Last week, I promised that I would answer some of the arguments made at this link about the nature of Meredith Vickers in the recent movie Prometheus. Tonight, I’m making good that promise. It’s been an interesting intellectual exercise drafting this post, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Tomorrow, though, I’ll move on to other things.
(Spoilers follow…though I imagine that most people who want to see Prometheus already have, it’s still nice to give fair warning.)
There are three possibilities with respect to Meredith Vickers.
1. She is an android.
2. She is human, genetically female.
3. She is human, genetically male.
If the second possibility is true, then she is exactly what she appears to be. If either of the other two possibilities is true, she is something else. I proceed under the assumption that in answering a question like this, the most weight should be assigned to what we actually see in the film, then the next-most weight to the creators’ stated intentions. Since Vickers appears female, anyone who favors the first or third possibilities has a case to make.
I am going to begin by examining and ultimately rejecting the major arguments that claim Vickers is an android. Then I will look at the evidence bearing on the second and third possibilities, ultimately concluding that though the available evidence could easily cut both ways, the issues surrounding the medical device make the most sense if Vickers was born male. So I favor the third possibility, and believe others should as well. Anyone who wants to tell me that this is not an ironclad argument doesn’t need to bother; I’m aware. If you would like to respond to any specific point, however, you are more than welcome to do so.
Why Meredith Vickers is not an android.
It is easy to see why people would want to make the case that Vickers is an android. During much of the film, she seems emotionless, a veritable ice queen. She is hyper-efficient. She shows a tendency to sacrifice human lives for the sake of the overall mission. This behavior would not be inconsistent with androids as they have been presented in the Alien universe. Nor would it be unprecedented for an android to be passing for human. And when one character explicitly asks her “Are you a robot?” she does not answer the question.
Of course, even if she were an android, she would be free to answer that question with “no,” wouldn’t she, since robots and androids are not the same thing? But the main point is that while the presumption of the casual viewer would and should be in favor of Vickers being a woman, anyone who wants to believe that Vickers is an android has at least the beginnings of a textual argument that the movie is intentionally misleading us into the belief that she is a woman. And since the movie does not provide any incontrovertible evidence that Vickers is not an android (we never see her bleed, for example), the possibility that she is must be taken seriously as a live one.
However…and I confess that as far as I’m concerned, this is really all the evidence I need…one of the writers of the film, Damon Lindelof, has already made public his belief that Vickers is not a robot. (I assume he understands what the question really was, and is not semantically toying with the questioner.)
“Vickers. Yes, she does look like David. Yes, this was intentional. What better way to piss off your daughter than to build the male equivalent of her? But enough about daddy issues…Is she a robot? She is not.”
Despite this statement, a number of people seem hell-bent to prove either that Lindelof is wrong, or that his opinion doesn’t matter. I will take on some of those arguments, which seem collectively to prove nothing at all. Let’s tackle first the question of whether Lindelof’s opinion matters.
The director of a film – here, Ridley Scott – is commonly taken as its author, and the final word on its content. Where the fictional work itself does not give us reason to doubt the author, we must take the author’s word for what is what. (I stress the first part of that sentence because even authors can sometimes be mistaken about what they have actually done, though I think they can never be mistaken on what they intended to do. A prime example is Scott himself, who persists in the bizarre belief that Rick Deckard was a Replicant in Blade Runner, when the chief piece of evidence in support of that contention has long since been revealed as an editing mistake.) Lindelof is not the director; therefore we do not have to listen to Lindelof. Or at least, we don’t have to listen to him any more than we would listen to a set designer or a makeup artist…or Charlize Theron herself.
Conveniently overlooked by those who would make that argument is that Lindelof was hired by Scott to rewrite the Prometheus script. He then subsequently worked with Scott on an extensive revision of the general story which included planning for sequels. Lindelof’s word can thus be taken as authoritative by proxy. He helped develop the blueprint for this story as much as Ridley Scott, perhaps more. Certainly he ought to know whether any particular character is an android or not. So unless Lindelof is either lying or playing semantic games, I see no reason to doubt his word.
Now to the arguments:
Vickers recovers quickly from cryosleep.
Indeed, we see a couple examples of humans shortly after coming out of cryosleep. Dr. Shaw is throwing up and generally weak. Dr. Holloway is sitting up, but weakly, and he is in the process of hydrating. The first we see of Vickers, meanwhile, she is forcing herself through pushups. This is a feat of exertion greater than anything of which the seemingly fit Shaw or Holloway seem capable. And we never see her hydrate. The implication seems to be that Vickers’s unnatural behavior qualifies her as…unnatural.
This seems like a good argument until one tries to poke holes in it. We have no idea how long Vickers has been out of cryosleep, for example. Perhaps a period of several minutes is enough to recover from the worst effects, and while we see Shaw and Holloway within that several-minute period, we don’t see Vickers until after. That is merely a supposition, however; the film offers us no way to confirm or deny it.
