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Movie Analysis: Symbolism In Pandorum

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Welcome. I strongly disagree with people who dismiss Pandorum as merely an uninspired and pretentious B-movie with elements that don't go together well. I say that they are overlooking many several aspects about this film and missing the point. In this analysis I will act as an apologist and explain how this film uses common science fiction tropes to make a complex yet structured allegory. I will start with this interview of Dennis Quaid about a mythology that goes with the film and bonus content of director Christian Alvart mentioning that the situation is like an allegory for us because Earth is like one big spaceship. The situation on the ship does represent the situations on Earth and have come find more of this allegory and under the film's external plot lays an epyllion. An epyllion is a brief epic poetic that has mythological themes and epics often center around the deeds of heroic characters. This is implied in the film's title Pandorum, which is an obvious mix of the mythological words Pandora and Pandemonium, the former being connected with the degradation of mankind's condition and the latter being connected to the underworld, which I will get into soon enough. There is also some dialogue from one of the characters that supports this as well and pay attention to it because their an imporant part of this in-depth analysis.

"Boom. Oh, how the whole world the thunder of earth's mightiest creation-Elysium. One small ignite the heavens for the venture farther and farther...than any of mankind's machines. And we slept. We slept a slumber so deep...that no one had dared three little Indians were left to mind the store. Mother Earth's final call. All God's creation ending with mere words of encouragement. Three little Indians with the burden to bear. No more law. Nothing left to care. Just three little souls whose destiny had become undone...because there was chop chop chop chop...then there was only one. One little Indian left, alone with all his doom. He refuses to go to bed, so what does he do?He decides to stay up and play in his room. What nasty little games he would play...with his slumbering prey. He was slayer, he was master. He was both God and the devil. See, that's what some would say. He would grow to manhood, a self-proclaimed king. Master of his own vessel. Home to his own sin. He just cast out all who had behaved. Just exiled to the cargo fend amongst themselves...and scavenge, feeding off their own. Evil grew. The king no longer wanted to play. So he returned to his bed of slumber. And while the king slept, a whole new world of evil we wept."

Leland explains what happened to the ship in a folkloric matter. I heard on Tv trope that according to the writer, Leland was not the one who built the nest and carved down the fate of the crew but woke up much later and merely inherited it from the earlier survivors like a legend which would explain the line "See, that's what some would say". This is the orgin myth of the ship like the ones we have of Earth. One of Leland's lines later on in the film are "a descent into Hell itself". Now this film seems to have some shades of the peom Dante's Inferno from The Divine Comedy which is an epic that refers to biblical and mythological events while following the the journey of Dante through Hell encountering strange creatures while being guided by the Roman poet Virgil much like Nadia guides Bower through the ship. For example Bower almost get lost in the dark ship until Nadia appears to show him the way like how Dante almost gets lost in the dark woods until Virgil comes along to guide him this suggests that Nadia is Bower's Virgil. Another example of Bower representing Dante is how his deceased wife appears to him in his mind like how Dante called his deceased love Beatrice "the glorious lady of my mind". Basically Bower's deceased wife is his Beatrice. This is a suggesting that the ship itself represents the underworld and there are many more cues of this through the visuals, such as the mutants lay on top of each other seems to be a symbolic imaginary the Third Circle of Hell (Gluttony) from Inferno. An obvious metaphor for the fact that the mutants are gluttonous.



Now lets get to the meaning of the film's title. In case you didn't know the name of space madness aka Pandorum is derived from Pandora who was the first woman in Greek mythology. Pandora had unintentionally unleashed evils on to the world of man by opening Pandora's box. The box was created under the order of the king of gods and lighting, Zeus, to plague mankind. This box had also contained the spirit of hope that was never released, a blessing to succor mankind in their suffering. The film makes a reference to this through in the origin myths (this is often ignored). The antagonist, Gallo, who had released some passengers form hypersleep who they and their descendents are referred to as "evil" in the origin myth. Gallo is described in the ship's mythology as both a king and a God with lightning bolts over his head who was the cause of such evil, the character here obviously represents the king of gods. The hypersleep pods which are referred to as coffins (which are funerary boxes) obviously represent Pandora's Box which contained both evil and hope who the latter is represented in the form of words from one of the main characters (I'll explain at the end of this analysis).


