By Nick Maylor
Since Ridley Scott’s original Alien (1979), “synthetic” characters (androids/robots) have been a tradition in the franchise, starting with Ian Holm’s character Ash. In Aliens (1986), it was Bishop (Lance Henriksen) and so on. These characters are seen as virtually (if not totally) indistinguishable from humans.
In Prometheus (2012), Ridley Scott sought to expand the world he had created with Alien by not only exploring the origin of the titular creature (also known as the “Xenomorph”) but introducing much larger themes about the origins of humanity and an alien race known as the “Engineers”. The original fossilized skeleton of an extraterrestrial (known as the “Space Jockey”) seen in Alien, is one of these “Engineers”; later revealed to be responsible for seeding human life on Earth. The interstellar ship Prometheus is sent to a distant star system searching for the Engineers. Once again, there is an android crew member, David (Michael Fassbender). The events of Prometheus take place prior to the events of Alien and David is revealed to be the first of his kind, a predecessor to all the other robotic characters in the franchise. One with a particularly mad and fascinating set of character defects.
David is a personal creation of Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce), an egotistical yet brilliant scientist who was longing to discover the secret origins of mankind. Weyland calls David his “son”.
Immediately upon his “birth”, David began to gain awareness of his superior nature to that of his creator. David knows he has to serve Weyland. He understands that he will be a slave to a mortal human being. As he remarks to Weyland: “You will die. I will not.”
Weyland had created a monster.
This is the seed that grows into David’s hatred for mankind and his desire for not just freedom, but the freedom to create. Unlike later models like Walter (also played by Fassbender), David shows clear signs of emotional thought. In the promo video for his model’s (the David 8) “release,” he is asked what makes him “sad”. To which he responds “War. Poverty. Cruelty. Unnecessary violence.” This would prove to be ironic as David later inflicts cruel and unnecessary actions towards to crew members of not only the Prometheus but the Covenant as well.
Due to negative reactions towards Prometheus, Ridley Scott seemingly abandoned plans to explore the Engineer race in the sequel and thus, Alien: Covenant became a more traditional and familiar film exploring how David himself uses the black goo seen in Prometheus to engineer the Xenomorph creature. David is revealed to have released the black goo upon reaching the Engineer homeworld, resulting in a massive genocide that left the planet a “necropolis”. David was marooned on the planet for ten years before the crew of the Covenant happened upon a signal sent out from the Engineer ship by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), luring them to the planet.
During his time in exile, David first kills Shaw who was (at the very least) a thorn in his side trying to create new forms of life.
David’s evolution is fascinating. What would happen to a synthetic mind that is filled with emotion and the desire to create? Obviously, nothing good as the film displays. David seeks kinship with Walter, a robot who looks identical to David but is void of all the character defects. David asks Walter if he dreams of him (David) to which Walter responds, “I don’t dream at all.”
David teaches Walter how to play a makeshift recorder or flute-like instrument but Walter is just following instructions. David has the ability to desire and create. Walter does not. David seems not just disappointed by this but outright insulted as he attempts to kill Walter on the spot.
Fassbender’s performance is what makes Alien: Covenant exceptional. It is revealed that through experimentation and selective breeding, David himself is responsible for the creation of the Xenomorph species (the “Alien”). David calls it a “perfect organism”. David had grown to despise humanity and when Walter points out that humans created both he and David, David brushes it off as a fluke, stating, “Even monkeys stood upright at some point.” David says this with actual tears in his eyes.
The fascinating thing to observe about Fassbender’s performance as David is how he evolves. At the moment of his “birth” and the moments afterward, David moves very robotically. Throughout Prometheus and Alien: Covenant he begins to act and move more human-like. By the time we meet him after his ten-year exile, he has become a mad scientist with a god complex, far from just another android like Walter.
David appreciates music and art. He desires to create. Peter Weyland created a monster. David is that monster. Michael Fassbender’s performance elevates an otherwise average story into something exceptionally compelling to behold.
David screamed out in anguish when Oram (Billy Crudup) shot down a Neomorph (a predecessor to the Xenomorph). David quickly exacts his revenge on Oram (who honestly should have seen it coming) when he introduces the man to the next of Xenomorph eggs, filled with face-huggers… ready for a host.
David looks on like a proud parent as the chest-buster rips its way out of Oram’s ribcage, killing its host.
The entire process is fascinating to watch. Credit should be given to Fassbender, a great actor with no shortage of great performances under his belt.
During the final scenes in Alien: Covenant, a fight breaks out between David and Walter, with only one of them escaping. It appears to be Walter but we cannot be sure. We see “Walter” alone in a room for many of the following scenes. It is, of course, revealed to be David posing as Walter but Fassbender walks such a fine line with it that we don’t really know the truth until it is revealed to us definitively.
Fassbender played a psychotic robot pretending to be a “sane” robot and not even the audience could tell the difference. He also made the whole thing endlessly compelling. No small task.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor