Alien: Covenant — David’s birth

Peter Weyland meets his robotic creation

How do you feel? Alive.

The document offers a brief analysis of the first opening sequence of Alien: Covenant (R. Scott, 2017), the second film chapter of the recent sci-fi trilogy started with Prometheus (R. Scott, 2012), connected to the universe of Alien (R. Scott, 1979). The research considers the product and its materials by studying the creative choices, the informative properties, the modalities of visual representation and promotion.

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“I am your father.”

1. Introduction

1.1. The Alien: Covenant story
In Alien: Covenant, an interplanetary colonization space mission funded by Weyland-Yutani stops when the Covenant spacecraft is damaged due to a cosmic storm. During the repair operations, a radio signal of a human voice coming from a nearby habitable planetoid is accidentally intercepted. The exploration and research activities of the source of the transmission will coincide with a series of frightening discoveries that will endanger the crew and all humanity.

1.2. Peter Weyland and the android David
The first sequence of Alien: Covenant is set in a time interval preceding the colonization mission (2104), in a period prior to the history of Prometheus (2093).[1] In a large minimalist white room furnished with works of art and a piano[2], Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) founder of Weyland Industries, verifies the operational characteristics of his first robotic creation, the android David (Michael Fassbender). The scene, between symbolic references and essential dialogues, synthesizes and connects many cardinal elements of the entire intellectual property (philosophy, artificial intelligence, religion, mythology, mortality, human history).

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“What is your name? David.”

2. Analysis

2.1. Narrative structure
The relationship between Weyland and David, and their related psychological components, is a central issue in the narratives of Prometheus and Alien Covenant.

The dialogue between Weyland and the android includes 14 main moments:

  1. Welcome — Peter Weyland asks his supposedly newly activated android how he feels and what he sees.
  2. Perception
    The android replies that he feels “alive”. Then he begins to describe the space and surrounding objects (color, environment, closest object, musical instrument, work of art).
  3. Presentation
    In an ironic tone, Weyland declares himself his father; then he orders him to walk.
  4. Role
    The android asks Weyland if he’s his son.
  5. Identity
    Weyland describes it as his creation; then he asks for his name.
  6. Emulation
    In the center of the room, the android notices Michelangelo’s David and attributes the name of the work to it.
  7. Execution
    Approaching the piano, Weyland invites David to play a song for him, suggesting Wagner.
  8. Free will
    Sitting on the piano, David asks Weyland which song he prefers to listen to. Weyland entrusts David with the choice. The android begins to perform his own arrangement.
  9. Criticism
    Weyland recognizes the song, The Entry of the Gods into Valhalla, and underlines the reduced impact of musical performance without the orchestra.
  10. Existential question
    David stops, and asks Weyland a question.
    “If you created me, who created you?”
  11. Mission
    Weyland declares that the whole history of humanity does not matter. The only important question concerns the origin of our species. Weyland rejects the idea of ​​a humanity created by a random biological circumstance and promises David to find the answer together.
  12. Mortality
    In spontaneous reflection, David notes that Weyland is doomed to die, while he is not.
  13. Submission
    Weyland looks at David sternly and does not respond to the android’s observation. Annoyed, he asks David to pour him the tea.
  14. Awareness
    After an initial expression of dissent and disappointment, David approaches the Weyland armchair to serve him the tea, finally offering him the cup with a kind and servile look.

