The Blu-ray for Prometheus was released on Monday, so like many of you I raced to the store to get my copy, to watch the deleted scenes. These scenes were hinted to reveal more answers and settle a few mysteries – It actually says on the case “Questions will be answered…”
Here at the Bioscopist, we managed to get into contact with the linguistics consultant for Prometheus, Dr. Anil Biltoo, around the time of the films release. He taught actor, Michael Fassbender, the dialogue used in the “Proto-Indo European” linguistics lesson scene, while the rest of the crew are in cryostasis. He was also very helpful in providing the English translation for what David said to the Engineer, towards the final scenes of the film and hinted at the time, that the scene originally had dialogue between the two.
I decided to contact Dr. Biltoo again and asked him a few questions regarding those two scenes. Here are a few excerpts from our “back and forth” emails:
The benediction scene, which didn’t make it to the cinema release version of ‘Prometheus’, is one of the additional bits of footage embedded in the Blu-ray DVD set. It shows several Engineers as opposed to just the one, assembled together at a waterfall with the eldest amongst them offering a blessing to the sacrifice.
Ridley wanted the language to have something of the liturgical and the formulaic about it, hinting at something not only fixed according to ritual but marking a moment of great spiritual significance. Here is an Engineer about to end his life in order that other life can come into being – and on a planetary scale. The language had to be suitably measured and sonorous.
The language that the Engineer uses in his role as officiating ‘priest’ is clearly the same language that is heard at several other points in the film: if there were any doubts as to this, one of the distinctive, difficult to pronounce clicks of the type that David practices with the virtual tutor is included in the benediction.
To err on the side of caution, I won’t give an English translation of the benediction (This might go against Ridley’s wishes, which were not to have any subtitles for the Engineer’s language); but for those who want to investigate possible meaning, here it is, in a customized form of the phonetic alphabet familiar to linguists:
vratra-sunu-saŋgena, kludh! tanus teva pərətu ʔādat, kruhs teva āpam. gwhitam-usjah-kwe ʔasyat ei pṇthane – nəsmuh aja.
It’s important for me to stress the fact that the influence behind this language is Proto-Indo-European, a hypothesized spoken language that pre-dates (and is the ancestor of) ancient languages such as Sanskrit, Hittite and Greek. It is not, however, an attempt to be academically rigorous and to reconstruct the language according to the most persuasive arguments from scholars working in this field.
A language spoken at the start of life on Earth would not, of course, be known to a life form that evolved – or should I say, was mutated – much later. How, then, to account for the connection between the language of the Engineers and an archaic form of speech belonging to the Indo-European language family?
The only possible conclusion that can be drawn is that the Engineers did not simply create life on Earth and then leave, with no interest as to the progress of their experiment. They returned – goodness knows how many times – influencing and steering the course of human development – goodness know why. The last time they did so was around 2000 years ago.
That final sentence concurs with Ridley Scott’s statements about the incident that caused The Engineers to not visit, possibly relating to the Crucifixion of Christ or similar event. So this could imply that the historical figure of Jesus, in this fictional context, may have been an Engineer. Causing the other Engineers to leave us the hell alone. But without trying to root this theory solely in Christianity or your personal belief in God or no God, Dr. Biltoo goes on to say:
Ultimately, one might suggest that there are three key questions, to which the viewer must provide the answers that make the most sense according to his/her world view and belief system:
1) To what end did the Engineers create life on Earth?
2) Why did they stop visiting around 2000 years ago?
3) Why would at least one faction wish to destroy (or to further mutate) all life on Earth?
So there you have it. Some mysteries can be solved while others are ultimately left to your own imagination. I don’t think Ridley Scott, Damon Lindelof or John Spaihts know all the answers either. They’re creating a story to which they can also ponder the mysteries themselves. It’s impossible to try and tackle a script that covers the meaning of life, creation, death and reality all rolled into one. But what a movie can do is point out some interesting questions and ideas for the audience to expand upon in their thinking and begin interesting discussions with like minded people. Dr. Biltoo signed off with this interesting take on the matter…
I have to confess to being a bit surprised at some of the comments on various fan sites suggesting that ‘Prometheus’ hadn’t lived up to expectations because it had failed to reveal the meaning of existence. Well, there’s no accounting for what some folk expect for a few bucks. When investigating the significance of ‘Prometheus’, it might be interesting to speculate that god doesn’t play dice with the universe – and neither does Ridley Scott.