Photo: 20th Century Fox
Over the years, there have been some truly scary pregnancy horror movies — Mia Farrow awakening to the fact that she's pregnant with the devil's spawn in Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby," Samantha Eggar's mother of mutants in David Cronenberg's grossly disturbing "The Brood," and, of course, "Aliens 3," when Sigourney Weaver's Ripley discovers that, yes, sir, that's an alien baby in her tummy. Pregnancy horror is the ultimate in haunted house frights: Evil lurks within the walls of the womb, and there really is no safe exit.
Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" graphically takes this subgenre one giant step further for women. Now, I don't consider this a spoiler, but 20th Century Fox insists that this is, so, SPOILER ALERT if you haven't yet seen the movie. However, I don't reveal the ending by saying that Swedish actress Noomi ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") Rapace's Dr. Elizabeth Shaw finds herself suddenly pregnant and a galaxy away from the nearest women's clinic. Since she knows she's sterile and her partner has suddenly gone way crazy ill, that cute little tummy bump can't be a joyous miracle baby. Most likely it's an extraterrestrial that will never be capable of calling her "Mama" or cursing at her with adolescent rage: "You don't understand me, and everybody else at school is wearing hot pants."
You don't have to have been pregnant (or even be a woman) to become intensely squeamish as Dr. Shaw lurches to the space vehicle's medical deck, clutching her stomach. The clock ticks. The fetus kicks (with multiple appendages and a voracious appetite not entirely satiated by this flimsy mortal umbilical cord). The doctor who once so desperately wanted a baby struggles to work a futuristic surgery pod created for males so she can improvise a C-section. STAT.
Meanwhile, as Dr. Shaw fumbles and struggles to abort the alien before it bursts out of her as we've seen in so many "Alien" movies ('hello, my baby" literally), it gets, well, personal. And I know I'm not alone among the grown women in the audience. It's my pregnancy memory. (Consider it a female corollary of the Vietnam flashback.) I almost lost my son during the snowstorm of '96, when the otherwise placid baby decided to enter the world the wrong way around, cord first. Following the instructions in "What to Expect" in those pages at the end of the book you're only supposed to read in an extreme emergency, I called 911 and got down on my hands and knees on the hardwood floor in Brooklyn at four a.m.
Finally (OK, 10 minutes later), the EMS arrived, sirens blaring. We made a manic scramble to a hospital I'd never seen before. As the orderlies hustled me to the operating theater, paging the AWOL anesthesiologist, I looked at the ceiling of the E.R. passing very swiftly over my head. I prayed to the God of my fathers and the Virgin Mary. And I discovered the meaning of a crash C-section, as they contemplated opening me up vertically rather than horizontally without anesthetic. For once in my life, pain didn't concern me. All my prayer-thoughts were "Get him out."
Sure, in my dire situation, my screams to "get him out," and my whispers to myself that I was prepared to die if the baby could live had to do with a human child. But I recalled this primal understanding as I watched Shaw's desperate, panicked need to "get it out." And it was absolutely horrifying.
Dr. Shaw's self-operated C-section left me curled up in my seat in a fetal position. I admit, once I saw the red slash and Shaw stabbing herself with painkillers, I covered my eyes. But I did look up to see a robotic arm shoot 20-odd surgical staples across her wound like a repair project on HGTV's "Holmes on Homes." Triple ouch! And this feeling of dread — physical horror mixed with deep empathy — didn't leave me as the poor post-op Dr. Shaw immediately donned a spacesuit and spent the rest of the movie repelling, running, and jumping with a smile of silver staples below her navel and a wince of pain on her lips.
When I left "Prometheus" — which my friend Dennis and I found gripping from beginning to end — I encountered a clutch of (male) critics loitering out front, downloading. Some expressed dissatisfaction: It wasn't "Alien." Ridley Scott broke no new ground. Good-ish, but no classic. Total buzzkill! Meanwhile, the women gathered nearby held a different discussion: That sci-fi C-section, they said, left them visibly shaken. Unbelievable, they said, nervously touching their stomachs! (Been there, I thought, almost done that.) We were all in awe of Dr. Shaw, a rare superwoman who would make Ripley proud — and not a butch bone in her body.
The cast of 'Prometheus' talks to Yahoo! Movies: