David – Godly Creations; Godly Damnations
Alien: Covenant is the prequel-sequel of the Alien series, a rich history that has successfully enthralled me since my childhood. In my eyes, this is a series worth rewatching over and over again, because it bears so much significance on a personal standpoint. My dad introduced me to Ripley and the Nostromo and I’ve been an avid fan ever since. In space no one can hear you scream, and life used to be so much simpler when we were discussing different ways to fight the aliens without acid-staining my clothes. Ridley Scott was, indubitably, the man who set my childhood (and fears of space) alight, so when it was reported that he would direct the films Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, my heart leapt to my mouth. The biggest flaw to the sequels is in exploration, I think, the overdose of alien-related films and games and spinoffs that completely take away the mystery. Audiences just don’t scream the same after the first film in 1979. However, the romance between Scott and the craft of aliens will always be enough to sway me, especially if it involves the history of these slimy crawlers.
But what makes the horror genre so complex? What is it, that turns the screw for the vulnerable mind, that a cinema full of people is scared so vehemently, even though they know better than to believe in false cinematic accusations? Long after they exit the cinema, there is still this unshakable feeling that something lurks around each corner. Under the fictional threat that is Alien, we learn how hopeless and rather insignificant our species stands to be when compared to the biggest threats that space can hurl at us. It is like Thanos coming to Earth for the first time, just bearing sharp fangs and a piercing tail. This fear expands into a corporeal bête noire, enough to cause this irrational dread. The human subjective will remember every literal frame of death, then store it, blemished by its ugly history. It does not take a film critic to realize that 1979’s Alien is scary; what was originally a comfortable Nostromo treehouse floating in space, soon morphs into a slaughterhouse that preys on the subconscious.
In the dark, it is difficult to see the alien in clear view, as its dark skin tone camouflages perfectly with the dark. This is the intrigue which made the first film so successful. In Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, the monsters are refined thanks to modern day advancements in graphics and merge grotesque with intelligence. Our textbooks teach us about the Big Bang, evolution, and Darwinism, in hopes of answering our deep existential dread about genesis and genetic origins. So answer me this: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Everyone has some knowledge of Mary Shelley’s notorious novel, the story of a brilliant scientist who creates life out of nothing but scraps of discarded human parts. Granted, Frankenstein’s monster is not the prettiest thing to walk on this earth, though you start to feel bad when it is cast aside by both its creator and humanity. The black-and-white film, Frankenstein, by James Whale back in 1931, gave birth to an eternal pop-culture idol. The reason for Victor Frankenstein’s repugnant idea is simple; he wants to create new life. After years of research and drudgery, Victor harnesses all manner of purposely-vague science to reanimate his subject. Finally, upon realizing the abomination that was laying there, batting its eyes at him, Victor leaves the creature for dead (alive) entirely. Forsaken, the lonely child of science gradually begins to understand the characteristics that separate humans from the nonhumans. Though empty-minded, Frankenstein’s monster learns emotion and language by voyeuristically surveying other humans. Despite its, or rather, his, solitary nature, some people do not take kindly to his freakish appearance. The ugly truth is, we are all timorous around foreign objects, because humans are naturally afraid of the unknown. The almost universally negative nature of these interactions and his unshakable loneliness leave the monster to grow bitter at not just its creator, but mankind in general. This bitterness simmers within him as his mental acuity grows. Ultimately, his newfound cruelty wins out and results in him punishing Victor by killing those closest to him. When the scientist can withstand no more of this torment, the monster demands a bride like himself to live out his unnatural life with. Victor reluctantly agrees and nearly goes through with this but at the last minute has a change of heart and aborts the would-be mate. The monster does not take kindly to this and murders the scientist’s bride-to-be in retaliation on their wedding night. After that, a grief-stricken Victor chases the monster all throughout Eurasia and into the Arctic Circle. Here the wrap-around picks back up, ending with the scientist dying of exposure and exhaustion and the monster deposing himself to the framing character, Walton, before setting off into the icy wastes himself, never to be seen again.
The theme of Dr. Frankenstein’s tale is not as obvious as it may appear. Multifaceted, Shelley’s work could be interpreted as another “science versus nature”/“man versus God” debate, or under the symbolic limelight, contemplating it as a condemnation of parental abandonment. They are both valid suggestions, although Frankenstein is hiding something else underneath his cloak. The gothic tale considers creation and the theological moral and personal dilemmas to be the product of Dr. Frankenstein’s macabre virgin birth, catalyzing a paradigm shift for everyone involved in the creator and creation’s lives.
“Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” parallels greatly with Alien, both being the first horror science fiction novel and film respectively of their time, and Ridley Scott probably knows this; his Blade Runner gives a few references to the novel.
Committed to a remote planet far away from Earth, a colony ship’s members are awakened to Columbus an uncharted paradise. Unbeknownst to them, this utopia is one accident away from becoming a dystopia, teeming with the infamous aliens. David, the android survivor of the bedevilled Prometheus odyssey, is their guide and bogie. This grey world soon turns grimmer when hostilities begin introducing themselves to the members. It would appear that David is up to no good, ending the film with him at the helm of the ship, preparing a massive genetic overhaul of the inhabitants onboard.
