To be sane, he held, was either to be sedated by melancholy or activated by hysteria, two responses which were ‘always and equally warranted for those of sound insight’. All others were irrational, merely symptoms of imaginations left idle, of memories out of work. And above these mundane responses, the only elevation allowable, the only valid transcendence, was a sardonic one: a bliss that annihilated the universe with jeers of dark joy, a mindful ecstasy. Anything else in the way of ‘mysticism’ was a sign of deviation or distraction, and a heresy to the obvious.
At least a few moments of such pure enjoyment were necessary to alleviate the otherwise crushing cumulative horror that is finally the ground note of Prometheus: the horror of time, of the future, of the past, of the infinite spaces within which nothing exists but what is to be feared. The likable presence of Idris Elba and his concertina is about all that anchors Prometheus to any recollection of the pleasures of earthly life, especially since the only trace of sexual tenderness in the film leads directly to embryonic horror remedied by an automated C-section. What is at issue, it seems, is not the horror of alien life but of life in any form; not the existence of monsters but the monstrousness of existing. The dread that rises to the surface here hints at a culture variously afraid of sex, afraid of Darwin, afraid of DNA, afraid of aliens—afraid no matter which way it looks, forward or backward—and finding its way at last, as a last resort, to a planet of death. After that, the only destination left is The Great Unknown: or more precisely (and perhaps we have this to look forward to as a sequel) the home planet of the Manichaean demiurges who engineered us randomly and then just as randomly set out to eradicate us.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
Particles decay, molecules disintegrate, cells die, organisms perish, species become extinct, planets are destroyed and stars burn-out, galaxies explode … until the unfathomable thirst of the entire universe collapses into darkness and ruin. Death, glorious and harsh, sprawls vast beyond all suns, sheltered by the sharp flickerlip of flame and silence, cold mother of all gods, hers is the deep surrender. If we are to resent nothing – not even nothing – it is necessary that all resistance to death cease. We are made sick by our avidity to survive, and in our sickness is the thread that leads back and nowhere, because we belong to the end of the universe. The convulsion of dying stars is our syphilitic inheritance.