Science Fiction has long been a meditative genre; a mirror for one to view the human condition through bionic eyes and through the cockpits of wormhole-accessible spacecraft. In more contemporary sci-fi, however, we can find new elements emerging in the fogged lens of our mirror. Sci-fi now not only reflects gender issues more prominently, such as in Ridley Scott’s Alien, but also reflects issues of religion, parenthood, and racism as well. In my article I’ll dive into three films and a novel in order to analyze and interpret the portrayals of parenthood, filicide versus parenticide, and the ultimate mistake; creation of life in contemporary science fiction.
In this article, I will first look at Prometheus in order to set solid ground for comparisons of filicide to the abortion parable found in Alien and to establish it’s standpoint on issues of parenticide and the creation of life. Second, I will look at Ghost in the Shell, comparing its leading cyborg characters with the character of David in Prometheus and also exploring the advent of The Puppet Master and his “merge” with Major Kusanagi, simultaneously exploring the identity of the post-human. Third, I will dig deep into Jurassic Park and Margaret Atwood’s novel, Oryx and Crake in order to explore the idea of parenting an alien species in comparison to Prometheus’ portrayal of parenthood versus abortion, still taking into account the issues of parenticide present in all sources. Lastly, I’ll analyze and attempt to answer why the themes of creation and parenticide versus filicide are so common in contemporary science fiction.
To start, let’s define filicide and parenticide: Filicide can be defined as the killing of one’s own child while parenticide involves the murder of one of or both of one’s parents. Because Prometheus is a film with very strong Western religious connotations, comparisons of characters to gods can also relate to being creators. We can assume that a creator would fill the role of a parental figure. In the past, specifically his first film in the series, Ridley Scott was determined to embed the images of birth, rape, and abortion into the minds of his viewers, “Vaginal doorways, cervical mazes on the walls, phallic sculptures on the alien starship, and bulbous mammary projections everywhere-virtually every scene works itself out within a matrix of sexual suggestiveness.”1 In Prometheus we are introduced to the Engineer, a massive humanoid creature hailed as a god and the creator of the human race. The phallic Xenomorphs are not present until the very last seconds of the film. Though the sexualized spacecraft and alien bioforms still appear very phallic thanks to H.R. Giger, the film has become much less of a rape and abortion parable. Instead, the film focuses its energies on the problem of origins and the act of playing god. As Atwood might say somewhere if she were to have written this film, “We know more than we understand”.
I compiled a string of events in Prometheus that I like to call an origins tree. The origins tree in Prometheus goes something like this:
Engineers create mankind from their own DNA>Engineers create Xenomorph bioform to kill mankind (filicide)> Bioform turns on Engineers (parenticide)> Dr. Holloway is infected by the Xenomorph bioform> Dr. Holloway has intercourse with Dr. Shaw before dying a slow and painful death due to the bioform infecting his body> Dr. Shaw aborts/ gives birth to a more evolved version of the bioform that mixed with the DNA of her lover during intercourse (attempted filicide)> The last remaining Engineer wakes up from its sleep and attempts to kill Dr. Shaw (attempted filicide)> Engineer is killed/ raped by aborted bioform in the medbay and the bioform dies (parenticide/ filicide)> Perfect bioform or Xenomorph hatches from the corpse of its parent (creation of new life through a merging of species).
This is only one of the many origin trees one may find in Prometheus. The theme of abortion is still present, but not as strongly as before. Instead of a face-hugging alien forcing eggs down a victim’s throat and causing an unwanted birth, Prometheus’ main focus seems to be on genes and microbiology. It can be said that this is a story no longer about rape, but about sexually transmitted diseases handled with very religious undertones. In Dr. Shaw we see our Virgin Mary; our resolute pillar of faith and innocence in the form of an infertile scientist. Before the inception of the alien into her body, Dr. Shaw’s lover states that “There is nothing special about the creation of life… Anybody can do it… I mean, all you need is a dash of DNA and half a brain, right?” The Doctors’ impending sexual encounter results in Shaw rapidly developing a miracle child in her womb; an alien embryo that everyone but her is willing to save. In addition to the not-so-subtle biblical references throughout, we are given a few very maternal images to interpret.
After the crew wakes up from cryosleep, the only character that seems to be having issues; more specifically, suffering from a type of morning sickness as a precursor to her mid-movie impregnation, is Dr. Shaw. Dr. Holloway’s only excited response is, “We made it, baby!” which is too close to ‘We made a baby’ to ignore.
