Major spoilers ahead for Alien: Covenant. If you don't wanna know about the odd places Michael Fassbender's fingers go in this movie, take a shuttle outta here. But if you've seen Covenant already, stick around for a discussion about the film's weirdest scene, and how a shockingly homoerotic flute lesson ties in with the grander religious ideas of the Alien franchise.
In the opening scene of #AlienCovenant, Guy Pearce's Peter Weyland (liberated of the avalanche of old-man prosthetics he was buried under in Prometheus) has a conversation with his newborn "child", an android named David. Set years in the past, the prologue sets the tone for the big themes of Covenant. Creation. Narcissism. The irrelevance of man in the face of the gods.
Michael Fassbender is at his most Fassbender-ish in this movie, throwing himself gamely into the challenge of playing two almost diametrically opposed characters who are, on paper, almost identical. Unlike David, the morbidly curious and self-absorbed synthetic who murdered Elizabeth Shaw after the events of Prometheus (despite claiming to have "loved" her), newer model Walter is unwaveringly loyal. He exists to serve man, not to betray him in pursuit of more selfish ideals.
"I'll Do The Fingering"
Obviously there's no point in having one actor play two characters with binary ideologies unless they're going to have the mother of all face-offs, and that's exactly what Ridley Scott delivers halfway through Covenant. But in a bizarre swerve which had audiences in my theater howling with laughter, Walter and David don't get into a heated debate about David's crimes, and they don't immediately come to blows.
Instead, David teaches Walter to play the flute.
"I'll do the fingering," he tells his "brother" while instructing him how to "blow." Sure, Walter just lost his hand in an alien attack, but his words have strong homoerotic undertones, which are promptly confirmed when Walter receives a soft kiss on the lips from the original synthetic.
It could be that, as a classic cerebral narcissist (somebody who uses their intellect and brainpower to seek respect and worship), David is simply enamored with this other version of himself. The intimacy of the kiss is studied, not genuine, because David does not feel, as proven by his hideous murder of Elizabeth Shaw, the woman he claims to have loved.
On the face of it, the scene functions as surrealist comic relief — but if you look a little deeper, it actually serves as the most important piece of thematic storytelling in the whole film. David is fascinated by and enslaved to the idea of creation above all. Men and women procreate, but it's gods who create at the highest level.
The God Paradox
In that prologue with Weyland, David asks his maker "If you created me, who created you?" It's not an innocent question, it's an accusation — you might be playing God, but somebody made you. That one line of dialogue perfectly explains why David later commits an act of mass genocide by wiping out the Engineers on arrival at their home planet post-Prometheus — he sees them as responsible for the weakness of man, and therefore unfit to play God.
He, on the other hand, believes his haunted house of genetic horrors will birth a creature of flawless design — an alien lifeform whose primal survival instinct, made stronger with each incubation inside a human host, is matched only by his own. He is a creator and, in his mind, an infinitely more worthy god than Peter Weyland.
In teaching his "brother" to play flute, David devises a simple litmus test of Walter's ambition. He reads his realization that Walter has no ambition as proof that he alone is a god, failing to grasp the irony of the fact that a burning desire to play god is one of the most human qualities of all and, even more paradoxically, a flaw that has been the ultimate undoing of many of history's great narcissists. The entire scene is a superb microcosm of the question whose shadow looms increasingly large over the Alien series — that of whether the creation of life equates to the existence of gods.
That's my interpretation of an important sequence which, if nothing else, also doubles as a highly entertaining five minutes of cinema, and probably the only time you'll ever see Michael Fassbender getting phallic with Michael Fassbender. Of course, the impenetrable brain of Ridley Scott is a thing of many mysteries, and others will have their own interpretations of the soon-to-be-infamous face-off.
The one takeaway we can all agree on? Next time somebody tries to give you an unsolicited flute lesson, take a moment to consider their true motive. And then get the fuck out of there.
Alien: Covenant is in theaters now. Don't miss it.
What's your interpretation of the grand themes of creationism in Covenant?