Firstly, let’s recap. The Space Jesus theory, in a nutshell, is this: part of the backstory of Prometheus is that Jesus was an emissary of the Engineers, and that our crucifying him was what turned them against us.
Please note that this is backstory. It isn’t upfront or explicit, and it wasn’t meant to be. That’s not Ridley Scott’s style. Consider the issue of whether or not Deckard from Blade Runner is a replicant. Perhaps you remember the discussions that raged over this topic. Even Ridley Scott outright saying ‘yes, Deckard is a replicant’ didn’t end them; nor, apparently, did the discovery of the original ending. (If you think my musings on Prometheus were insane, then go and check out this wonderful Blade Runner theory from Gavin Rothery. Minds may be blown, I warn you.)
Now, I’ve seen several objections to the Space Jesus theory in various places across the Internet. While there’s always room for debate, some of these objections seem to be based on a misreading of Ridley Scott’s comments coupled with a lack of awareness of what other people involved in the project have said. I’m talking about objections like ‘But Ridley SCRAPPED the Space Jesus idea! He SAID so!’
No, he didn’t. What he did was to give a surprisingly lengthy description of the backstory we’re discussing here, while adding that the original scripted reference was ‘too on the nose’. The key word here is scripted. Ridley Scott didn’t want Space Jesus to be upfront, he wanted the idea to be conveyed with subtlety.
This is as good as confirmed in the following interview excerpt with Damon Lindelof:
Lindelof says much the same thing in this interview:
and yet again in this one:
In yet another interview, Lindelof emphasises that yes, there is a definite reason why the Engineers became wrathful with humanity and that it can be inferred from the movie:
Damon Lindelof: Golly, I'm all for ambiguity, but if we didn't know the answer to THAT one, the audience would have every right to string us up. Yes. There is an answer. One that is hinted at within the goalposts of "Prometheus." I'll bet if I asked you to take a guess you wouldn't be far off. (My emphasis.)
He reasserts this in a further interview:
Lindelof: Ridley definitely had very specific answers to those questions and we talked a lot about how we wanted to put those answers into Prometheus. And whether or not we wanted to hold any of them back. It's a little bit obnoxious to say, "well if you like this movie, we'll give that stuff to you in the sequel." So you have to have a fair shot at being able to extrapolate based on the information in this movie. But I do feel like, embedded in this movie are the fundamental ideas behind why it is the Engineers would want to wipe us out. If that's the question that you're asking. The movie asks the question, were we created by these beings? And it answers that question very definitively. But in the wake of that answer there's a new question, which is, they created us but now they want to destroy us, why did they change their minds? That's the question that Shaw is asking at the end of this movie, the one that she wants answered. I do think that there are a lot of hints in this movie that we give you quite an educated guess as to why. But obviously not to the detriment of what Shaw might find when she goes to talk to these things herself.
All the evidence now seems to be overwhelmingly in favour of Space Jesus. If that narrative element is the key one, then going by Lindelof's comments we ought to find it stated more explicitly in early drafts and more subtly in later ones.
Fortunately, we’re now in the position of being able to compare some of those earlier drafts with what we got in the final movie and see first-hand what Damon Lindelof says was ‘more explicitly spelled out’. An original Jon Spaihts draft of Alien: Engineers was posted on Prometheus-Movie.com; soon after, a draft of Paradise by Damon Lindelof was posted on Collider. Both gentlemen have been kind enough to confirm these scripts as genuine. It’s worth noting that Damon Lindelof’s draft isn’t final. The ship is still called the Magellan, so it may be several drafts before the final one for all I know.
The Jon Spaihts script is indeed full of explicit Space Jesus references. He has Holloway make the following observation:
If that wasn’t enough, the following exchange takes place during the presentation:
By the pattern, they should’ve come to Earth seventeen centuries ago. And again six centuries ago. But no sign. After twelve thousand years...they stopped coming.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Janek’s words here cleverly describe not only the forsaken condition of humankind no longer visited by the Engineers, but hint at the very event that led them to abandon us.