On the Christian side the title is mixed with Pandemonium which is the capital of Hell in Paradise Lost that talks the temption of Adam and Eve by Satan (Fall of Man). As established eariler the film has shades of a popular story of Hell, a story also touched the subject of sin and this movie also uses space madness (Pandorum) to represent sin. An example of this is the telling of the fate of the "Eden" who's passengers were casted out because its captain became convined that the flight was cursed due to his development of Pandorum. This is an obvious metaphor of the story of Adam and Eve who were casted out of Eden because there was sin in the Garden due to them giving into temptation. Gallo tries to tempt Bower to embace Pandorum which he described as "freedorm" of the concept of mortality, much like sin which is the transgression of moral principle which Bower replies that it isn't freedom, its Pandorum. This suggests that Pandorum was the "sin" Gallo became home to as told in the ship's mythology. Much like the devil, Gallo infects other with sin who are referred to as "those who had behaved" and manipulated them into thinking that he's their master and king. With this power over the passegers Gallo had convinced them into fighting and eating each other for his own amusement, "a nasty little game" as put in the myth. This process is seen near the climax where Bower starts to develope Pandorum Gallo tells him to embace it and tries to convert him into savagery with the lines such as "life eats life". As this happens lighting bolts appear over the head of Gallo and flashes back to the drawings of the passengers with lightning bolts appearing over their heads as well symbolizing Pandorum, because the road to sin is said to begin in the mind.The descendents of those who embaced Pandorum ended up deformed due to living near a nuclear reactor for generations, this is a metaphor for the notion of ancestral sin where the image of Adam's descendents became disfigured because of their ancestor gave into the devil's temptation. This kind of sin is however removed through Baptism. After Bower snaps back to sanity and raises from water the text 1213 at the end of the film references 1213 Holy baptism, symbolizing that sin (Pandorum) had been removed.


The mind game between Gallo and Payton is a demonstration of how made his kingdom. As Gallo drives his persona, Payton, mad by telling him the news of Earth with Gallo fusing with Payton representing him taking control of his prey hence "Your mind has turned against itself". In a way he is both a God and the devil as the myth put it. He, much like Nadia believed the ship was a Noah's Ark, after the destruction of the old world a new one will be created with what's on the ship. So Gallo decided to create a world where man fought and fed on one another basically living like animals and than that world devolved into something even more primal in order to adjust to that kind of condition. The twist concerning Gallo being Payton is a represention of the notion that the devil goes by many names. Gallo representing both Zeus and Satan is quite fitting as The Altar of Zeus in Pergamum is said be the location of The Throne of Satan.


Now here's a cue that the mutants represent evils that plagues man.The death of the character Shepard played by Norman Reese somewhat resembles the death of Saint Anthony who tried hiding in a cave to escape the demons that plagued him. The demons however had find and carried him out of the cave to beat him to death. This sounds similar to Shepard's death in which he was trying to hide from the mutants that plagued him. He was even off the ground with a mutant pulling on him around his stomach and one was on his shoulder like the demons did with Anthony. The creatures even had spikes on them and carry weapons like the demons who are by definition evil spirits. Here is a pic of Anthony and compare to the of Shepard.


Now on to another mythologial reference such as the name of the sleeper ship, Elysium, which is from Greco-Roman mythology which was the resting place for heroes in the underworld, where shades of the dead would get the memories of their "earthly lives" erased by drinking the waters of the Lethe River so that their souls could be reincarnated as according to Virgil's account (massive metaphor alert!).

This is the part where the epyllion thing comes in as there are shades of epic poety imprinted on to the sceenplay like the aforementioned Divine Comedy because epics about the deeds of heroic characters. For example, the greek hero Theseus had killed the cannibalistic Minotaur in The Labyrinth which was a maze-like structure, much like the inside of the Elysium. As a matter of fact one of the fight scenes in the film resemble the the battle between Theseus and Minotaur. Check out these pics and compare them to the video of the fight.


