How 'Prometheus' uses ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ to explore one paranoid android's uncertainty

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Prometheus David Jumbo 2nd

Michael Fassbender's performance in Ridley's Scott's eagerly anticipated "Prometheus" is robotic. That's a good thing for his role as David, the android aboard the vessel Prometheus, and Fassbender nails it in all his clever awkwardness. One of the most intriguing elements to David is his fascination with the classic film "Lawrence of Arabia," a fixation introduced early-on in "Prometheus."

As he watches over a crew of homo sapiens tucked away in a stasis dream state, David occupies himself with dyeing and teasing his android hair to emulate T.E. Lawrence, as depicted by Peter O'Toole. This starts what potentially could be a thickly layered theme familiar from when Ridley Scott gave us Rachel (Sean Young) in "Blade Runner": exploring artificial intelligence and how it desires to be human, or beyond human, essentially an android's identity crisis.

What's that got to do with "Lawrence of Arabia"? Much of David Lean's biopic about T.E. Lawrence deals with the young British officer's identity crisis in the desert. Lawrence develops a conflict of allegiance with the Brits as he becomes entwined with the warring desert tribes of Arabia.

It's obvious, without spoilers, that David in "Prometheus" is being set up for an identity crisis. His allegiance to humans is compromised when faced with the curiosity about other life forms.

This allegory is strongly stated early-on in "Prometheus," between Fassbender's mannerisms evoking Peter O'Toole and David dyeing his hair while watching scenes of "Lawrence of Arabia." David continually quotes lines from the movie as well, such as "There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing."

In the exhaustive analysis of "Prometheus" on Virtual Borderland, the latter quote is explained: "It relates to the reason that [the scientists] have traveled so far -- their expectations of what they will find and the answers they will receive." The British have their own agenda in the desert, while Lawrence progressively isolates himself in his own uncertainty.

Similarly, the scientists and crew on the Prometheus have their own agendas on this foreign planet, while David isolates himself in his own crisis. Much like Lawrence, David is a richly complex character, especially for an android, set for epic conquest on the philosophical horizon of cinema.

This theme of identity crisis is furthered by the thinly explored clash between scientist Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and David. It is just that, though: thinly explored.

This kind of character positioning is a trap for sci-fi geeks, set by Scott and his screenwriters. Fans would pick up on the visual cue of "Lawrence of Arabia" and apply that to the loaded scenario of another Ridley Scott android. Off they'd go plugging the Web with elaborate analyses of Scott's recurring A.I./identity crisis theme, especially citing the character Ash (Ian Holm) in Scott's "Alien," who turns out to be an android in space with ulterior motives.

Yet, like the vessel Prometheus, the theme literally and figuratively crashes and burns right into Scott's also thinly explored return to themes of motherhood from "Alien." As for Lawrence and David, what's left behind is a loosely slabbed allegory. As much as "Prometheus" will warrant lots of meaty interpretation, you won't carve away much before hitting the skewer. The meat sure looks appetizing presented under Scott's direction, but we're left asking the screenwriters who cooked it: Where's the beef?

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