Prometheus Explained: Unraveling The Unanswered Questions

If you're reading this post, you've clearly seen Prometheus by now and-- wait, you haven't seen Prometheus yet? No seriously-- do not read this post until you have seen Prometheus. This post intends to break down all of the lingering questions about the movie, most of which come late in the film and all of which are much more fun to think about yourself as you watch the movie than to let yahoos like us tell you what to think.


So, anyway, if you're reading this post, you've clearly seen Prometheus by now, and if you're anything like us you've spent hours debating the many questions brought up by the movie, trying to figure out how many unanswered questions were screenwriter Damon Lindelof trying to drive you crazy, and how many questions were supposed to be figured out. Prometheus is the kind of movie you can start to like better the more you think and talk about it, and we've had a blast debating the many mysteries of the film, and trying to piece together just what those pesky Engineers were trying to tell us all along.

So we've brought the conversation to you, not just a rundown of all the questions we think still aren't answered, but our theories on how we might answer them. We're not truly "explaining" Prometheus, of course-- only Lindelof and Ridley Scott can do that, and they probably never will. We're just giving it our best shot, digging through what the movie tells us and seeing if we cant inure out what it means. Check out our suggestions and questions below, and join us in the comments for a conversation that's hopefully as fun as the ones we've been having in real-life.

star chart prometheus

What is going on in the beginning when the Engineer drinks the black goo?

The opening of the movie is stunning in its visuals, but pretty incomprehensible without any context. It's hard to tell why exactly the Engineer-- that's the blue muscle-bound alien creature standing by the waterfall-- has opted to drink the black goo, where is he, or really what's going on in general, and it's never explained in the rest of the movie, just simply left for viewer interpretation.

Our Theory: What we are seeing in the beginning is the creation of Earth. The giant ship (which is different from the ring-shaped one we see later in the film, weirdly) has landed on Earth to drop off the Engineer so that he can terraform the planet and make it sustainable for life. We think he drinks the black goo to break down his own structure and spread life on Earth through his own DNA, but that doesn't really explain his surprise while he's disintegrating (and if the Engineers do have the same DNA as us, it's hard to say why the Engineers had to be broken down in order to create humanity).

fifield sean harris prometheus

_What does the black goo do? Why does it affect different people differently? _

Prometheus is covered from beginning to end in a mysterious black goo, but while it seems to play a very important part in the story it's never really explained what it is (other than a weapon of some sort that the Engineers plan to use against Earth). Whenever the different characters are exposed to it is seems to have different reactions, be it with the aforementioned Holloway or Fifield, who gets a face full of it in the Big Head room.

Our Theory: The black goo is the earliest evolutionary stage of what we've come to know as the xenomorph. It is theorized that even the first living things on Earth began as single-cell organisms that evolved and adapted with the environment to become more complex. This is presumably what happens with the black goo. As for why it has a different effect on different people is yet another mystery.

the team explores prometheus

What are those ghost-like apparition/memory/shadow creatures that show them what happened in the past?

So much of what we discover about these alien caves comes from these kind of pixellated shadows that reveal the past, from the hordes of alien creatures running away from something terrifying to the Engineers on the bridge of the ship that David witnesses targeting their ship toward Earth. A lot of what Shaw later assumes about these aliens-- including that the Engineers created a weapon that killed their own people-- comes from these shadow images. But what on earth are they, and why can we see them?

Our Theory: This is one of those sci-fi things we honestly like better unexplained. Things are just different in space, and especially if you consider that the shadows aren't memories exactly, but simply a glimpse into an earlier part of the timeline, these shadows seem like a fun spin on actual outer-space science. A lot of these unanswered questions are frustrating, but for this one, we'll keep the mystery.

david michael fassbender prometheus

Why does David poison Holloway?

David doesn't have the capacity to be evil - he lacks the ability to feel emotions and simply follows directives. So why would he take the opportunity to poison Holloway with the black goo for seemingly no purpose? By the end of the film there is no explanation given as to why the android would kill one of his co-workers.

Our Theory: While the rest of the crew on-board the Prometheus was looking for the origins of life on Earth and our creator, David had a very specific side mission: to find a way for Weyland to live forever. Therefore, it's possible that David decided to dose Holloway because he wanted to experiment and see if the black goo they found would be the key for Weyland. It's also possible he saw the black goo as the potential to create alien weapon creatures, which a company like Weyland could exploit-- though he might not have counted on that weapon attacking his crew so soon.

charlize theron and idris elba prometheus

How does Janek know that the moon is full of "weapons of mass destruction" and is just a stopover moon for them to build weapons?

Janek, the pilot of the Prometheus played by Idris Elba, largely stays out of the fray, watching from a safe distance from the comfort of his ship. But as missions members continue to disappear, Janek suits up and explores LV-223 with the surviving crew. He's tasked with explaining what he thinks they've stumbled onto, explaining it as a weapons factory that's wisely built away from wherever it is the Engineers actually live ... in case things happen to go wrong with the weapons.

