You Devil, You: Prometheus in Three Assessments (Part Three)
Assessment Three: Xenomorphology and The Horror of Change
Nathaniel K. Miller
Amidst its many messages, one gift Prometheus gives us is the origin of the Xenomorph. On the surface, this may only interest fans of the franchise, but I believe it gives us something much more than cosmetic. It turns a clever and well-conceived movie monster into an Oedipal icon of spiritual, psychological and metaphysical horror.
One of the tragic truths embodied in the Xenomorph, and in the schisms which define all the interspecies, parent-child relationships in the films, is that while we always survive, we never survive. The deal the universe makes in exchange for the endurance of the species (or something even more fundamental) is the annihilation of the individual. But worse yet, lest there be equity, it seems to promise that our offspring will be incomprehensible horrors to us. If we could see that which we most identify with ourselves in them, perhaps we could accept that annihilation, but we are forever blind, unable to extend our empathy - androids, in the Dickian parlance.
Or maybe it's the other way around. Maybe we are doomed in seeking our own individual immortality to look past the variety offered to us in our offspring, to resent its glaring incompleteness. After all, when death stands gaping before us, everything is alien, and that deal looks rotten indeed. Those who survive do so at our expense; without them, the deal is off.
Weyland stands before the Engineer, the father who abandoned him, and has his son David ask for more life. Here he echoes the demand of Roy Batty in Blade Runner, who is like David in construction perhaps but without the active parenting the latter receives. David, of course, is Weyland's immortality, but even as he dies,Weyland cannot see this amazing creature as a worthy successor. "There is nothing," if we are committed to the preservation of the self in its precise form; but if we can look beyond it, there is David.
There is also the Xenomorph. If we accept David, we have to accept the monster as well. David might stretch our empathic system, but for most of us, the Xenomorph shows it to be foundationally broken. That's the point.
The Xenomorph is always changing. It is a confusion of human sexes, social roles - it is the horror of the other, which is really the horror of the self, and now we know that it is born equally of our forebears and ourselves. This is the deep, tragic truth of the Alien mythos: the universe is stranger than you can imagine, harsher - and yet more intimate. It knows your name. It isn't some void where you shrink into insignificance - you are an author of the horror, a parent and a child of your own cyclical fate. And throughout that dark samsara, the monster which is the icon of inescapable damnation is also an icon of mutagenesis, of change itself. It is the distance between parent and child, between you and the closest person to you.
The horror of the Alien universe is not entropy, but plasticity, adaptation; there's nothing you can become which it cannot match in shadows.