But why is Vickers so visibly exerting herself? When David shoots baskets while riding a bicycle, he does not seem to exert himself at all, and it seems likely that his goal is not physical exercise but whatever the android equivalent is of mental recreation. Vickers is working to push her body up, it is implied as a way of recovering from cryosleep. Speaking of which, why would an android need to be put in cryosleep at all? There is no evidence that David was. We have seen androids climb out of pods in previous movies, of course, but generally that was when they were masquerading as human. Vickers does not rise with the others, however; she rises first, and in a different area of the ship. So there’s no need for the pretense. Who among the crew would have known if she had simply stayed up with David? (Besides David, of course.)
Vickers can push David around.
Does Vickers need super-strength to do this? We are given no idea within the film itself of what David weighs. If he weighed as much as a car, then Vickers being able to shove him against a wall would seem to be near-conclusive proof of her being an android. If he weighed nearly the same as a normal human being, on the other hand, that would be no proof at all. A furious person of reasonable fitness ought to be able to shove someone slightly larger than themselves against a wall, especially if the victim had no prior warning (as David did not). Had Vickers held her own against David in an extended physical contest, that would also probably be proof that Vickers was an android. But we never get a physical contest – because David doesn’t fight back. Why? Because he has been programmed not to attack Vickers specifically? Or perhaps humans in general?
Vickers knew about Weyland’s presence, like David.
This proves nothing. It stands to reason that a member of the Weyland Corp board of directors might well be aware if the CEO was embarking on a multi-year expedition to the stars, especially if that CEO was her father and especially if she knew in advance (as she seems to have) that he was searching for the secret of eternal life. That would make corporate succession rather harder, so Vickers would have a vested interest in knowing of Weyland’s quest and status.
Vickers has a different last name than Weyland.
This proves nothing. There are any number of explanations: she married and took her husband’s last name, she was adopted, she was raised by her mother away from her father, she changed her name for some reason, Weyland changed his name for some reason. Not all parents and children share a last name.
More crucially, anyone who wants to put this forward as evidence of Vickers being an android must explain why she has a last name at all. There is one definite android in the film, who alone among the crew of the Prometheus is identified solely by a given name. We must assume he has no other. So why does Vickers? One can come up with a few potential explanations, but nothing that overrides the film’s presentation of Vickers as human.
Weyland seems too old to be Vickers’s biological father.
Two words: Artificial insemination. Two more words: Michael Douglas. (He was still siring children on the brink of 60.)
Vickers shows little emotion at Weyland’s death.
If she resented her father as she seemed to, what would you expect?
We never see Vickers die.
No, I suppose we never do. It is merely heavily implied that she is crushed to death underneath a rolling spaceship tens of thousands of times her mass. Also, if she had been an android, you would think she wouldn’t have been so visibly panicked at the imminent destruction of the Prometheus, which sent her out to the surface and her doom. And an artificial brain certainly should have had the clarity of thought and presence of mind necessary to get out of the way of the spaceship. Perhaps her lead programmer was just very incompetent.
The medical device in Vickers’s “quarters” is configured for men only.
While this is excellent evidence that some additional explanation is needed to fill a gap, that doesn’t mean it’s this one. And why would one even bother to place a medical device near an android that wouldn’t need it? There are several possibilities here, actually…but I’ll get to them later.
In addition to all these problems, anyone advancing the “Vickers is an android” theory must have plausible answers to questions such as the ones asked at the top link, some of which I have asked again here. Other examples include: Why would Vickers be able to talk back to Weyland, who could have programmed her not to? Why and how would an android be able to sit on the board of a corporation? Any reasonable pro-android answers to those two questions in particular will not be able to find textual support in the film. Believe me. I’ve looked. None is there.
What if Vickers is an android but doesn’t know it?
This would neatly answer all the above questions, I have to admit. It would also explain why Vickers and David are so much alike. And I can understand why anyone who believes that Vickers is an artificial being, either due to these questions or other “textual clues” that they believe exist within the movie, would gravitate toward this explanation. But they then have the toughest question of all to answer. Why does Vickers exist?
In other words, what purpose would Weyland have for a female android who believed she was his natural daughter? (As Vickers clearly would have to believe for her “father” line to make sense, assuming she were an android unaware of her nature.) Remember, Weyland wants a male successor; he specifically calls David “the son I never had.” If he needed an android that could pose as his child to assume control of his company upon his death, given his preferences, he could simply have built a male android. Such an android could always be displaced or dismantled in the event he had a natural son. And if he had the capability to build an android that believed she was a real human, why could he not or would he not give the same capacity to David? That would make no sense…unless David predated Vickers, and her programming was an upgrade. Again, though, why not simply build another male android if that were the case?
There may well be answers to these questions, but again, they require stepping outside the text and conjuring explanations from thin air. There is no explicit evidence within the film itself to support this hypothesis. And Lindelof has already given us a perfectly adequate explanation for the similarities between Vickers and David…namely, that David was constructed as a rebuke to Vickers, meant to mimic her in every possible way.
So ultimately, there is simply no solid evidence that Meredith Vickers is an android. Further, positing that she is opens up a huge number of unanswered and unanswerable questions, all of which weigh against her being an android. I must therefore conclude that she isn’t one.
[Rest of post to be composed later.]