As should be obvious, there are massive spoilers for Prometheus in this post.
I’ve been thinking about many aspects of Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to his Alien movies, but the one that’s stuck with me most is the clearest continuation of the Alien franchise’s themes: the movie’s exploration of bodily invasion and specifically women’s bodily autonomy. In New York Magazine, David Edelstein describes one of the movie‘s most harrowing and original sequences “a bit of grisly self-surgery that should inspire the pro-choice movement for millennia to come.” Livejournal user cavalorn, in a long and much-circulated analysis of the movie that’s the closest I’ve seen for a compelling argument for the coherence of some, but not all, of its ideas, writes: “I’m not even going to begin to explore the pro-choice versus forced birth implications of that scene. I don’t think they’re clear, and I’m not entirely comfortable doing so.” I’m still considering this element of the movie, and suspect I will be for some time to come. But for the moment, I feel like Prometheus is a movie that attempts to describe the quest for bodily autonomy as a sign of extreme toughness that ends up reaffirming the persistence of patriarchy and rape culture, even in the future, even as we travel beyond all we know.
There’s a lot of discussion to be had about the android David’s (Michael Fassbender) motivations for dosing Holloway, the colleague and lover of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), the movie’s main character: does he know that it will result in her pregnancy? Is he experimenting for his own purposes or at the behest of Peter Weyland, the father he also wants dead? To a certain extent, his motivations and reasoning are irrelevant. The end result of David’s actions is that Shaw ends up with a metaphorical pregnancy against her plans and will, and when she expresses a wish to end the invasion of her body, David forcibly prevents her from doing so.
The scene of Shaw’s—abortion isn’t really the right word for it, because she isn’t pregnant, but rather infected, and the result of the surgery isn’t the termination of her pregnancy but a premature birth—seizing control of her body is undeniably, viscerally powerful, even as it’s sacrificed in small ways to the movie’s other needs. The surgery would have been urgent enough even without the medpod’s initial warning that it isn’t programmed to treat women, a nonsensical restriction on its programming that causes a slight delay in the midst of great urgency but really exists as another clue that Peter Weyland is still alive. Similarly, the revelation that Shaw has been unable to conceive a child with Holloway ends up functioning as foreshadowing, rather than as nuance. Her instant reaction to David’s diagnosis of her pregnancy is to want to terminate it. The movie isn’t interested in the possibility that, given her profound upset over her inability to have a child with Holloway, she might have some sort of connection to the thing growing rapidly inside her. Those emotions might have been uncomfortable given how that creature came to be inside her, but it would have been a fascinating, uncomfortable conversation for the movie to engage in.