The Sacrifice Engineer at the film’s beginning is also described as ‘standing cruciform’.
By Lindelof’s draft, the explicit verbal suggestions of a Space Jesus backstory have (at Ridley Scott’s instigation, one supposes) been reduced to far more symbolic hints. Instead of outright speculation about Jesus, we have additions such as Janek’s Christmas tree:
Happy Birthday, you little bastard.
Janek also – endearingly, in my book – exclaims ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph’ when he first sees the alien juggernaut.
When we reach the dead Engineers, we no longer hear Holloway speculate openly about Jesus. Instead, there is only this:
How long’s it been dead?
Shaw looks at the DIGITAL READOUT. Frowns --
Two thousand years. Give or take.
A moment for that to settle in. The implication. Shaw looks up at Holloway and asks the only question worth asking --
What... is this place?
‘The implication’? Reader, your guess is as good as mine.
We haven’t seen the last of Baby Jesus in this draft. There’s a later scene with Holloway that warrants attention:
Sitting alone with an empty bottle of CHAMPAGNE. He’s drunk.
Turns to the CHRISTMAS TREE beside him. Glares at the ORNAMENT of BABY JESUS --
When you grow up?
(a sympathetic whisper)
They’re gonna kill you.
(I haven't yet seen the deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray, but this review implies that the commentary for one of them - deleted scene 2 - refers directly to the Jesus-was-an-Engineer idea. If anyone could confirm, I'd appreciate it.)
Now, it seems pretty obvious to me that what Damon Lindelof was trying to do here was to convey key ideas to the audience as subtly as possible, getting us to think about the Jesus story and allowing our imagination’s spark to jump the gap between those familiar images and the dead Engineers from two thousand years ago. But even these references, delicate as they are compared to Jon Spaihts’ overt ‘what if’ dialogue, must have been too blatant for Ridley Scott.
Damon Lindelof says that Scott’s instinct ‘kept being to pull back’, suggesting that the Space Jesus implications were repeatedly refined away into greater and greater subtlety. This is certainly borne out when we compare the Spaihts script with the Lindelof one, and then compare that in turn with what we got on the screen. Indeed, by some accounts, the viewer’s only hope of gleaning any idea of the Space Jesus backstory at all was to read a lengthy insane rant that some dude put up on his Livejournal, and what the fuck was up with that.
In the interview with Damon Lindelof cited above, he suggests that a sequel to Prometheus might begin with a sequence set 2000 years ago. This would, presumably, depict the crucifixion of Jesus-the-Emissary and the Engineers’ fury. I now wonder if we’ll ever see such a thing. For my part, I would love to.
But until and unless we do get a sequel that puts all this stuff upfront, Space Jesus is – and can only be – one of many feasible backstories. Like Deckard’s is-he-isn’t-he status, no amount of digging into the movie’s thematic DNA or production history can answer this question definitively. If we don’t know, it’s because Ridley Scott doesn’t want us to know. He wants us to fight over it. Damon Lindelof quotes him as saying: ‘I would rather have people fighting about it and not know then spell it out, that's just more interesting to me.’
In conclusion, I want to speak in Mr Lindelof’s defence. The man has copped a ridiculous amount of flak over Prometheus, and I don’t believe it was deserved. Ridley Scott quite clearly instructed him to winnow away some of the movie’s big ideas into a more subtle form, in order to create just the sort of open-ended stimulus of furious debate that the film has become since release. Yes, there are other issues with the movie than just the open-endedness; but the slating that Lindelof has received has been ugly and over-the-top, given that he did exactly what he was brought on board to do and – in my book – did it exceptionally well. Unlike LOST, which (so far as I am aware) did not have a clear outcome in mind from day one, Prometheus began with a clear backstory and was deliberately filtered through layer after layer of rewrites in order to create something much more textured, in which ideas are implied rather than stated outright. It’s not as easy as it looks.