David android Blade Runner, David android Prometheus, Don't all children really want their parents dead?, Prometheus Lawrence of Arabia, The trick William Potter is not minding that it hurts, There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing
In the Prometheus myth the gods punish mankind as well as the Titan for the act of stealing fire. But man was punished with something new: woman. It’s important to remember that the Prometheus myth is inexorably tied to that of Pandora. Mankind is given the means of creation – as a punishment – for stealing fire. And in this film what do we create? What opens Pandora’s box? Yes that’s right: an android. Namely, David.
We first meet David entertaining himself aboard the Prometheus as the crew sleep in stasis pods. Here we are privileged to see what androids do on their days off – and we discover the answer to the question: do androids dream of electric sheep? The answer: no, they watch other people’s dreams instead. David plays basketball, enjoys cycling, learns ancient languages, eats (what looks like) frogspawn and watches movies. One of his favourite films is Lawrence of Arabia and David appears to model himself on Peter O’Toole in this role: going so far as to bleach his roots and style his hair in the same manner. He practices the famous line: “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.” As far as I can tell the relevance of this line is in aiding David’s character development. He seems pained by references to his not being human and holds a certain degree of malevolence towards mankind: in so far as an android can ‘feel’ malevolent. Yet he maintains a subservient demeanour: not minding that it hurts. I think humans are a disappointment to David. He pours scorn on the fact that he is programmed to behave in a human manner because ‘you people’ find it difficult to interact with him if he does not. We get another Lawrence of Arabia quote from David as the Prometheus lands on the planet: “there is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.” The significance? It relates to the reason that the scientists and Weyland have travelled so far – their expectations of what they will find and the answers they will receive.
David was created by Peter Weyland, who happily introduces the android as the closest thing he has to a son (totally ignoring his daughter – Meredith Vickers). David is the counterpoint to Vickers. She openly admits that she thinks it is time for her father to die – yet his other child, the one he has created to behave as he wishes – is dedicated to keeping Weyland alive. The android son and the human daughter explore the idea of children not being what their parents hope for. The parent approves of the child that dedicates itself to the continued survival of the parent – not the child that wishes it dead.
Is the soap-opera we observe played out at human level in some way reflective of the cosmic space opera that is taking place with the Engineer’s and their attitude to us? It certainly seems that they created both mankind and the other creatures which attempt to destroy us (Xenomorphs, Facehuggers, butterfly-cobras, shark-xenomorph, giant squid Facehugger, etc). David is quite willing to destroy humans in his quest to please and to save Weyland. Vickers is not – she refuses to allow Holloway back on the ship in an act of self-preservation and starkly informs daddy that it’s time to die.
David is either a complex character or a mess, depending on how you look at him. He certainly isn’t Blade Runner material but he does offer another perspective on the creation theme that saturates this film. David seems to have a set of motivations which at a basic level could be explained by Weyland’s programming and the need for him to mimic human behaviour. On another level he seems to be developing his own set of attitudes towards humans and human behaviour – acting independently, seeking to break free. Deciding whether this is complex characterisation which is left open to interpretation or lazy writing is up to the viewer to decide – and frankly I’m torn. I liked David, although I found him ultimately too ambiguous. Fassbender’s acting is excellent, as you would expect – though I’m not sure whether the humour he displayed was fitting for a disapproving robot or rather immature.
At times David is child-like, as he sits bolt upright watching Weyland’s hologram. At others he is subservient, anointing Weyland’s aged feet with oil as though he reveres the old man as a god. Still, there is something about David that makes you suspect he is constantly mocking the humans around him. And yet Weyland tells us that David is incapable of emotion.
When David asks “don’t all children really want their parents dead?” we have to consider how far this relates to his own situation and the behaviour he has observed from Meredith Vickers. It seems then that even David eagerly anticipates emancipation from Weyland. Shaw and Holloway are both seeking their progenitors – and answers. While Vickers and David, regardless of their behaviour and their needs, want their parent dead in order to be freed from his controlling influence. It’s impossible as David utters this line not to make the connection with Blade Runner and the moment when Batty crushes Tyrell’s skull – and again when the Engineer rips David’s head off.
I suspect that in this film David is meant to represent to humans what we represent to the Engineers. He is our creation as we are their creation. David acts independently, only helping Elizabeth to escape from the Engineer because she can help him to escape the planet. As Weyland lies dying he says “there really is nothing” and David agrees with him – as though he knew this answer all the time. We are told that David is different from humans because he has no soul – but is the trick really that David knows humans don’t either? Where humans pretend that they are different, that we have creators with answers to our questions, gods who will elevate us above the rest of the universe, David accepts the empty desert and the trick is simply: not minding that it hurts.
When Elizabeth later rescues him and he expresses confusion over her ‘need’ to see the Engineer home world and get her answers, she says he can’t understand because “she is a human being” where as he “is just a robot.” Whether this is a reaffirmation of humanity, or a large serving of irony is never made clear. It seems that we are to the Engineers as androids are to us: incapable of understanding the motivations of our creators.