May 25, 2017


God Is Dead but the Shadow Is Long: Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant (Eric Marcy, May 24, 2017, Bright Lights Film Journal)

Narratively and thematically Covenant both follows and intersects with the events of Prometheus, and viewing the original Alien comes only recommended, not required. Those looking primarily for xenomorph-slasher-action, disappointed with Scott's journeying away from the universe's pure horror roots into space odyssey with Prometheus, will find more to sate their bloodlust, but thankfully the director's interest in the aliens themselves remains eclipsed by deeper questions of creator/creature relationships. Covenant is fundamentally the story of a colonizing mission, the titular vessel Covenant and its crew converging with the marooned android David (well played once again by Michael Fassbender, below). It is the collision of New World idealism with the infamous Lucifer of Milton's Paradise Lost that forms the backbone of Covenant, with David playing the created being in a struggle to assume the role of creator-god himself, with predictably horrifying results. Fassbender also plays Walter, a later-model android attached to the colonists, whose interactions with David provide some of the film's best manipulations of not only intra-angel conflict in Paradise Lost but broader biblical stories and ethical questioning, from Cain murdering Abel and Noah's Ark to the degree of a creator's sovereignty.

Profoundly connected to the Miltonic narrative is Scott's visual aesthetic. If David acts as the Byronic hero (Lord Byron himself is referenced in a manner oh-so-full of implications), the Lucifer-archetype so lauded by the Romantics, then the dark and jagged beauty of the mountainous planet on which the colonists land is the manifested definition of the Sublime: "Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling" (Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful 86). As ion hurricanes crackle overhead, the colonists are dwarfed by splintered and shattered trees, sheer rock faces that proclaim reverent awe in the same breath as the prospect of death. These natural phenomena are framed in the widest shots possible, suggesting magnitude that forces the audience to wallow in their own insignificance. Almost the entire film is drenched in darkness, prompting visual probing and wondering, the camera supplying images that suggest far more terrible yet wondrous things just beyond the presence of shadow and the limits of human perception.

The Romantics may have been obsessed with the Sublime as an aesthetic principle, but in Covenant the Sublime dismembers not merely human emotion but humans themselves. The Romantic Sublime, with the idolized Lucifer hidden in the garden, becomes the film's most horrifying threat. 

Posted by at May 25, 2017 5:26 AM