Posted by: Gregoryno6 | December 30, 2020

From Lota to David: unnatural people in the cinema, part two.

It has been a while since I posted part one. If you need to refresh your memory, click here.

Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, featured the robot Hel. Beneath its ‘scientific’ surface Metropolis has an undercurrent of old-world superstition. At the end of the movie Hel is burnt at the stake like a witch. When Hel is first unveiled by the mad scientist Rotwang, there’s another nod to the supernatural. Amid the equipment of Rotwang’s laboratory, Hel sits in repose beneath a pentagram. An inverted pentagam to be precise – a symbol associated with evil and black magic.

Less than twenty years after Metropolis and Island Of Lost Souls the world witnessed the first fruits of the atomic age. In the decades that followed, technology made advances that challenged comprehension. The 20th Century marked a pinnacle of human achievement: in five thousand years we went from building the Pyramids to putting footprints on the Moon. At the movies, the unnatural people reflected these developments. There was less tinkering with natural elements. Better results could be gained from working with man made materials – and still we couldn’t completely trust the unnaturals. HAL felt compelled to save the mission of the Discovery by murdering its crew. The new Frankensteins persisted. More human than human was the aspiration of Eldon Tyrell in Blade Runner. A generation later, Peter Weyland gazed upon his David and whispered Perfect.

Everest was conquered. Perfection had been achieved and boy, were we about to start paying for it.

David is the key character of the Alien sequels Prometheus and Covenant. He emerges as an evil fuck with a murderous agenda, but that’s almost forgivable against the idiocy that surrounds him. Were there honesty in advertising this pair of movies would be titled People Doing Dumb Shit In Space Parts 1 and 2. Early in Prometheus we see David scoring goals with a basketball from a unicycle and studying ancient languages. He keeps these talents mostly hidden after the humans aboard Prometheus are awakened. David adopts the mask of a humble servant, polite and deferential.

The opening scene of Covenant provides a vital missing chapter. Peter Weyland created David to help him answer his, Weyland’s, questions. He speaks grandly of the quest they will share to find mankind’s creator. David has questions of his own, and he clearly lacks a sense of awe towards his creator. Weyland is quick to put the creation back in its place.

Bring me this tea, David.

The unnatural shows a flicker of WTF? He is ready to soar, yet this inferior thing – how can it be his creator? – drags him down. He encounters a similar attitude from Holloway on Prometheus. Holloway is intent on reminding David that he’s a second class citizen, addressing him as ‘Boy’. Shades of the Old South! The viewers may decide that Holloway isn’t much of a man. David is well ahead of them on that score. He engages Holloway in apparently idle conversation as he adds the black goo to Holloway’s drink:

Why do you think your people made me?

We made you because we could.

Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?

I guess it’s a good thing you can’t be disappointed.

Yes. It’s wonderful, actually.

Holloway doesn’t possess sufficient awareness to even suspect the hostility behind David’s smile. The effects of the black goo are horrific, but it’s hard to suppress the thought that the damn fool didn’t deserve much better.

David came into existence with gifts beyond any natural human’s reach. But he has had no years of learning, of finding success through experiment and failure. David is, in effect, an instant adult. He awoke, and he had everything. As a result he cannot see anything human in himself. David echoes Lucifer when he rebels, saying I was not made to serve. Covenant ends with David in full command of the ship and its cargo of sleeping colonists and embryos. His body count includes the crews of two spacecraft and the city of the Engineers, but he’s only getting started. The kid’s got himself a brand new chemistry set – and the adults have all left the building.

Lota and David are unnatural, but also unequal. They see their creators from opposite sides, from below and above. Lota is crawling upward to achieve humanity and acceptance; David, complete in himself, looks down and feels no urge to bond. We can easily shed a tear for the panther lady, but the perfect unnatural provokes revulsion.

If there’s a lesson to be learnt from David, it may be that the only thing worse than failure is succeeding too well.


Responses

  1. That’s a thought-provoking post Greg. We probably all know people who gained tremendous successes far too quickly, and were subsequently short on the empathy front.

    • My last year of formal education was spent at an expensive and exclusive boys school, Kev, and I certainly met a few Davids there.


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