Our Theory: This bit of descriptive dialogue is necessary to solidify the plot, and it's best that Elba's character delivers it. But it's more of a theory than concrete fact. From the beginning, he is written as a world-weary ship captain who has kind of "seen it all," a cagey veteran who's around for guidance as much as he's around because he's good at piloting a craft. Not that he has run into many alien weapons factories (for lack of a better term), but he's experienced enough to know when a hostile opponent is crafting a weapon for retaliation, and we think that's what he witnesses on the distant moon of LV-223.

transport vehicles prometheus

If the moon visited by the Prometheus isn't the Engineers home and it was an accident that led them to be stuck there, why did they have the cave drawings lead there?

The cave drawings are discovered by doctors Shaw and Holloway in key locations around our planet. But are they invitations, or warnings? No clear cut answer is given in Prometheus. They certainly point Dr. Shaw to the distant galaxy, where she finds the Engineers. But since the moon is a weapons factory (basically), that seems to suggest that they were warnings. This isn't the end of Shaw's quest, though. It's possible the answer lies in the film's sequel (if Ridley Scott is able to make it, that is).

Our Theory: The cave drawings are additional proof that the Engineers have been to our planet multiple times over the years. As the opening scenes of Prometheus show us, the Engineers spread their DNA all over the galaxy, creating life on various planets. We happen to be an offshoot of that DNA. Scott has said the Engineers often check in on their creations ... and are disappointed in what they see. The cave drawings, first and foremost, are ways to show that individuals, over the course of many centuries, encountered Engineers. But they suggest that Earth's citizens learned something about the weapons being designed to annihilate us, and were saying, "Stay away from this area!" Or then again, maybe not.

the ship flying prometheus

Why does Weyland have to hide that he's on the ship?

From the moment the crew of the Prometheus wakes up out of hypersleep, we're aware of just how little this group of roughnecks knows about the assignment. Shaw and Holloway are there to try to contact the Engineers, of course, and Meredith Vickers knows all about their plans, but everyone else on board seems happy to take the paycheck-- which is why we still don't understand why Peter Weyland would have to hide that he's on board. When he finally is revealed late in the film, it turns out he's looking for essentially the same thing as Shaw-- so why couldn't they have just been working together the entire time?

Our Theory: Weyland seems like the kind of guy who likes to keep things close to the vest, letting his android David do his bidding and staying asleep, or doing whatever he's doing, in his own secret chambers. We could argue all day that the movie would be more interesting if he were part of it from the beginning, but we guess the eccentric trillionaire has his reasons for keeping his distance.

guy pearce peter weyland prometheus

_Why cast Guy Pearce as an ancient old man? _

There are plenty of mysteries and questions concerning the plot and events of Prometheus, but one of the strangest concerns the casting of Guy Pearce as the ancient Peter Weyland. Given the amazing cast that Ridley Scott was able to bring together for this project, it's hard to believe that he would have had a hard time bringing in someone like Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Plummer, or Max von Sydow-- or even, in a nice connection to the Lawrence of Arabia references, Peter O'Toole.

Our Theory: The casting of Guy Pearce was a move motivated by franchise building. Ridley Scott is hoping to create a series out of Prometheus and by casting Pearce he gives himself the ability to travel back in time to show Weyland as a young man. This was already sort of done when the viral campaign first began and the young Peter Weyland was shown giving a futuristic TED Talk.

holloway shaw david prometheus

Why did the Engineers suddenly decide to destroy the Earth?

When the Engineer is awoken from his cryo-stasis, he embarks on an intense mission to board the nearest ship and take off. His destination? Our planet, which has been targeted for destruction. Hence, Shaw (Rapace) convincing Elba to ram the exiting spaceship to stop him from ever reaching our planet.

Our Theory: "Suddenly" might be the wrong word. It's basically implied that the Engineers have been angry with us for some time, they being the "parents" who once created us. Scott has said there were sequences in the film that were going to explain why we'd angered the "gods" known as the Engineers. In one instance, it was going to be posited that Jesus was an emissary of the Engineers, sent to see how we were doing. And what did we do? We crucified him. So the Engineers have been upset with us for some time. But something happened while they were creating the aliens to force the Engineers into hibernation. This, also, falls under the category of "Things probably better explained in a potential sequel," which is disappointing for Prometheus, but there you have it.

david prometheus

_What did David say to the "Space Jockey" to make him so angry? _

As the Space Jockey emerges from this cryo-stasis pod, Weyland (Guy Pearce) orders his android, David (Fassbender) to "tell him what I told you to tell him," to paraphrase the quote. David says something to the Engineer in his native, alien language. And he gets his head knocked off in response.

Our Theory: It doesn't matter what David said. And by that, we mean Michael Fassbender actually talked to us about this very question, and he said he knows the line, because they had translators come in an break the line down for him. But that's not the point of the scene. The point of the scene is to show how angry the Engineer is that he's being woken up out of cryo-stasis by these insignificant beings, and all he wants is for this android to stop talking. So he tears his head off, like you would the wings of an insect, an insignificant fly.