You can tell what phase a director is in through their work. When they’re young, there is an aggressive virility. The style is more important than the substance as the neophyte struggles to find their voice. Eventually they move into that mature phase where they have nailed their vision and have moved towards expressing a message through their art. This is the phase directors are known for. Finally, they hit the twilight of their career. This is where Ridley Scott exists now.
The man is a master. I love his work, but after the loss of his brother and a series of disappointing pictures that have led to the studios taking increasing control away from him, he has ventured into a soul searching period. Scott has returned to his older work, using it to ask questions both personal and profound. His return to both Alien and Blade Runner are attempts to find meaning in a career nearing an end as he tries to recapture the magic of two legendary movies that helped to define his life. It is all the more obvious as he investigates life and it’s purpose in both franchises.
Prometheus was telling in that the focus wasn’t on the Xenomorph but where it came from. We are treated to a tale of Intelligent Design and the disappointment creators have with their creations. Ridley, are you trying to tell us something?
Alien: Covenant takes the story further. It is a tale of the self-destructive nature of Creation, the randomness of death, the fragility of life, and how far we can fall. We create our own monsters. The vanity and love we have for ourselves blinds us to the evils we eventually construct.
The movie opens with a completely random event that kills several dozen leading the survivors to question their mission. Searching out for a planet to colonize, a strange message (Siren’s song), draws their attention to a closer, easier destination. The sure and easy path is long and hard, but paradise seems tantalizingly close. *Wink
They land to find a world that appears to offer everything they could ever want…until hidden problems serve to gradually destroy this mission of finding and building a life. Paradise proves to be a realm of horrors.
Eventually the survivors come across David, a figure whose intentions were pure in Prometheus: hoping to save his creator, Peter Weyland and bridge the divide between the Engineers and humanity. His discovery that the love he thought his creator had for him was false (the audiences that abandoned Ridley) and that the Engineers had grown tired of humanity (the studios) caused him to become cut-off, spiritually wounded, and vindictive.
The movie is a nasty message to those in Ridley’s life. The Engineers are wiped out with capricious glee, their suffering shown in detail. Humanity is viciously tortured and killed. Life and creation are twisted, stripped of divine mystery, and casually cast off.
Most telling is the meeting between David and Walter, the metaphorical meeting of the young Ridley and the Ridley of now: one that was capable of creating and one who was robbed of that right. Ridley’s love of self, his desire for that lost self, is played out as David shares an intimate moment with Walter regarding art and music. It also serves as a means to reconcile the loss of his brother, Tony, whose devolution into a studio director bereft of creative control led to his eventual suicide.
When one looks at the movie for what it is, it becomes an incredibly beautiful tragedy of an artist struggling to make sense of a life near it’s end.