2.2. Information elements
In summary, we consider the following elements:

  • Artificial consciousness (birth)
    David’s pupil dilates slightly as the android realizes he exists and responds to Weyland to feel “alive”. [3]
  • Perceived reality (language and concepts)
    As Weyland approaches the android across the room, David is initially seated on the throne [4], probably intent on observing the external landscape, his first vision of the natural world. When questioned by Weyland, David describes the various elements around him.
  • Parental authority (the creator)
    David reacts to Weyland’s physical presence only after the entrepreneur ironically reveals to him that he is his father (linking to the concept of birth and motherhood of Piero Della Francesca’s work). This is precisely the first moment when David looks directly into Weyland’s eyes, meeting his creator[5].
  • Perfect son (immortal heir)
    When David asks a question to Weyland, in a curious communication misunderstanding, the entrepreneur completes the question by referring to the concept of perfection of the android. Clarified the question by David, interested in being defined as “son”, Weyland replies to the android to consider himself as his “creation”. Immediately afterwards, when Weyland asks the robot for his name, David notices the statue of Michelangelo and, reworking the denial of the concept of “son” with his own state of “perfect creation”, he attributes the name of the biblical hero [6]. and Michelangelo’s masterpiece, which still exists despite the death of its creator.
  • Mythological prophecies (the doomed gods)
    When Weyland leaves David the freedom of choice to play a piece of music by Wagner, it is curious how the android, conditioned by the theme of the Nativity and Creation, deliberately chooses the work entitled Das Rheingold (Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla ; 1869) [7]
  • The myth of creation (humanity as a biological project)
    While intent on playing the piano, David pauses and asks Weyland who his creators are.[8] Weyland smiles, understanding the naive but profound meaning of David’s question. In fact, Weyland declares the uselessness of the whole history of human technological innovation in the face of the existential question on the origin of humanity, rejecting the idea of ​​considering Man as the result of a random biological phenomenon. His philosophical and spiritual research is directed towards the search for a definitive truth.[9]
  • Subversive principle (biorobotic superiority)
    After David’s statement about his creator’s human mortality, Weyland, now seated on the throne, looks sternly at the android by ordering him to serve him tea. Davide’s facial expression suggests a sense of hesitation and opposition to his subordinate condition to humans. In fact, Weyland must repeat his request before David reaches him to offer him the cup with an expression of forced innocence. [10]
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[…] This is the first fresh morning of David, and David is being listened to by his father. Approved and admire by his father. But then, eventually, the father realizes that this AI is actually dangerous. […] In this scene David becomes kind of aware that he actually is superior to his father. […] So here you are witnessing a superlatively successful man, probably a trillionaire, who is revealing his insecurity about being human. And this is where we find David, now studying him, realizing he has limitations. Now, Weyland feels uncomfortable. And I would say, even angry at being challenged by his creation. So he gives out the first order. This is a big thing. Because David’s already going in his mind: “Why does he need me to pick up tea when it’s right by my elbow?”. So now, we have a demonstration that David is also political. Which makes him very dangerous. That’s why there is no reaction at the end. — Ridley Scott[10]

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Narrative summary: 1) David is conscious and observes the world. 2) Peter Weyland questions him 3) David describes the surrounding environment (room, Carlo Bugatti’s armchair, Steinway piano, Piero della Francesca’s work of art). 4) In an ironic joke, Weyland declares himself the father of the android. 5) The android asks if he is his son. 6) Weyland defines it as his creation 7) The android notes Michelangelo’s David sculpture and takes the name. 8) Weyland asks David to play the piano indicating his preference for Wagner 9) David chooses to perform a personal arrangement of “The Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla” 10) David asks Weyland who is its creator 11) Weyland replies that this is the most important question in all of human history and that David will help him find the answer. 12) David points out that Weyland will one day die, while he does not. 13) Weyland looks at David severely and then orders him to serve him tea. 1) David hesitates to answer the command, and then serves tea while Weyland observes severely his disguised servile expression.
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“Allow me, then, a moment to consider.
You seek your creator. I am looking at mine.
I will serve you. Yet, you are human.
You will die. I will not.”

Dialogue transcription

Peter Weyland
How do you feel?

David
Alive

PW
What do you see?

D
White. Room. Chair. Carlo Bugatti Throne Chair.
Piano. Steinway, concert grand.
Art. The Nativity by Piero delle Francesca.

PW
I am your father.
Ambulate.

PW
Perfect.

D
Am I?

PW
Perfect?

D
Your son?

PW
You are my creation.
What is your name?

D
David.

PW
Why don’t you play something?

D
What would you like me to play?

PW
Wagner.

D
Selection?

PW
Dealer’s choice.

D
(The Entry of the Gods into Valhalla)

PW
The Entry of the Gods into Valhalla.
A little anemic without the orchestra.

D
May I ask you a question, father?

PW
Please.

D
If you created me, who created you?

PW
Ah. The question of the ages, which I hope you and I will answer one day.
All this. All these wonders of art, design, human ingenuity, all utterly meaningless in the face of the only question that matters.

Where do we come from?

I refuse to believe that mankind is a random byproduct of molecular circumstance, no more than the result of mere biological chance. No.
There must be more. And you and I, son, we will find it.

D
Allow me, then, a moment to consider.
You seek your creator. I am looking at mine.
I will serve you. Yet, you are human.
You will die. I will not.

PW
Bring me this tea, David.
Bring me the tea.