For the fight:

We see more symbolic imagery as Bower is using a weapon shaped like the one Theseus uses on the beast. The creature is bleeding from its head after getting strucked in it and falls to the ground to be slain like the Minotaur. We also see Nadia rapping her legs around the mutant like Theseus does with the Minotaur while her arms being in the same position with a knife in her hands like the hero. And lastly, we have the mutant getting a missing arm like the Minotaur statue (the thing also has a scar on his face like the statue). Plus the pool of blood obviously represents Phlegethon, a river of blood that violent offenders where submerged in Inferno where Dante and Virgil enountered the Minotaur and gotten passed it unharmed when Virgil mentioned its slayer, Theseus. Which makes that entire scene is yet another cue that the ship represents the underworld. The area they where fighting at also slightly resembles an anicent arena which the Roman empire would watch warriors kill each other. Thats what the mutants did, they watched the other mutant fight the trio for entertainment and after the fight the mutant leader gave them time to run. Also notice how the mutant they were fighting wasn't using any weapons and we see this again later on when the mutant leader clashes with Mahn indicating that these creatures enjoy acts of violence and play with their food.


Now, Theseus was aided by the war goddess Athena on his journey. Athena in classical mythology was the goddess of war, wisdom, heroism, and strategy who's male counterpart and foe was the spear wielding god of war, brute force, battle lust, and courage, Ares, who's Roman counterpart Mars was the god of agriculture. As gods of war both were warriors like Nadia and Mahn who seem to represent these figures. For example, Mahn is brave, works for agriculture, uses a spear for a weapon, and isn't willing to go down without a fight, while Nadia is an educated scientist who speaks two languages and is very resourceful. Now Athena was said to have good tactics at winning a battle, while Ares was said to be all brawn these he lost most of his battles and there is a similar case with Bower's protectors. It was survival of the fittest or maybe the brightless as Leland put it, who wouldn't have survived long if he had heart (his words). Now there is emphasis put on that statement as Nadia survived for months by not trusting anybody, knows that running is the best option, resorting to robbery for her own survival since its every man for himself. However, Mahn on the other hand is willing to help strangers which aren't good tactic at all. Having a heart can lead to death as implied by Leland and this notion is emphasize through Manh's demise, as he dies for showing mercy to a mutant child. This adds to the general theme of a violent world were only the ruthless and cunning can survive.


Another story that featured Athena aiding a hero is when she served as his guide in the epic Odyssey. Much like The Divine Comedy Bower's predicament appears to reminisce parts of Odyssey which featured Odysseus longing to reunite with his wife. On this journey three of Odysseus' men encounter tribal cannibal monsters called Laestrygonians who try to hunt them down and eat them. They were said to spear men like fish and then carried home their monstrous meal like the mutants. The mutant leader and his child in the film are represent the king of Laestrygonians Antiphates and his daughter (yes, it was a girl. The director's daughter) who attacked and ate one of Odysseus' crew members, which is quit similar to the case of Mahn's demise. There is also the character Leland who traps the trio in his lair and attempts to eat them. However, Bower uses his brains and convinces him not to and later on Leland gets stabbed in the eye and dies, leaving him with one eye. This also mirrors another part of the Odyssey where Odysseus and his crew runs into the Cyclops (one eyed monster) Polyphemus. They where trapped in his lair and Polyphemus tries to eat them. However, Odysseus uses his brains to trick Polyphemus, stabbing him in his one eye, and leaving him blind.

So, what we have here are events on the ship that has representational applications of the first four Ages of The World in the didactic peom Works and Days which also covers the aforementioned story of Pandora. Each age was referred to as Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Heroic in that order, with the metals symbolizing the degradation of the human condition and this had started when Zeus became King. The film uses the notion of devolution to represent that degradation of the human condition as the last of humanity starts out as advanced state than devolves into a raw and natural state. The text at the beginning of the film shows the age where mankind developed space travel, stating its achievements and through the use of technology humans could now survive cenutries without growing old with the use of hypersleep like in the Golden Age where man did not have to work to feed themselves, for the earth (in this case the ship) provided food in abundance and they did not grow old, basically living like Gods as the poet Hesiod put it. Gallo taking control of the ship and turning the passengers into moralless savages who fought each other is allegorical to the Silver Age where Zeus ruled over mankind, making them less noble than the previous age as they were sinners who wronged each other. The world Bower awoke up to with the powerful warrior muntants and his allies (Mahn and Nadia) with their aforementioned characteristics represents the Bronze Age where man was strong, terrible, and warlike.The ending is also a metaphor to a flood myth relating to the end of the Bronze Age that was destroyed with a flood caused by Zeus according to some accounts, while others say they just disappeared without a trace. The flood on the ship was caused because Gallo encougaged Bower to give into Pandorum which leads to the start of a new world like in most flood myths. This new world is now the Heroic age which was also created by Zeus which was a time of heroes its represented through the passengers who were referred to as heroes now populating the planet Tanis to start a new world which Gallo had a hand in creating (Zeus incarnate). With all of this, film seems to be based on the theory of Social cycle which is history repeating itself.


