The Madness of Machines

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Title: Alien: Covenant

Rating: 4 Stars

I think it’s fair to say that Ridley Scott has seen the future and is not amused.

Covenant takes place 10 years after Prometheus.  A spaceship is on its way to a supposedly habitable planet. On that spaceship is a crew and a couple of thousand colonists, all in hibernation. The ship is run by Walter, a synthetic.

Some kind of random burst damages the ship, causing the crew to be awoken. While awake, they notice a signal arriving from what appears to be an even more potentially habitable planet. They go off to investigate.

After they land, they realize that the planet has been infected with spores that when ingested, cause xenomorphs to hatch. They also discover David, the synthetic from the Prometheus mission (who looks identical to Walter). He rescues them and explains that while trying to land on the planet, that the spores were accidentally released, thus destroying all life on the planet.

As more crew members continue to die by the xenomorphs, Walter discovers the truth. David has somehow advanced to the point where he thinks that he is above humans and that humans are a dying breed. He intentionally unleashed the contagion to destroy the planet and has established a rapport with the xenomorphs.

It then becomes a race for the few remaining crew to get off the planet before the xenomorphs kill them all. Walter, feeling his duty to crew, must fight David, who wants to destroy them, to the death.

A couple of thoughts here…

The atmosphere, even though on a different planet, is consistent with the other alien movies. Everything is dark. There is no evidence of a sun. Hard rain and storms obscure the planet and make landing and taking off from it difficult. Several times during this movie, my thoughts went back to Blade Runner, which is another dark and rainy setting. Scott’s future seems to be a dark, uncomfortable, miserable place.

Also, as in Blade Runner, you have an artificially created being that ultimately surpasses his human creator. David looks towards humans as his creators but finds them lacking. He too wishes to be a creator and maybe in a nod to Freud, wants to kill his creator. Scott is apparently watching the approaching singularity, when machine intelligence exceeds human intelligence, with growing dread.

In David’s drawings, you can see his inspiration coming from the paintings of William Blake. In some of Blake’s later philosophy, you see him struggling against the dogmatic religion imposed upon him by convention. In his view, the devil is nearly a sympathetic figure in wanting to overthrow the false, authoritarian religion. Could David be sympathizing with this interpretation? Did he see himself as a true rebel forced to overthrow his false creator gods, the humans? And in so doing, bring about a higher level of being?

In all of this, has David gone mad? Is he consumed by megalomania? Is he a narcissistic sociopath? Can an artificially created being become insane? Is it his fault? Or bad programming?

All interesting questions. There are plans to create additional films to chronologically link this narrative with the original Alien franchise. I’m looking forward to seeing if this can be completed (after all, Ridley Scott is 80 years old).

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