The scene inside the “tomb” is probably one of the most important scenes in the whole film, because it is the first time we get to see signs of the creature link between Prometheus and Alien. Although it is not that direct, it reveals itself in the fascinating mural inside the tomb. I am sure you folks would agree that the whole scene is reminiscent of being inside an ancient Egyptian tomb - the hieroglyphics, murals etc. But, given the plot of the film, it wouldn’t be illogical to assume that the ancient Egyptians had been influenced by the Engineers and hence, the architectural ideas of the Engineers is the original. In fact, the lead in to the discovery of the tomb in itself is a treasure chest of information – starting from the discovery of the hologram to the scene when they escape the tomb we are bombarded with important symbolism and imagery that provide a key to connect the storyline of Prometheus with Alien. Let us explore them one by one.
Let us revisit the hologram activation scene. David discovers hieroglyphic inscriptions on the wall of the corridor, which look like in the image below. In total, he performs five actions to activate the hologram. Two downward swipes, left to right, press one, fourth action is unclear and finally, another press. Now, the above information is not that important, but, the glyphs reminded me of something else. In Alien, in the very beginning, as the credits were rolling, the title played out on top of the screen with a series of vertical and slanted bars organizing into the word, Alien. Of course, I am not claiming that it means something. It’s just that I thought it was interesting to look at both the scenes from that context.
The next interesting imagery is when they follow the hologram eventually finding the door to the tomb. Again, a fairly detailed hieroglyphic inscription greets them. You can observe them in the next couple of images. If you recall, Holloway asked David with an almost exasperated expression whether he could read them, to which David responded perhaps.
If you compare these glyphs with the one that activated the hologram, you could see that there are similarities. I have marked them in the following picture. Note that the ||| glyph is oft repeated in two styles – a bar on top and a bar on bottom. Although, the one encountered earlier had no bars either on top or bottom. Given the intersection between the two glyphs, I am positive David could have at least gotten an idea about what it says.
OK, now let us discuss the imagery inside the tomb. The pictures below show four different shots of one such image. There is no big mystery in the fact that it depicts an engineer enveloped in some kind of misty layer. But, what is not so clear is that his right hand leads to something unknown. I could not make out any details from the structure. It could be a headless body in a similar position like the engineer and happens to depict a right limb or it could be something more complex. Whatever it could be, would it be possible that this image projects the idea that this thing is envisioned to be something that”evolved” from the engineer? I am not really sure. May be I am just imagining or seeing things. But, the image is nevertheless interesting. I think I will watch this scene in super slow motion tonight again and try to see if there’s more to it.
Defining Moment – The Mural
It is time now to pay attention to the all important mural inside the tomb. I think it is fairly evident that the mural depicts the classic Alien creature that we all love to death. Of course, it is not completely detailed, but the important features are all there - the head, the exoskeleton like structure, stretched out hands, bipedalism.
In addition, the wavy, viscous nature of the mural texture looks very similar to the way the black goo reacted and moved before it started overflowing. You could see the details of the mural texture and the black goo motion in the following pictures. Such a parallel between the two opens up the possibility that the black goo is sentient (If this assumption is right, then it is another win for The X Files as it relates to Prometheus).
Ancient Egypt inspiration?
I had mentioned earlier that the symbolism and images have ancient Egyptian style written all over it, but, that the engineers could have influenced the Egyptians during their frequent visitations during that time. I would like to advance this idea of reverse logic further and am gonna talk about another interesting aspect of the mural. Please remember, this is another one of those not in the ballpark ideas my sick mind conjured up. It could be entirely wrong, but nevertheless, I hope it provides an interesting twist.
The following personal story segment has no bearing with the analysis, so, feel free to ignore it.
*START – Personal Story*
When I was roughly around 15-16 years old I saw a documentary on TV about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb. It made quite an impact on me that I started visiting the British Library in Madras almost every evening after school just to learn more about ancient Egypt. To have had a civilization like that in our evolution history is certainly a very proud thing for us as a race. But, as you know a lifetime is not sufficient to learn everything about ancient Egypt. Hence, I focused my interest mostly on aspects of the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom until the Greek invasion. Those evenings spent at the Library did not go in vain though. Six years later, a friend of mine cleared his Common Admission Test (CAT), organized by the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) in India. IIM is a premier management institute in India and is famous all over the world for their programs. It is also probably one of the most difficult schools to get into. If you clear the test, you have to take part in a Group Discussion, followed by an in-depth interview, where anything goes. Anyway, my friend got an interview invite from IIM-Ahmedabad, the best IIM in the country and he asked me advice about strengthening his hobby areas, just in case it comes up in the interview. He thought Egyptology could help him, since, it is something very different and that might interest the interview panel. We had a month before the interview and we spent almost 4-5 hours everyday and we would discuss about ancient Egypt. Since time was short, I advised him that we could just look into the New Kingdom, especially the burial rituals, Gods and two pharaohs, Ramses and Akhenaten. I am a huge fan of Akhenaten and he was the first and probably the only one to go against stereotype of that time and was way ahead of the curve both in his thinking and ideology. I hoped our efforts would turn out useful for my friend. As luck would have it, he was asked about his hobbies in the interview and upon hearing Egyptology, the panel was surprised. One professor in the panel had dabbled in Egyptology himself and he was very excited to meet a prospective student with a similar interest. It made the environment a bit friendlier, my friend said. They ended up talking about Akhenaten in particular. My friend got admitted into IIM-Ahmedabad. I am not saying that he got the seat solely because of his discussion about Egyptology, but it did come in handy. Self high five.