Gallo did what he did because he had lost faith in the ways humanity, thinking that Tanis will evently become like Earth so he decided to make man revert back to a state of survive of the fittest so there wouldn't any overpopulation but according to Albert Einstein insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Bower is pushed into edge of insanity after finding out about Earth and his wife, though he is offered words of encouragement from Nadia which helps him to keep his mind and faith but Gallo wants Bower to do the opposite so he tempts him to embace Pandorum/sin. But in the end Pandorum/sin is rejected through baptism as implied through the text 1213. The twist at the ending of the film shows that the ship itself is an represention of the underword as its a world underwater. Much like Dante and Virgil, Bower and his guide emerge from that underworld after meeting with the devil. Also like the two poets they are fellowed by souls (passengers) that arrived escorted on a boat (the pods at like boats) like at the beginning of Purgatorio and at end of that poem they reach the Earthly Paradise (massive metaphor alert!).

The conversion of the soul from the sorrow and misery of sin to the state of grace ~ Dante's Purgatorio





Pandorum has two sides hence why the title is a fusion word of Pandora and Pandemonium. Its explores the theory of Social cycle by creating a allegory for mythologcal chronology of human existance on Earth through the use of common science fiction tropes such as space madness, sleeper/generation ships, and morlocks(de-evolved human cannibals). On the other side it symbolizes rebirth, hence the words Gallo's words "God's dead along with the rest of humanity" with the text "Tanis Year 1" at the end of the film indicating that humanity was able to start new lives after rising from the depths of the underworld (realm of the dead), like the heroes in the tale of Elysium. Maybe the events in the film will evently be seen as mythological origin tales and Bower will be seen as a culture hero with Nadia depicted as a Goddess who had aided him on his jounary like how Gallo was depicted as a god/devil and Pandorum was depicted as sin because as implied in the film they had a place in history. Maybe in time this will happen all over again and this popped into my head when I realized that Gallo quoted Friedrich Nietzsche with "God Is Dead" who also said this: " Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man's torment". Just when Bower is about to throw his life away while being surrounded by so which evil, hope comes in the form of the words "We were meant to go on. And we were meant to survive. And now it's more important than ever." its because these words had succor mankind from extinction.


I hope you enjoyed reading this blog as much as I enjoyed making it. I loved taking mythology classes during high school so the screenplay's main point wasn't really hard to comprehend with all the hints given (some being obvious). Despite liking the movie I'm just showing its highlight, I overall find it to be a fair but flawed movie due to some mix feelings have. For example: the quick cuts in the fight scenes can be annoying in places, I would have liked subtitles for the the foreign languages but I read in an interview with Cung Le (Mahn) that the director wanted the audience to feel what the main character is feeling so whatever, and there are scenes with the mutant kid which I either laughed at because of how Nadia confused it with a normal children and Manh not killing it was way too cliche. Some would say that the thin characterization also counts as a flaw but this is excusable as memory loss is a big part in the storyline and they don't remember who they are but for some reason people forget this for some dumb reason. With that said, the only major complaints have is the editing in the fights and the mutant child but I still admire Panodrum for being an atmospheric, well paced, occasional excitng, and allegorical science fiction film. Overall, I find Pandorum to be a pretty decent and thought provoking movie, so on a scale from 1 to 10 I give it a 7.5.

post #2 of 5
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A friend of own made his version. 


Edited by Zamiel - 11/16/11 at 8:17am
post #3 of 5

Wow! THANKS! ;)

post #4 of 5

Wow, over-analysis.  Check out my review of this film in the readers review section.

Edited by DevilMayhem666 - 7/7/13 at 2:06am
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