The aurelac’s price is a product of its rarity and of the bloody betrayals that haunt every stone. It is a purchase for the rich, made more unobtainable and therefore more valuable by the distant stench of corpses. Clearly a Western in tone, Prospect follows the story of a moneymaking expedition gone awry in an alien wilderness. Prospector Damon and his teenage daughter Cee have come to the green moon to harvest aurelac for a gang of mercenaries who stumbled on a motherlode. Things begin badly when they land their ship off target and get worse when they encounter fellow prospector Ezra and his silent partner. It’s a hell of a place for Cee to come of age, with death and calamity all around.
The visuals prickle with danger; clarity of vision does not imply safety when even the air is deadly. And that's not the half of it. Choking to death on the atmosphere would be a release compared to some of the alternatives. Ezra is plainly a man who uses language to dazzle and connive but at least he talks before he shoots – others simply take what they want. Isolated on the fringe of civilisation, these people are as good as their world allows them to be, and it allows for little. The film sketches a few harsh realities of life on the fringe: we see hand-cranked guns, decrepit air filters, emergency amputations; we hear argument over how to split the profits and where to find the extra delta-v required to get an overloaded ship into orbit.
It is not often that science fiction on the screen considers the lowly. There are numerous stories about oppressed peoples being liberated by a protagonist who stands apart and outside of their daily existence, but rarely do we see tomorrow’s lowlife just getting on with the dirty work of survival. In Prospect nobody talks of revolution, of upending the system and improving their lot. Their lives are shaped by the powerful unseen forces of companies and cartels which cannot be defied for fear of being marooned on a distant rock, or worse. Desperation makes predators of them all. When there is no hope and no honest work to be found, men and women abandon hope and do dishonest work where they can find it.
Cee throws in her lot with Ezra not because he is an honourable man but because he is a scoundrel and presumably has experience of surviving among his kind. He speaks oily words to others and she watches warily, always suspecting treachery. She cares nothing for his plight and sheds no tears even for her father, murdered when he tried to rob Ezra. Out on the fringe, emotion is a luxury and the most basic act of solidarity is a dangerous gamble. Only when death is the alternative do they finally begin to see their fates as one: to amputate a festering arm, to take on a mercenary, to get off the green moon with an ounce of humanity intact. Those fleeting moments of trust and compassion are a small light in a great darkness, and the closest thing to heroism that anyone in this story can muster.