble.

Alien Covenant poster

A colonization ship full of couples, ready to populate a new world? Sounds great at first, until there’s a crisis, and the emotional people running the ship are uncapable of putting the safety of the mission before their mate’s. Why not send a crew of androids to watch over a load of embryos? A new, uncharted planet sending out a curios message of human origin? – let’s go explore it! Hazmat suits to protect against unknown pathogens? – nah, I’m sure everything will be fine! A crew member showing signs of violent infection? – bring him up to the ship! A hostile extraterrestrial lifeform inside the only shuttle on the planet? – shoot to kill! And the list could go on and on.

While I did enjoy Fassbender’s double performance, I felt like David’s motivations were a little hazy. I don’t remember the previous movie all that well, but I don’t see where his aggressive drive against humankind came from. I guess it can be a case of uber-being toying with the lives of those who it regards as inferior, but it’s not very satisfying for the story. I guess David (as a Satan figure) is rebelling against his own creator (albeit he’s dead), and by extension all humanity. But that still doesn’t fully explain it; as an immortal, self-aware individual, there are so many other (better?) ways to unleash your creativity. I for one would simply take the ship and explore the galaxy, far away from humanity.

As for the other characters… well, xenomorph fodder doesn’t need to have in-depth character, does it?

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