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Weyland seems to sense David’s vain and ambiguous essence and decides to remind him of his primary function as a servant by ordering him to serve him tea. Ignored the first command with an almost imperceptible expression of refusal, David serves tea to Weyland, concealing an expression of innocent devotion, perhaps in an attempt to omit the obvious sense of superiority towards his human creator.
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The birth of the elect — In the work of the Nativity (1470–5) by Piero della Francesca the newborn Christ is represented on the ground resting on Mary’s protective mantle, while the mother in composed adoration is accompanied by a chorus of musician angels who have come to celebrate the miraculous birth. Behind them, their ruined house is visible, a symbol of humility and poverty. On the right, Giuseppe is seated on the donkey saddle, next to two shepherds positioned with the animals near the rock wall. In the background you can recognize the fortified city of San Sepolcro, the birthplace of the artist. The theme of birth, of the miracle and of the chosen saviour of humanity, returns with prophetic references in the figure of David, interpreted as a perfect “son”, created by Weyland through an unnatural process (like the miraculous birth of Christ), and intended to change the future of humanity. See the official description of the work.

Notes

[1] Considering the promo Introducing The David 8, the beginning of the industrial availability of the eighth generation of the android David is indicated in 2078, 15 years before the Prometheus mission. Imagining a period of development of David’s eight series (hypothesized here with an annual production) and David’s preliminary prototyping phase, the current scene could be set in 2077, but Weyland is expected to prove 87 years (since born in 1990). If instead David were the first prototype of the first generation of androids, imagining about a decade of improvements, the year could be 2068–69 (Weyland would thus be 78–79 years). Instead, it is likely to attribute Peter Weyland an estimated age of 60–70 years, during the first experiments to obtain emotional artificial intelligence, thus setting the scene between 2050 and 2060, about 20–30 before the acquaintance of Elizabeth Shaw (occurred at least in 2079 with the Quiet Eye video message)

[2] The room appears to be the same visible in Meet Walter, the Weyland-Yutani commercial dedicated to the next generation of androids to David. When Walter was created, between 2093–94 and 2104 (given his presence on the Covenant spaceship), Peter Weyland died already during the mission of Prometheus (25–26 December 2093). It can therefore be imagined how, in parallel or after Weyland’s absence, the room was transformed into a laboratory for the creation of Walter’s first prototype, perhaps in the same way initially experimented for David’s production. The substantial difference of the natural landscape visible outside, without a lake and with mountains of different shapes, however, seems to definitively rule out the possibility that it is exactly the same place.

[3] The detail of the eye can be interpreted as a direct reference to the first scene of Blade Runner (R. Scott, 1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (D. Villeneuve, 2017), usually associated with the “birth” of being synthetic. In an interview, Michael Fassbender cites a reference to 2001: A Space Odissey (S. Kubrick, 1968) for the study of David’s voice. It is curious to note David’s lexical choice of this adjective, linked to the concept of life and consciousness, with respect to a response consistent with his condition as an operational, functional, and ready-to-serve technological object.

[4] As stated by David, the central throne armchair is designed by Carlo Bugatti (1856–1940), a famous Italian designer-craftsman active in Milan and characterized by an eclectic style. In the background, in another scene, another identical throne is visible, positioned apart from the window and left empty near the wall, in the shade. On a symbolic level it is perhaps interpretable with a meaning of Weyland’s will to absolute power, a man without masters and without the intention of sharing power for his industrial empire. [] The symbolic dualism of power and authority between Weyland and David (mortal master / immortal servant) the chair by Bugattti represents the concept of one “king” and one “throne”, and anticipates the end of the “kingdom” of Weyland, later metaphorically inherited from David (see his actions in Prometheus). The first production illustrations (production designer: Chris Seager; set decorator: Victor J. Zolfo) show the two armchairs arranged mutually frontal, near the window, perhaps imagining a frontal dialogue between Weyland and David (with the tea table by Eileen Gray E1027 Side Table between the two subjects). As stated by David, the grand piano is Steinway (Model D-274). On the metaphorical analogy Weyland-king-emperor, in Prometheus is also presented the daughter of Weyland, Meredith Vickers-Weyland, head of the mission. In one scene, Meredith, in discussion with her centenary father, utters the phrase “A king has his reign and he dies. It’s inevitable”, with clear references to Weyland’s corporate domain and his claim to immortality. Note: it was not possible to identify the ideogrammatic inscription (perhaps in Japanese) visible on the Weyland throne. See https://bit.ly/2yfiUxO

[5] Perhaps David considers his interlocutor only when he declares himself his creator, and not just any human being. The behaviour could support the hypothesis, confirmed later in Prometheus, of an instinctive disinterest of the android towards the human species, which then became hostility. During the scene there is also an alternation between the physical positions of the subjects (initially, David is seated and Weyland standing; in conclusion, Weyland is seated and David standing;) in a curious rotation of the metaphorical roles of master and servant.