Similarly, a birthing process is present in Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. Though she possesses a cyberbrain that holds all of the information a normal human brain would hold, Major Kusanagi’s entire body is made of synthetic material. The only human part of her that remains is in her head and in her female figure. We are guided through the process of her cyborg rebirth in the opening credits of the film. In the final scene of the birth, a fully grown Kusanagi emerges, fetus-like, from a giant mechanized birth canal; the image of a perfect child. Similar to the original Alien film when the crew emerges from their sleeping pods, we receive imagery of a perfect, painless birth; “…a primal fantasy in which the human subject is born fully developed- even copulation is redundant”.2 We can pair this with the opening scenes of David’s time aboard the Prometheus; although the film purposefully reveals his android status early by showcasing his immense dexterity (as is popular with androids in the Alien series), we see a more human side revealed. David spends much of his free time watching Lawrence of Arabia, memorizing and quoting it relentlessly as well as cutting and styling his hair and even transforming his speech pattern to mimic the lead actor. He does this all out of free will. As David is in no way of human origin, it is strange to imagine, then, where these seemingly human qualities of him originate.
If we pay close attention to David’s part in the story, we see that he is very close to his father, Mr. Weyland, who states that David is “The closest thing to a son I will ever have”. Weyland also states, however, that David will never be able to appreciate his immortality and longevity because he does not possess a soul, to which statement David reacts with a look that almost resembles horror. Later in the film, before investigating the alien structure, Holloway asks David why he is wearing a suit when he doesn’t need to breathe. David’s response is, “You people feel more comfortable interacting with your own kind. Not wearing the suit would defeat the purpose”, evoking an attempt at a snide remark from Holloway about how the company is making the androids “…pretty close [to human], huh?” David’s response being “Not too close, I hope” taking a stab at Holloway’s thick-headedness. It is possible that David’s initial response beginning with ‘You people’ is a nod to Blade Runner and the final speech that Roy gives Deckard before his system’s failsafe shuts him down.
The realization that David may have become more human than human parallels the advent of The Puppet Master or Unit 2501 in Ghost in The Shell. Unit 2501 is the first known instance of a completely synthetic unit developing its own awareness or soul. The explanation given by The Puppet Master is:
“I am not AI…I am a living, thinking entity that was created in the sea of information…I refer to myself as an intelligent life form because…I am able to recognize my own existence, but in my present state I am still incomplete. I lack the most basic processes inherent in all living organisms: reproducing and dying.”
According to this quote, we are to believe that vast amounts of information alone in a highly advanced computerized world can give birth to an entity all on its own, specifically a soul. With all of the information David consumes, is it possible that he birthed his own soul into existence? Was his soul created during his building process? To help give ground to this claim we can look at Corbett’s article where he states that:
“[The] transhumanist aspect of the cyborg, not present in the Gothic automaton, refigures the cyborg as not just ab-human, but post-human. Rather than transgressing established boundaries through monstrosity, this new conception of the cyborg gives powers well beyond the human”3
To return to the concept of filicide vs parenticide in our synthetic characters, we can look at David’s role in the death of Mr. Weyland, who stows away on the ship in order to consult the alien engineer about extending his lifespan. Immediately before going to wake the Engineer, Dr. Shaw asks David about what he’s going to do when Mr. Weyland dies. His response is that he will be free. What she is trying to accomplish with this question cannot be assumed since she knows David is an android and isn’t programmed to understand the concepts of grieving and death. When she asks if that’s what David wants, the only response she evokes is yet another cheeky line from David, who says “Want? Not a concept I’m familiar with. That being said, doesn’t everyone want their parents dead?” Major Kusanagi, on the other hand, constantly struggles with her identity. She embodies the struggle of gender identity as well as origin; an uncertainty if her memories are false implants. The major’s human identity is:
“Closely tied in to her possession of a “ghost,” the spirit that is said to be the true source of identity and ‘personhood’ in the show…[and] as we create ever more complex lifeforms, whether genetically engineered, cyborg, artificially alive, or otherwise, it is these bioethical issues [of personhood] that will come to play a leading role”
As we can see in David’s character, he is a much different and more contemporary iteration of the Western cyborg or android in film. Instead of becoming the sub-human cyborg monster in the story (i.e. Darth Vader, Terminator, etc.), David becomes our post-human and gives rise to powers beyond regular humans.
In Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, one of the main focuses is about gene-splicing; combining strands of DNA in order to create a new form of life. This gene splicing takes place throughout the novel on various plants and animals, the pinnacle of which turns out to be new humans. These new humans, or Crakers (named after the novel’s main antagonist), possess advancements in everything from digestive systems to physical prowess and sexual habits. They have been bred to replace humanity with a less destructive, more forward-thinking (or possibly not thinking at all) race of beings. They can digest grass and other plant life. They have no sex drive until they are in heat. Although they have had religion “bred out” of them, our main character, Snowman, has re-introduced it, sabotaging all that Crake has worked for through simple myth-crafting. They are not harmed by the harsh environment of post-apocalyptic Earth.
