The ‘ancient alien’ hypothesis was popularized by Erich von Daniken in his book Chariots of the Gods? It posits that abstract primitive art depicts (if you interpret it correctly) interactions between early humans and alien visitors. It goes on to suggest that these aliens influenced our development; anything from aiding in our great achievements (like the pyramids) to genetically engineering our species.
It isn’t unscientific to ask questions or to look into seeming ‘out there’ theories; but is is unscientific to simply assert a truth without evidence.
When one says they ‘choose to believe’ something, what they’re actually saying is that they don’t really believe it. Because, of course, if you genuinely believe something, then then no ‘choice’ is involved. ‘I choose to believe’ is the mantra of doctor Elizabeth Shaw, one of the ‘true believers’ (as the film calls them) of the ancient alien hypothesis, who, along with the another, Weyland, assemble a crew to track down the visitors, whom Shaw has dubbed Engineers.
Why do she and Weyland choose to believe? For Weyland it’s simple: he’s about to die. When faced with imminent mortality, one often grasps at straws; religions, faith healing, alternative medicine, or in Weyland’s case, alien intervention. For Shaw, it’s misplaced emotion. She lost her father (her true ‘creator’) at an early age, and now she seeks to replace him.
There’s a conversation in the film that doesn’t involve Shaw, but cuts right to the root of her character. Shaw’s partner, Charlie Holloway, tells the artificial human David, that he wants to ask the Engineers why they made humanity. The robot asks the same question of the human and is given the answer, ‘because we could.’ David then asks how disappointing it would be if the Engineers gave Charlie the same answer. True believers are not looking for truth; they’re looking for confirmation of what they want to be true. Shaw doesn’t want to find out why humans were created; she wants to be told that she is special and that she is loved and cared for.
After confirming that the Engineers are indeed our makers; Charlie tells Shaw that she can take off her crucifix; as that god clearly isn’t real. She responds that even if the Engineers made humans, we don’t know who made the Engineers (this, incidentally, is the big flaw with all creation theories. It’s called the infinite regress; if you argue that something can only exist if it was created by something else; then you have to create an infinite number of creators to explain every one following it). It may be true that we don’t know where the Engineers came from; but it clearly wasn’t Jesus. But then, I think her attachment to the cross has more to do with its connection to her father (her true ‘god’) than to any other god it may represent.
When it was announced that the film would be co-written by Damon Lindelof of Lost, people immediately began to complain that it would be vague and leave questions unanswered. It’s true that Shaw doesn’t get all the answers she was looking for; but is that because the writers failed, or because her character was foolish to expect some profound answer? Just because the Engineers created life on Earth doesn’t mean that had any grand design in doing so. Perhaps the fact that she didn’t get the answer she wanted is the answer to the question. As one character said, as he slipped into death, ‘there’s nothing.’