[6] Last of eight brothers (as will be the eighth model of David), the Biblical David was gifted with musical skills (he composed and played to entertain King Saul) and will become king of Israel after being chosen by an emissary of God. L Biblical analogy can also be underlined by the similarity between white marble and David’s suit, as a symbol of common immortal purity, with the triple white dominant image resulting among the android subjects (with a neutral suit to represent his “virginity” industrial), birds (symbol of freedom) and David (symbol of greatness, heroism and underrated skill). In addition to the painting by Piero della Francesca depicting the birth of the “favorite son of humanity’s savior”, a further reminder of sacredness is perhaps represented by the flock of white birds visible on the outside, aligned with David just when he notices the statue of Michelangelo, with a meaning perhaps of announcement (white dove, winged figure) and of angelic echo (the “wings” placed behind David, like an angel). In further detail, the word “Angel” is spoken by David during a psychological test shown in the Introducing the David 8 advertisement.

[7] It is the first cycle of the monumental dramatic opera Der Ring des Nibelungen, composed of four works: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung. In an extreme synthesis, the story of Das Rheingold tells of Alberich, a dwarf, who steals a gold ring and finds himself with a power capable of controlling the world. Forced to hand over his magic item to Wotan, king of the gods, Alberich cursed the ring and attributed it with a deadly influence. Subsequently, Wotan delivers the ring as payment for his debts to the giants Fasolt and Fafner, who clash over his possession (Fasolt is killed by Fafner). The final consequences of the story include a flood, the Valhalla fire and a return to the primordial state of Earth, without men and without divinity. It is curious to establish an association of symbols between the mythological references and the existential desire of Weyland, also in reference to his historian Ted Talk 2023. Imagining a partial and personal analogy: Weyland (Alberich) obtains “illegally” (since against the laws morals in force) the best technologies with the will to control the technological progress of humanity and change the world with its dominion: its power is to create a new immortal life with artificial intelligence. The institutional authorities of humanity (the highest hierarchical subjects, such as Wotan, the king of the gods) condemn him, hindering his actions with restrictions and limitations. Despite the difficulties, Weyland creates David with the idea of ​​creating a perfect and immortal life, believing himself as powerful as a god (an Übermensch, a “giant” among normal men). When subsequently, in Prometheus, Weyland meets the Engineer (the alien giant, creator of humanity), the entrepreneur is killed, while David (the result of “cursed” technology, like the magic ring) survives, concluding the cycle of punishment for its creator, who died of pride.

[8] The same recursive question is presented by Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus about the origin of the Engineers (“If they created us, who created them?) with obvious religious questions about the origin of the universe.

[9] Weyland’s research will meet the scientific research of Elisabeth Shaw (at least since 2079, as shown in Quiet Eye), subsequently succeeding in identifying a constellation of planetoids believed to be the origin of the creators of humanity (the aliens called “Engineers”), then achieved with the Prometheus mission on the planet LV-223 in 2093.

[10] This is perhaps also the moment of David’s existential revelation, when he realizes to reject his function as an ordinary industrial product in the service of Weyland, concealing a growing subversion towards the whole of humanity with the aim of preserving one’s perfect existence. Weyland seems to notice David’s anomalous behavior, given the superb questions and observations that suggest an element of ambiguity in the android. But future events in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant perhaps demonstrate Weyland’s underestimation of considering a possible risk of David’s hostile orientation.

[10] Official Ridley Scott commentary (Alien: Covenant Blu-ray)

Study method and sources
This document is the result of a compilation process created with scientific and accessibility requirements. Special care has therefore been devoted to coherently structuring the texts and analysis sections, to selecting functional visual devices, and to providing verified information by correctly citing sources of documentation, with the final objective of sharing useful material for the purposes of study, criticism and information.

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Humenhoid is a creative research unit specialized in immersive entertainment and transmedia storytelling, with focus on cinema, tv series, and video games.

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