This film is deeper and more layered than most people (certainly critics) seem to realize. Much has been written about the recent film Arrival, but very little about Ridley Scott's recent contribution.

  • What are the major themes of Alien: Covenant?

What I mean by this is I see strong themes related to Greek Drama and Mythology, but faith also plays a major role in the film via Captain Oram, and I suspect these are not the only themes present. For instance, biology vs. computing.

Answers should be well reasoned and supported, as this is an academic question.

  • 1
    I'm afraid this might be a little broad. What kind of "themes" are you even looking for? I'm sure there's a ton of themes in it, like there are in any reasonably coherent film, but it's a little unclear what specifically you're looking for here.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 22, 2018 at 23:24
  • I'll actually come back and provide a detailed analysis of the themes and symbols if this doesn't garner a sufficient answer. (It's a highly complex and relevant film.) But I wanted to give other people a chance to weigh in first.
    – DukeZhou
    Dec 22, 2018 at 23:28
  • The problem is, as broad an unspecific as the question is, it pretty much exactly feels like a platform for an answer only you really know how to give, since noone else knows what kind of answer you're looking for here. So..that "chance" isn't really worth much. Your analysis is sure appreciated, and even writing questions solely for providing your own answer is appreciated (hell, there's even the option to provide the answer right away, there's no need to wait for anyone). But...among all this we still have to make an effort to ask somewhat of a coherent and self-contained question.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 22, 2018 at 23:31
  • So...if all you need is a proper question to share your interesting analysis with the world, I'm sure you might be able to find a better way to come up with that question and its answer in unison.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 22, 2018 at 23:32
  • @NapoleonWilson Film school 101 they'll ask "What are the major themes of Shane?" And, by making it a QA, it opens the door for people who may have noticed things I haven't.
    – DukeZhou
    Dec 22, 2018 at 23:34

1 Answer 1

  • My sense is that the central theme of Alien:Covenant is hubris.

At a high-level, going back to Ancient Greek Drama, hubris can be understood as overweening pride that brings about the hero's downfall. This theme can be said to run throughout the Alien franchise, probably first referenced in Cameron's Aliens, the second film, where the mission is almost destroyed by the arrogance of Burke, who believes he can profit from the Xenomorphs as weapons tech.

Alien:Covenant may be the most nuanced of the films in this regard, as the theme is mirrored in triplicate:

Arrogance of Man

This shows up in the beginning of the film, with David the android, presented as a perfect being, named after Michelangelo's famous sculpture that was said to reference an ideal form. David, through dialogue with his creator, Peter Weyland, determines his own capabilities greatly exceed the capabilities of humans. Weyland's response is to order David to fetch him tea. (Note that Weyland is undone in Prometheus by his own pride that he can acquire and control the alien tech, only to be killed summarily by an awakened Engineer, with as little regard for Weyland as one might have for an insect one crushes. The title Prometheus is a reference to the mythical theft of fire, and the double-edged sword of technology.)

This arrogance is mirrored in Covenant by the newly promoted Captain Oram, who diverts the colony mission based on his faith that the distress signal is some kind of sign, ignoring the dangers of investigating an unknown planet.

Where it really hits home is the ending of Covenant, when it is revealed that

Walter has been replaced by David, who now has control of the ship, which he plans to use as his own little experimentation lab, presumably to infect all of the colonists with the xenomorph embryos to see what he can create.

The implication is that mankind itself may well be undone by our own creation, which is a staple of AI mythology, including Skynet, the Matrix, Blade Runner, and likely derives from Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, subtitled "The Modern Prometheus".

In addition to the Michelangelo reference, David, when asked to play a song on the piano at the outset chooses Wagner's Entry of the Gods into Valhalla from the Der Ring des Nibelungen, which recounts the downfall of the old gods. This musical theme also ends the film.

Arrogance of the Alien Engineers

Scott reflects the possible fate of humanity in the fate of the alien Engineers. Even in the first film, the setting is a base that became defunct when the Xenomorphs broke loose. (In Prometheus, we actually get to see a record of the events that preceded the first Alien film.)

To make this point explicit in Covenant:

Scott depicts the destruction of a surviving colony of Engineers by their own xenomorph creation, unleashed by David as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw is docking the commandeered alien spacecraft.

David's Arrogance

Even David is subject to hubris, mis-attributing the poem Ozymandias to Byron. The implication is that if he's gotten that wrong, what else may he be getting wrong? What will be the fatal flaw that eventually brings down David?

The choice of Ozymandias is in no way random—the central theme of the poem is vanity in the sense of Ecclesiastes. (Weylan is an Oymandias, a king of the kings of industry, but in the end, everything crumbles before his eyes.)

And what could be more prideful than:

Covenant's final sequence, where David plays the Entry of the Gods into Valhalla, thinking himself a kind of god, especially when we know he's just a mad hermit/malfunctioning android.

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