*END – Personal Story*
The idea is connected with creation myths of ancient Egypt. Although there are many theologies based on the prominence of a certain God in one of the major cities in Egypt, they all contribute in one form or the other to the creation mythology. I am not going to focus on all of them, since there is a wealth of information available on the net, starting from Wikipedia. But, what I would like to do is talk about one of the important deities during that period – Atum or Atem or simply, Tem. It is suggested that his name is derived from the word, tem, which means to complete or finish. He is regarded as a complete one and he is credited with both creation and ultimately destruction of life. Atum was the central God in the ancient city of Heliopolis. Hence, the creation myth involving Atum originated in Heliopolis. According to this creation theory, Atum created Himself by sitting on a mound that arose from the primordial waters of the abyss, called Nu. Sometimes, He Himself is considered as the mound. Why do I have to talk about Atum, you ask? Here’s why – He is also credited with the creation of god Shu and goddess Tefnut. He created them by spitting them out of his mouth. It is believed that he was masturbating and upon orgasm he took the semen in his mouth and spit it out thereby creating the gods. The texts from that time suggest various mechanisms for the creation, but they all involve masturbation, semen and spitting. So, the underlying thing here is that he created the twin gods by spitting them out. Shu and Tefnut eventually married each other!
The reason why I find Atum’s story in the context of the mural fascinating is because the Prometheus mural not only reveals the classic alien, but also a head type of thing right above it. It is animal-like (bull?) and I could see distinctive features like, eyes, mouth and nostrils (Atum, for instance, is thought of taking the form of a snake, mongoose or a bull sometimes). Considering the Atum-centric mythology and the relative proximity of the Alien to the mouth of the head above it in the mural together, I cannot ignore thinking about a connection between the two. At the risk of sounding like a broken ancient record, I would again like to emphasize that it is just a hypothesis and I might be dead wrong and the film makers never really cared about any Egyptian influence.
Coming back to Atum, He is a self-engendered god and He chooses when to create and when to destroy. He exercises authority over all life and has complete control over everything. So, the engineers are like Atum and they consider themselves as omnipotent beings and they have the authority and power to engineer and destroy life. That is reflective of a massive God complex! In that context, the unknown head like thing on top of the mural could be a reference to the engineers themselves and that the Alien is their “spat out” creation.
The original Alien was pretty unsettling for a lot of people at that time because it turned the concept of sex on its head. Dan O’Bannon (Bless him), the writer of Alien even mentioned in one of his interviews that his idea was to unsettle the average male viewer with the whole facehugger sequence. If you look at it, it is basically oral rape, the wrapping of its legs tightly around the host, insertion of its proboscis down the throat simultaneously implanting the embryo, all of it presents a violent image of sex. Not to mention the culmination of the entire process with birth of the chestburster, which is one of those biggest “Holy Shit!” moments in movie history. So, the mouth of the host is integral to the whole cycle.
Now, let us look at the Atum-centric creation myth again. Of course, many would say that the image of a god masturbating and taking his own semen inside his mouth (see pictures to the right and the one below) before spitting it out creating other gods is sick. Some would even say that it is somewhat amoral and all that crap. Also, the spat out gods, who are siblings, married and gave birth to other gods. So, you see there are a lot of things here that would make people uncomfortable. But, ancient Egyptians believed it and were fine with the idea (If you thought Atum masturbation myth was odd, you should read about the infamous lettuce incident between Horus and his evil uncle Set. Horus’s father Osiris was killed by Set and Horus wanted to exact revenge. My point is, sexual aspects are fairly common not just in ancient Egypt, but in many other ancient religions, like Hinduism as well). It just shows how morality was perceived earlier and how it changed over the years, thanks to a certain religion. I will come back to the issue of morality later on in my thesis, because I think it is going to be the key in answering some of our pressing questions about the engineers’ intent.
Due to all this I think it is not that far fetched to compare the Atum-centric creation myth with the mural and the deeper meaning that such a comparison unravels.
Now, getting back to Prometheus, we saw that the murals started changing after a while inside the tomb. The group then rushes out of the place. One of the shots of another mural that showed this change or “evolution” is given below. If you paid attention to the scene, you would see something like the classic alien head and its famous bony appendage with which it would attack. I have marked it for easy viewing. I might be seeing things, but I just thought of mentioning.
Finally we come to the last scene related to the mural. When you see the following picture, it should become clear. I am sure everyone would agree that on the bottom right corner, what we see is a classic facehugger! Holloway’s light even emphasizes this part of the mural, which is a clever way on part of the filmmakers to give us further clues. The fact that the alien and the facehugger is heavily represented in the mural shows that the engineers knew what they exactly wanted to create. I would elaborate on these aspects in my next post, which will be the final part of the mural analysis.
So, there is a heavy reliance on Egyptian style hieroglyphs and symbolism to not just further the movie, but, also give us hardcore fans some subtle hints helping us connect the dots. There is a stylistic resemblance between some of the glyphs and the way the title, “Alien” played out in the original film. The scene inside the tomb depicts a variety of murals that show engineers, the original alien creature and the facehugger. Looking at some of the aspects of the whole scene through an ancient Egyptian eye lens provides us with a few other fascinating ideas that cover issues like creation and sexuality.
Whoa! That took some time. Anyway, I still need to talk a bit about how the mural might tell us about the engineers’ intent in engineering this creature. I will do it in my next post.