In order to create these perfect humans and replace the damaged, overpopulating species, Crake develops a virus that he hides in sexual stimulus pills and releases, wiping out the majority of the existing human race. In a way, we are to understand that this genocide is a mercy killing. The human race is said to not be able to hold out another generation at the rate they are running out of food. In much the same argument, we can quote Dr. Ian Malcom, “This isn’t some species that was obliterated by deforestation, or the building of a dam. Dinosaurs had their shot, and nature selected them for extinction.” But I believe Crake would counter that with a statement of his own, responding to Jimmy’s curiousness about what would happen if genetically engineered wolvogs escaped from their compound; “That would be a problem… but they won’t get out. Nature is to zoos as God is to churches… Those walls and bars are there for a reason… Not to keep us out, but to keep [Nature and God] in. Mankind needs barriers in both cases.”
In much the same way as we see in Prometheus, In Jurassic Park and Oryx and Crake we witness science being taken to its limits and beyond simply to see if it can, without questioning the ethics of the experiments that are taking place. In Spielberg’s film, we see a child-like billionaire in John Hammond’s character, spending all of his money to re-create dinosaurs in the modern world and calling it a scientific marvel. In Atwood’s novel, we see Crake building himself into a God-figure, deciding who deserves to live and who to die based on the basic need of the human race to survive. In Prometheus we meet the Engineers who, in their realized mistake of creating such an imperfect race (humans) seemingly only “Because [they] could,” decide to create another species or disease to erase their mistake, which becomes their downfall.
These three god-figures are extremely similar in their reasons for attempted genocide. In Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs break free of the compound and slaughter almost all the humans on the island including the scientists that “mothered” them. They use their gifts of amphibian DNA to switch sexes and breed uncontrollably in much a similar way that the Xenomorphs of the Alien series are considered to be ambisexual, or possess the ability to switch sexes at will. In Oryx and Crake, the pigoons, wolvogs, and bobkittens are all released into the wild and become uncontrollable to the point of wiping out almost all natural animals. These animals all are seemingly smarter than humans or act dangerously toward them; gifts of enhanced anatomies given by the parents that they destroyed. In Prometheus we see over and over, humans and Xenomorphs as the mistakes of The Engineers. Humans proved to be dangerous for an unexplained reason and the misjudgment of the intelligence of the Xenomorph proved fatal.
So why is the creation of life such a big deal in contemporary science fiction? Why does everything created seem to outlive its parental figures and turn against them indefinitely? There doesn’t seem to be a pattern of filicide as the cause of parenticide; in fact, it seems like there is really no pattern at all. Intelligent species or androids become curious about their origins and seek them out, sometimes to bitter revelations. Sometimes the parent creates a child to push the limits of science and ethics further than they should go without fully understanding why the child is being created in the first place. Sometimes mistakes are made, so often too late for the god-figures to do anything to correct them. Sometimes someone bestows the gift of fire to a species without really considering the long term consequences. To end my article, I will quote Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park and a subsequent research paper:
At the end Hammond confesses to himself, ‘He should never have brought those kids. They had been nothing but trouble from the beginning. Nobody wanted them around. Hammond had only brought them because he thought it would stop Gennaro from destroying the resort’…With this confession, Hammond demonstrates his own failures as a paternal figure, because he has used the children instrumentally; he mutters ‘those damned kids’ several more times before he dies… In so doing, he reveals what is wrong with the entire enterprise: as the ‘father’ of the dinosaurs and the park, he has failed to be adequately concerned or responsible, failed also to appreciate how truly monstrous his ‘children’ are.4
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake: A Novel. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2003. Print.
Briggs, Laura, and Jodi I. Kelber-Kaye. “”There Is No Unauthorized Breeding in Jurassic Park”: Gender and the Uses of Genetics.” NWSA Journal 12.3 (2000): 92-113. Web.
Cobbs, John L. “Alien as an Abortion Parable.” Literature Film Quarterly 18.3 (1990): 198-202. Academic Search Complete. Web. November 11, 2014.
Corbett, Austin. “Beyond Ghost in The (Human) Shell.” Journal of Evolution & Technology 20.1 (2009): 43-50. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.
Creed, Barbara. “Alien and the Monstrous-Feminine,” Screen, Vol. 27, No. 1 (1986), also Kuhn, (ed.) Alien Zone (1990).
Ghost in the Shell. Dir. Mamoru Oshii. Bandai, 1995. DVD.
Jurassic Park. Dir. Steven Spielberg. 1993. DVD.
Prometheus. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron. Twentieth Century Fox, 2012. DVD.