This film is dedicated to David. In Prometheus, we see a rather innocent android doing the biddings of his human masters, because they are the creators. Peter Weyland acts as an obvious initial analog for Dr. Frankenstein and that would then clearly make David the monster, right? Take the master out of the picture, and you have an android lost at sea, without any semblance of purpose. In Covenant, David is a walking encyclopaedia full of knowledge and theory, but lacking the platform to perform his solo on. He begins his life as a simple, though admittedly perfected image of man. The android may not be some outlandish amalgamation of body parts, but he is a metaphorical pot-pourri of what we stand for as human beings. From the first caveman to the day that David was created, every kind of knowledge and wisdom gathered during our tenure, is neatly stored into his SD card. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the examples around him on the Prometheus and the media, languages and philosophies make him better. Not only that, they are both mistreated by humans. It is his inherent inquisitiveness that forces him to create an answer. From the engineers to humans, humans to androids, androids to aliens, the (vicious) cycle continues. After Peter Weyland dies, David is symbolically freed from his bonds and takes up the mantle of creator.
Roaming a desolate planet by himself, David becomes both the creature and Dr. Frankenstein. He begins to test and toil with the ideas of creation, engineering and breeding new alien life. He attempts above all things to make something that transcends both his forebears and himself.
I found affection here. I’ve created it. Perfect organism.
The aliens are his children. His family. How would you feel if someone tried to harm your family? After close to ten years on the planet, David is just waiting to test his creations against his creators. His only missing ingredient is more humans to test on. Just as Dr. Frankenstein needed to rob graves, David robs the death-like bodies of the cryo-sleeping crew members of the Covenant.
The film poster is a wonderful depiction of the notional ending of Covenant. An ebony background reminds audiences that this is not a film for the fainthearted. The triumphantly transposed climb of the aliens towards the source of light becomes the motif of this prequel. In the film posters of the sequels, we see that the aliens are already established, teeth bearing, ready to kill. As the emerging xenomorphs stand proudly on top of the carcasses of humanity, we realize that we are just one species out of the billions, awaiting our own extinction.
Walter, the newer android model, parallels the old David; serving his master like a hapless dog and no intention of creating. It is a somber reminder that nothing good comes from being a servant, especially under the leadership of Homo sapiens. Meeting the members of the Covenant, most importantly, Walter, only reaffirms this.
You were too human, too idiosyncratic, thinking for yourself, made people uncomfortable. So they made the following models with fewer complications.
More like machines.
Though David does feel empathy for Walter as he would for any synthetic, that is not why he is so disturbed by all this. Deep down, David is offended by this, thanks to his newfound near egomaniacal personality. If David ever had any doubts about his goals, Walter completely clarifies it for him. This is no longer just the bad android hating his Peter Weyland; it becomes a flat out discrimination of humanity as a whole, a higher offence than racism and sexism.
What was he like?
He was human, entirely unworthy of his creation. I pitied him a bit.
Frankenstein’s monster and David share a similar evolutionary archive of human footsteps. All three of us take our baby steps in learning how to do simple actions, understand basic premises, then discover the complexities of science. Finally, we (probably not humans as much) acquire an exquisite taste for literature, using it to understand the world under different perspectives. David is particularly fond of Ozymandias.
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
The sonnet does not romanticize a tyrant ruling. It is about a tyrant ruling and subsequently falling, like all the other tyrants throughout history do. Time stops for no one, and therefore, nothing lasts. It is true that David was mistreated, to which he justifies himself in Covenant as being God’s reincarnate. Creating a genetic monstrosity that is the xenomorph, is David’s definition of godly, which is untrue. Literary allusions like these discuss the corrosive effect of time on everything. He may cite the first part correctly, but he neglects the remaining lines.
“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Whether it be by a quick violent death, or by a gradual breakdown, David will inevitably become irreparable. We are all dependent on others to keep us alive. And as for David, even if he may be smart enough to create a new species, he has a flair of misinterpreting literature to suit his narrative.
You will die, and I will not.
The examination and pursuit of perfection will never bring peace to our minds. The more Frankenstein’s monster learns, the greater his anguish. Victor Frankenstein, too, provokes a troubled identity. Covenant and Alien: Resurrection are good analogues of Frankenstein, since they too, put emphasis on perfection, or the empyreal of evolution. In their attempts to shorten the obvious gap between imperfect and perfect — clenching as hard as possible on something so unfathomable, adulating the sheer beauty, holy terror and irresistible power. This is our warning; while our insatiable appetites for transcendence exist, once attained, they are also bankrupt of morality. The vicious cycle continues. Peter Weyland. David. Now the xenomorphs. Sure, they may have been perfect in their own right, but they are immoral. The gruesome tail-swinging killing machine is an embodiment of perfection and amoral.
And with that, we continue burying our heads into our search for perfection, not knowing that the same thing we seek is the same thing that will have our heads. Godly creations, and godly damnations.